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Public Statements

The State of the Union

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

THE STATE OF THE UNION

Mr. CRAIG. Mr. President, tonight our President comes to Capitol Hill, as Presidents historically do, to deliver a State of the Union Message both to us here in Congress and to the country at large. I would have to say that this State of the Union probably, in his Presidency, is one of the most critical.

We have a very bold President who has not ducked from any of his responsibilities, and in so he has been a very dynamic, forceful leader for our country. Tonight I believe he comes to Capitol Hill to challenge us here in the Congress on a variety of fronts, to challenge us to do our work in a bipartisan way, not only for our country and for the citizens of our country but for the world at large. This is a President who tonight will speak on a variety of topics. Let me talk about four areas I think he will dwell on for much of his time.

First of all is growing our economy and creating jobs. There is no question that we are in, and have come through, a recession. We have men and women in our country who are out of work. The economy has slowed. The revenues to government have frustrated our States. Certainly we have to recognize and deal with that here, as revenues have declined. But most important, clearly it is an issue of men and women out of work. He will challenge us to grow our economy and to create new jobs, and he will do so by the dynamic approach of the stimulus package that will have tax reduction in it, to get money back into the economy and out to not only the job creator but middle-income Americans themselves, those who are the hard-working men and women of our country.

It will be argued from the other side, with oftentimes the gnashing of teeth and the wringing of hands, that somehow the President is going to take money away from Government. Somehow, it is Government, if you leave the money in Government, that will create all of these jobs and will provide the safety net and the security for the American people. Yet just last week we saw our colleagues on the other side offer amendment after amendment that would have driven up our deficit by nearly $450 billion to $500 billion over the next several years. They clearly demonstrated that their intent is to keep all the money they can get and spend it, instead of in any way trying to create a package that will not take money out of the pockets of the working men and women of our country but will also generate the incentives that will cause the economy of this country to reinvest and to create jobs.

Over the next several months—and I hope it will only be a couple of months—the Finance Committee here in the Senate, and hopefully the House Ways and Means Committee, will come forth with a budget and a budget proposal that will include within it, I trust, many of the incentives that our President is proposing in his economic stimulus package that he will talk about tonight. We can be a positive force in the economy by rewarding and recognizing both investment and hard work, instead of penalizing them by taking more and more, or by creating the kinds of hurdles or obstacles that the investment community has to take to reinvest in the economy. So I hope we listen closely to that proposal tonight, as our President visits with us about it.

He has obviously talked about—and I think will talk again tonight—strengthening and improving health care in this country. We worked at it a long while last year. We were at the threshold of dealing with Medicare reform and prescription drugs. Those probably are some of the most difficult areas with which to deal, but the most important. Prescription drugs have become a dynamic part of health care delivery in this country, yet we still deal with an old Medicare model that is not paying its way to the provider and the caregiver. As a result, many of our senior citizens are having difficulty finding a primary care provider, and are paying $300, $400, $500, $600 a month oftentimes, and more, for prescription drugs. We can deal with that this year and we can deal with it in a bipartisan way. The President has supported us in that.

But last year, struggle as we might, somehow some of my colleagues thought it was an issue better left unaddressed until after the election. Why? I suspect they thought they could take it to the people and somehow gain political favor by arguing that one side or the other had denied the senior citizens of this country access to a viable modern Medicare program with prescription drugs. I believe that argument fell hollow. What was heard by all of us who were out running for reelection last year was: Congress, do your work. Do it on a timely basis. Do it on a responsible basis. Yes, and do it in a bipartisan way. But don't drag your feet, don't argue, and, most important, don't in every way avoid getting your work done, failing to address the problem with the argument that somehow you will gain political favor by doing so; that will not work.

I think the President may also talk about something else that is reshaping American health care, and that is, of course, excessive lawsuits that are causing doctors literally to pack their bags and move to other States that have been bold enough to do tort reform over the last several years and where, as a result, the cost of insurance for care providers is not as great as it is in other areas of our country. This is something we have to deal with here. Yes, we have to look at a certain segment of our economy right in the eye and say fair is fair. A reward for malpractice suit should not make both the patient and his attorney multimillionaires in a single act. Clearly, a person injured by malpractice should be rewarded for that injury. None of us argue that. But the fact that in some instances predator lawyers can make a million dollars or more a case doesn't make a lot of sense to me, and I don't think it makes a lot of sense to the consumers, who now find they have to pick up the bill because of malpractice insurance that some doctors are now paying that is in the $200,000 to $300,000 to $400,000 a year range. That is, by any definition, excessive. I think our President will speak to that this evening, will talk about tort reform, and charge us, this Congress, in a bipartisan way to deal with that responsibly.

It is obvious to me, at least, that many Americans will be tuning in tonight to listen to the President on those issues. But obviously there is now another issue on which he will spend, I would guess, a good deal of time. That is the issue of defending peace and security at home and abroad. The President came to us last year in a post-9/11 environment with a very bold reform package. In the waning days of the last Congress, we produced a new agency of our Government entitled the Department of Homeland Security. That was a bold step on the part of our President. Anyone on the other side who says that we are less secure today as a country than we were before 9/11, or that we are not as secure as we ought to be, fails to recognize the significant amount of money and the major steps that have been and are now being taken to build greater security for the citizens of our country.

I was chuckling a little bit the other day when a Member of this Senate talked about not having accomplished anything. I thought, my goodness, that Senator must never travel on the airlines anymore, must never go through security checks that sometimes take 20, 30, and 40 minutes, that sometimes require all of your bags to be inspected, your shoes taken off, your coat and jacket to be taken off.

I have seen, and I am sure the Presiding Officer has seen, 4- and 5-year-old kids almost strip-searched and wanded at the airports. Arguably, that is security. Frustrating? Yes. But I think our airlines today are substantially more secure than they have been. They will become increasingly secure as we refine security, and the people at those checkpoints become all the more efficient in their jobs. That is part of what this Congress has accomplished.

Certainly border security has become increasingly tight. The ability to identify illegal aliens who may be here for a purpose of doing us harm is now an aggressive process, well underway. Our Department of Justice has moved very aggressively to find, apprehend, and prosecute those where cases can be effectively built that they are, in one form or another, here with a purpose other than finding work and providing beneficial service to this economy.

For anyone to say we are less secure today is a surprise to me. Does it say we are as secure as we ought to be? Certainly not. But it also suggests, in light of the threat of terrorism, that we, as a country, live differently today and must think differently in a post-9/11 environment, that we must be constantly vigilant and, yes, our agencies of government—whether it be Federal, State, or local—must improve their abilities. And they are being given the resources to do just that, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Certainly, that is a challenge. I think it is a challenge that the President will speak about this evening.

Lastly, and certainly as important, will be the issue of security abroad. Our Nation is a humane and civil nation. We are a peace-loving nation. We have always taken war as a very serious undertaking and one from which—while we do not enjoy it in any way when it comes to our own citizens' security and the security of freedom-loving citizens and allies around the world—we have not stepped back. Certainly, in a post-cold-war environment, we recognize, as the world's superpower, that awesome responsibility and force we have.

This President—and I have heard him, as have all of us—speaks very clearly to that, recognizing not only his responsibilities as our President and Commander in Chief, but it is a responsibility he does not take lightly nor does he take casually. He sees it as a huge responsibility and one that he and his Cabinet treat most seriously.

In doing so, he has operated both in a bold and cautious fashion. For anyone to suggest anything less than that did not hear our President's speech at the United Nations and his willingness to challenge them to do their job with the passage of the U.N. resolution that, in fact, finally put inspectors back into Iraq to do just that, to inspect and to find if Saddam Hussein had lived up to the original U.N. resolution, first and foremost, and, secondly, to see if, in fact, he was continuing to build weapons of mass destruction and if he had gained any kind of nuclear capability.

It has already been well established that he has both chemical and biological weapons. Those were found. Those were recorded. Yet somehow today the world is cautiously saying: Well, that doesn't seem to count anymore. It is what you find today or tomorrow that will cause this country and our allies to disarm Saddam Hussein.

I do not think the President or his people see it that way. And while they have been willing to give the United Nations ample time to respond, this President does have a responsibility, and that responsibility is, yes, to the world at large and the freedom-loving people around the world, but his responsibility is to us, here at home, to make sure the actions we take in foreign policy increasingly reflect on our security and our stability.

I think the President will talk about that this evening, as certainly he and his Cabinet have been involved in that over the last good number of weeks and months. It has been one of his primary missions, along with bringing this economy back to life and moving us forward as a country.

This is a critical speech for our country, both here and abroad, as this President speaks to us and to the American people about his vision of leadership and responsibility, to move our economy, to create jobs, to put people back to work and, at the same time, to strengthen and improve health care and the general well-being of the citizens.

He will, by his proposal of faith-based approaches, encourage us to deal with acts of compassion. The President wants to apply compassion to some of the deepest problems in America. That is a side of our President that has been badly underestimated by some. He will urge Congress to pass both his faith-based and citizen service initiatives. Why? Because it is in the best interest of this country to do so. For good people to be helping good people who are in need of help, with some assistance from our Government, at a tremendously lower cost and in a considerably more compassionate way, is exactly what this President will speak to in that initiative.

Lastly, of course, as I have mentioned, is defending the peace and the security at home and abroad. September 11, nearly 2 years ago now, was a time of awakening under an attack and a loss of our fellow citizens' lives that we didn't think could happen. While some experts had studied the issue over the years and had told us that someday it would happen, I don't believe there was ever a true belief that it could happen here. Now we know it can.

For us to think it will never happen again would be to dramatically underestimate not only the ability of the human mind to figure a new approach but the intent of terrorists to do our citizens and our country wrong.

We have made some great steps forward in reshaping Government and its agencies to be more sensitive, to be able to connect the dots of intelligence and information and, out of that, to make an assessment as to the security of our country.

Also, this President has gone much beyond that. He has reached out to the world at large and challenged people not to in any way encourage or ignore a risk of terrorism and to deal with terrorists as if they were enemies of the world and enemies of the state. Clearly, we have a role, as a very powerful country, in working with our allies to make sure terrorism and terrorists have no safe haven anywhere in the world. That is why our President insisted that U.N. resolutions be enforced and that we go back into Iraq, as the United Nations inspections team has over the last several months, to determine whether Saddam Hussein was living up to U.N. resolutions that largely were to disarm and neutralize him after the Desert Storm war over a decade ago.

That will be another important part of his speech this evening, as he assesses that for us and challenges us, both as a country and as a Congress, to work with him in the days to come.

Trade and jobs and the economy on one hand, security on another, these are issues that Congresses in the past have faced and this Congress will face. Our challenge is to be able to work together, not for one side to gain political advantage over the other but to see how we can best solve these problems. Many of them, if not most, will have to be dealt with in a bipartisan way so that our country truly does come together not only to make ourselves more secure, but in that security to be able to live in a good life, to be able to have the resources and the wherewithal to sustain life in both a livable and enjoyable fashion. That is the American dream. Most important, that is the American responsibility, be it here at home or to the world at large. That is our challenge.

I believe our President will once again challenge us this evening to greatness.

With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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