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Remarks at Nebraska Chamber of Commerce

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Today, Nebraska's Senator Ben Nelson told the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce's Annual Legislative Summit at the SAC Museum that the hyper-partisanship and gridlock in Washington is in sharp contrast to Nebraskans' tradition of non-partisan partnerships that deliver benefits for all Nebraskans. In his speech, he announced that practice of working together has has resulted in the new U.S. Strategic Command headquarters construction project finally getting underway.

The text follows:

I'd like to thank you all for the opportunity to join you. Today, I'd like to first address some of the concerns we face as a country. Second, I will give you my view of what will or won't happen in Washington this year.

But first a word about the Farm Bill that isn't.

I visited farmers and ranchers last week. They wanted to know why Congress couldn"t come together to pass a Farm Bill. I couldn't give them a good answer because there isn't one. So, I told them the truth: it's because of partisanship, driven by special interests and ideologically extreme views and strategies that have led to deadlock and gridlock.

Congress has passed a Farm Bill every 4 to 5 years for a number of decades. The Senate stuck to tradition and passed a 5-year bill with broad bipartisan support with only regional differences. But it's held up in the House. Even though the House Ag Committee sent its bill out of committee, it's unlikely to get a vote. Why?

It reminded me of what the late Sen. George W. Norris used to say, "I've come back to tell you the truth." Well, so am I. As I see it.

In Washington the word compromise has become a dirty, four-letter word and bipartisanship has become harder every day. Those who use that word today rarely practice it and it is a cover to satisfy folks back home who know that compromise and bipartisanship are essential to move our country forward. Gridlock and deadlock result from ideologues who promise NOT to compromise and consider bipartisanship contrary to their platform.

When I went to Washington some 12 years ago, I set out to make the new Republican President, a friend of mine from our governor days, successful. Why? Because his success would surely transfer to our country and we would enjoy that success as a nation of Americans, not Republicans or Democrats.

During those years I worked across the aisle to pass tax cuts in 2001 and 2003; to help create the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11; to pass new prescription drug benefits for seniors in Medicare; to establish independent benchmarks to measure progress or lack thereof in Iraq; and on the Gang of 14 that enabled votes on judicial nominees to occur.

You can be sure that I was criticized roundly by some within my party. They threatened to primary me in 2006 if I continued to work with President Bush and the Republicans. But I knew that this is what I was sent to Washington to do--work for solutions--the right solutions for our country.

When I worked as co-chair with John McCain to form the Gang of 14 to stop the nuclear option and get Republican nominated federal judges an up or down vote, I was attacked by partisan Democrats--because this is not the way it's supposed to work. 60-vote filibusters had become commonplace. Sound familiar?

I tell you this not because I think the Democrats have had it right all the time, nor because I think the Republicans are always wrong. No!

It's because I know it is possible to work across the aisle. I'd done it, at least for the first 8 years!

But today, ideologues, party bosses and special interests have taken over Washington. Super PACs with enormous wallets with shadowy donors can now determine the outcome of an election, federal or local. Sound familiar?

So, until we have elected officials willing to tell these folks "No!" we are destined to face gridlock.

Take the super-regulatory environment on water and air, to name two. We all want to drink our water and be able to breathe our air. But what happens with government? The bureaucrats push as far to the extreme as they can. Business and industry push back as you should.

But where's common sense? Where's the common ground? Add partisanship and the power to win the next election. Guess what? Gridlock.

My political math is different than the political math I experience in Washington these days. I'm about addition and multiplication. Washington is about subtraction and division.

Both parties are to blame for the division. And neither truly seeks to multiply support for an issue. The politics of the wrong math keeps our economic engine idling in neutral--actually losing ground.

For eight years as governor, I pursued the theme of "One Nebraska"--bringing Republicans and Democrats together, rural and urban, youth and seniors, East and West and the panhandle by using addition and multiplication.

I knew that if something wasn't good for your family, your neighborhood, not good for your community, it wasn't good for our state. It just wasn't good.

Thank you to the Chamber; we compromised when necessary, reached out to all and the economic engine developed and created more than 100,000 new jobs. There's no magic--just the right math. It is possible but things have to change.

In the Senate, I spent as much time working with the Republican leaders Trent Lott and Bill Frist as with my caucus because I knew that's what it took to get something done…true bipartisanship and compromise.

Now, I promised to give you my ideas on what will happen between now and the election. And then during the lame duck in post-election.

So… what does the future hold for us on the many items of unfinished business with just weeks before the election? I'd like to tell you the story has a happy ending. But at this point, I just don't know.

* Nothing substantive is likely before the election.
* The sequestration which was passed last year to avert the disaster of default hanging over this country. Have you seen what that debacle and the loss of the Standard and Poors rating cost us in extra borrowing costs? Somewhere between $1 and $2 billion. Kicking the can down the road has real consequences.
* The so-called Super Committee failed as I expected and there's only talk of cutting spending, not truly serious efforts to achieve it.
* Continuing uncertainty for business making planning difficult and both investment and reinvestment unnecessarily challenging.

So, when will this change?

Three words: After the election.

As long as unlimited money and winning the next election trump country we will be idling in neutral or worse…in reverse.

When? How will this change?

Everyone in this room can calculate the various potential scenarios.

* The White House changes
* The Senate majority changes
* Or both remain the same
* The House majority narrows

While these are all interesting discussions, maybe the most important question is: after the election will we be able to come together as a nation?

Can Congress put aside bitterness?

Does the next campaign begin on November 7?

Will the lame duck be productive like the one two years ago?

Or will there be too many cans kicked down the road?

Will Congress simply pass a short-term resolution and send it into 2013. Say February 15, 2013?

Unfortunately, there are too many unknowns…too many uncertainties. But one thing I know for certain. Things have to change. If we remain perpetually divided can we be one nation ever again?

As someone who has always tried to reach across party lines and work to bring both Democrats and Republicans together, I know first-hand that the problems we face weren't created by one party, or one president, one Congress, or even one generation.

And if we are serious about solving the problems of the nation, we will need to realize that there isn't a Democratic solution, or a Republican solution, or even a bi-partisan solution to these challenges.

We need to meet our challenges in a non-partisan way, putting the nation ahead of partisan agendas, and the needs of the American public ahead of political parties.

That's what we've done in Nebraska. And I believe that is what needs to be done in Washington.
There are countless examples of non-partisan successes in Nebraska -- at all levels of government--local, state, and federal. So many that we often take them for granted.

One example of Nebraskans setting aside politics and working together is the new STRATCOM facility located at Offutt Air Force base.

Today, I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has received the first phase of funding -- $120 million -- and will award the contract to begin construction on the new STRATCOM headquarters…this afternoon.
This project began with a $10 million earmark in 2009 -- and while some may think that is a four-letter word, it's actually 7 letters -- and construction will begin before the next winter sets in.

Now, I can assure you that when it comes to securing the nation, the personnel I've worked with at STRATCOM and Offutt don't check party registrations when doing their jobs.

The men and women at Offutt, and throughout our armed forces, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

And they protect all Americans -- Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.
And I am proud to say that the Nebraska congressional delegation, the Nebraska Legislature, and the business community has taken the same non-partisan approach in making sure this project moves forward.

I want to particularly thank my colleague, Mike Johanns, his help in getting this project through the politics and the bureaucracies in Washington during the past several weeks.

This project will create jobs and economic activity for Nebraska. It will strengthen the missions at STRATCOM and Offutt. And Nebraskans will continue to play a huge part in helping to secure the nation and the world.

And working together, I believe there are additional opportunities for Nebraska in leading the way to help meet the needs of our nation and the world.

So, there's an example of all of us working together for the good of our community, our state and our country. May there be more. May you insist there me more.

Thank you all for the opportunity to join you here today.
God Bless--men and women in uniform around the world--America!


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