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Public Statements

Farewell to the Senate

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

FAREWELL TO THE SENATE -- (Senate - September 27, 2008)

Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, first, I have to thank the distinguished Republican leader for his kind remarks and equally as important for his consideration of me ever since he has been our leader. It has been easy for me to make suggestions and to know he would listen. It has been easy for me, when he has asked me to do things, to do them because for the most part he has been right on his ideas, he has been right on his judgment. I very much appreciate his remarks here today.

I have worked with a number of leaders, as everyone knows, and they are all wonderful people. Obviously, when you serve with people such as the distinguished Senator Bob Dole, who was in your position, I say to my good friend who just remarked on my behalf, and when you sit in the same position as our good friend from Tennessee, who sat there for so long, Howard Baker, you know you are in good company. And I know you are in good company. But I would say to them, they are in good company with you.

Now, I am supposed to say goodbye to the Senate and that is probably what I am not going to do because I do not quite know how to do it. But I am going to say something in my address today. It may be a little bit broken up. But I do want to start by saying I want to thank my wife first.

Frankly, to be honest, she should not have let me run for the Senate. After I ran for city council and became mayor of Albuquerque, we already had our children. We were not a moneyed family, and I guess you all could guess we were pretty broke. Here I was in that condition telling her that I want to run for something else. And the Lord blessed me. I had a luck-out. I got a big lawsuit that settled. No, it did not. It went to jury right about that time and made a lot of money. I was able to at least tell my wife we were not going to go broke running for the Senate, although there would not be much around for us to share. The case was a good one, and it made us able to go on through that campaign.

But anybody that has been from a family that is as large as ours knows that for the head of the household to decide to run and serve as a Senator, especially in a State like New Mexico--which is not Republican at all, and which is, very big--for the lady of the household to say yes, and then to live with it, has not been an easy job.

She has probably had as hard a job--a much harder job--than I, and she has never been anything but beautiful and decent and honest and loving and caring. Obviously, she did not have enough time to do all these things that I have done. She did some of them. But I can say, wherever any of the Members and their wives met her, they had nothing but good things to say because they could not say otherwise.

She deserves just that.

Let me say that these remarks about the Senate itself--I say to my fellow retiree sitting here, John Warner--I could do this in 20 minutes or 2 days because, obviously, there is so much to talk about. The time in the Senate, when you look at it day by day, was wrenching and difficult at times. It was so hard; but when you look at it over 36 years, it is like a storm. It blew by, and all of a sudden it is 36 years later, and you are gone. Nobody will experience the strange feeling it is after 36 years in a place such as this to wake up of a morning and say you are not going to be here anymore. I don't know what I could offer the Senate to make it more pleasant for people who are leaving, but for me it is time to say goodbye.

Having said that, I wish to move on to what makes a Senator succeed. I have a list of the people who have worked for me in my Senate office here, or in my Senate office in New Mexico, or on the Budget Committee, or on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I will say I could not have done what I have done without fantastic leadership from my staff. My first recommendation to anybody coming here anew is don't let anybody tell you that you can get by with just this person or that person. You have to find people who are smart, people who are gifted, people who are ambitious, and people who want to serve you, the Senator, and make you achieve for your constituency. I have been blessed by an abundance of them. They are not all still here. They are all over the place. Wherever they are, most are in high places doing distinguished things.

The whole list I wish to mention will go in the Record shortly. There are three or four people whom I want to recommend. First, Steve Bell, who has been with me most all of my 36 years--all but 8. Those 8 years he took off to go to Wall Street and make his own fortune. He did that. Then he came back, and I caught him one day when he wasn't doing anything. I asked him if he would like to work, and he wondered: Where? I said: How does chief of staff sound? He didn't bother to say I have to talk to my wife or anything. He said: I will take it. And he has been here ever since.

A young man named Alex Flint, as well as another young man in my office--a lawyer--Ed Hild, who shepherded the mental health parity bill for 10 years. There are many other people. I am sorry I mentioned three, because others are going to wonder why I didn't mention them. I am compelled to mention two others. Bill Hoagland was the director of the Budget Committee and is now known in the United States as the our Nation's foremost expert on the budget of the United States. He has written a white paper on the budget and it is incredible. Anybody who wants to know the first 25-year history of the Budget Act should read Bill Hoagland's white paper.

Then there is a lady named Carol McGuire who I got from one of the other appropriations Senators. He was a Democrat. As he left, she came to work for me more than 25 years ago. I can tell you with all honesty, she became as if she were a New Mexican. She knows more about her adopted State, which is my State, than any living public servant of any category in anyplace in New Mexico, because she has served me there and that means in every district she has been the principal person on appropriations projects and activities.

Clearly, there are many others and they all have my greatest thanks as I ask unanimous consent to have this list printed in the Record at this time. As I go through and find a few more that I must put in, I think the Senate will indulge me to add them.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

Steve Bell, Ed Hild, Alex Flint, Bill Hoagland, Chris Gallegos, Charles Gentry, Carol McGuire, Angela Raish, Lee Rawls, Paul Gilmon, Denise Ramonas, George Ramonas, Darlene Garcia, Peggy Mallow, Lisa Breeden, Susie Cordero, Ernest Vigil, Joe Trujillo, Joyce Pullen, Poe and Nancy Corn, Lou Gallegos, Cheryl Rodriguez, Clay Sell, Frank Macchiarola, Scott O'Malia, Maggie Murray, Davie Schiappa.

Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, now I wish to say that I looked for a little bit of history about myself to see what I said when I first came to the Senate. In those days you waited a few months before speaking on the floor, so I will tell you that I did not give a so-called maiden speech, Mr. Leader, until I had been here 4 full months. I guess it was because I was frightened. I thought this was such a mammoth organization with such compelling things happening, I didn't know where I should be or what I should do. I sat in that seat over there because I was 99th in the Senate. Joe Biden was 100 when I came. Incidentally, they parked him in my office, so there were two Senators in the same office when I arrived because Joe had no place to stay and they put us together. So it was Domenici and Biden in the same office.

But what I said, Mr. Leader, in my first speech--I will just read one sentence, and I said this: ``Let us quit this self-serving struggle and get on with the business of governing.''

Now, that was when the Senate didn't have time to legislate because we were arguing about Richard Nixon. As a brand new Senator, I said those words. Now, isn't it interesting that I could say those words today. I wish we could quit partisan arguing and get more done. As I leave the Senate, I must say there is no place like the Senate. I don't think you could ever invent one. It has evolved out of our Constitution and out of the rules, the Jeffersonian rules that were adopted, and then the evolution occurred with this body trying to meet the challenges of this fantastic, great country, from its infancy to the growth that it has today. Believe it or not, we have passed over the years one-sentence bills that were very meaningful that took a long time. We have had complicated matters that probably we never thought would be handled by the Senate or the House. One of those is before us today.

It is so complex for this kind of a body to legislate this problem that we are having in our financial markets that one wonders whether we can do it. But I do wish to say that it is my feeling that we will solve the problem. We will solve the financial problem which could cause the ruination of our country, and it is because the Senate almost always, if not always, finds somebody who will take the lead. Somebody will rise up and be the leader. Somebody will take the reins and run with it and others will follow, and you will get done what must be done for America. There is no question that it is easy to play politics, even with something as profound as our financial system and its potential for bankruptcy. It is easy to play politics and hide when you have something before you that says perhaps we are going to have a depression if we don't act. But the Senate doesn't expect everybody to agree.

I wish to address for a moment two things that are happening in the Senate that I wish could be changed. I wish the filibuster--which I am a staunch advocate of retaining--but I wish we could find a way to use it less. The use of the filibuster so frequently is beginning to distort this place. When you add it with a couple of other things such as the filling of the tree activity, we are becoming more and more like the House and less and less like a U.S. Senate. I don't know whether we can do anything about that, but surely, surely we ought to be solving more problems in a bipartisan way. I think the rules of our Senate are more apt to operate well if Senators could work together rather than being polarized. Again, I can't say anyone is wrong in doing it, because we feel very strongly about the issues before us, and that is why these things happen.

I did mention, at least in passing, in these few words about New Mexico and the things I was privileged to do there. And, how they made me what I am by letting me do for them what they needed. I do wish to mention that there are great people in that State. As a matter of fact, people don't know that those two giant national laboratories in the State of New Mexico, the one called Los Alamos and the other one at Sandia. Between the two of them, they provide more Ph.D.s and advanced degrees in science, math and physics to that part of the United States than any other part of the country. It is rather phenomenal what they do and what they contribute. To be part of them has caused me to become somewhat of an expert in nuclear power, and I am proud to tell my colleagues that nuclear power is in a renaissance posture. I take a little bit of credit for it because I spent 10 years working on it, and finally, it came forward. We are going to have nuclear power. It will take awhile, because it takes about 4 years to clear the permits, but they are coming forward four at a time, four permits at a time. There are about 26 of them, 1,000-megawatt units pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Our distinguished leader mentioned one, because one had to start it off, but we have many more now than one. Those nuclear powerplants will begin to help America achieve what we have always been best at: We will achieve with large operating machines that are perfectly safe; we will achieve without any carbon dioxide to bother the outer limits where we are worrying about climate change. They have no emissions that have anything to do with that. What a big achievement for us. I am proud to have had something to do with that.

There are many more things that are kind of matched between New Mexicans telling me about them and my getting to work on them up here. Because of my scientists and the expertise in nuclear matters, I was encouraged after the two balanced budgets that I was privileged to put forth and manage--we did have two of them, John, even though we look back and wonder when was it and will it ever come again, we had two in a row. I was chairman of the Budget Committee. After that, my staff said: What is next, Senator? I said, I don't know. We have to dream it up. We have already balanced the budget and we all came up with let's work on nuclear power, and we did. That is how it happened. One thing followed another. One accomplishment begged out and asked for another. That was, indeed, exciting. Many other things have happened in the field of energy, in the field of nonproliferation.

I remember going to Russia when we finalized an agreement with the Russians. President Clinton invited me because I was the one who led the cause here to buy the remnants of 20,000 missiles that had been taken apart in Russia and they had highly enriched uranium in abundance. We bought it. It was my proposal: $350 million. The lights in the leader's home and in people's homes today--10 percent of all of the lights in America are being lit by that highly enriched uranium that is still flowing from that agreement, which is about 14 years old. Now we are going to enter into new agreements to use that material that comes out of those nuclear rockets; 20,000 is what was dismantled for what we bought, but there is much more there, and that is always dangerous for America and for the world. So somebody will need to fill this vacuum and work hard at it. I heard the Presidential candidates speaking of it. I am not quite sure that either of them has been involved enough to know what is going on, but I wish whichever one of them wins well in that regard, because that is important. The nonproliferation of nuclear materials is drastically important.

Now, I don't know whether I am going to be around here. My wife Nancy and I haven't decided whether we are going to live here or in New Mexico. If we live here, I won't be bugging anybody or bothering anybody, but maybe some of you might bother me. Who knows, I might have a cause that brings me to talk to you once in a while. But leaving will be difficult for me. You all already know me. I don't take things lightly. I get so worked up about this issue of the possible financial problems of our country. I feel so personal about it. But, you must take care of it after I leave. After a day of debating and arguing, I feel so uptight about the fact that we didn't do something, that I don't know how we can continue day after day, especially the leader, waiting for these things to materialize.

I want them done yesterday when I see a problem as big as the one we have in terms of our financial system. The first day I find out all about them, I want to sit down and finish it, Leader. I guess you have sensed that, have you not? I bother you a lot asking what is going on, when are we going to do this, when are we going to do that.

If I don't have any of that around, I don't know what exactly I will do or what kind of a person I may become. Maybe I will just fade away. I hope not and I doubt it.

What I have learned in the Senate. I learned what I wish every Senator would learn, every Republican Senator, just speaking to my own party, I learned that the best way to solve a big problem is to do it in a bipartisan manner.

That puts me looking over my left shoulder and seeing Senator Bingaman. He is a Democrat. He has not been here as long. Almost as long. The way he is going, he is probably going to pass my 36 years. Although every time I tell him that, he nods no. I don't see what he is going to do if he isn't in the Senate. He is so involved. He loves it.

I do wish to say the most successful piece of legislation in 36 years--I did budgets, but they are not legislated. I did reconciliation bills, which I am going to talk about in a moment as my closing remarks. But when it came to doing a major energy bill, we failed until I made up my mind that I would not do it unless I did it in a bipartisan manner.

I went to my fellow Senator, Senator Bingaman, and I said: Are you willing
to give it a try? We will do it in a bipartisan manner. I was chairman for 3 years. And he said: It will be great. I can tell you it was the best 2 years of legislating here that I have had, and I think he would say the same. He recalls. He pushed me, and he knows I pushed him. That means I took him as far as I could, and when I got to a certain place, I said: I better agree with him, he doesn't want to do this, because he is apt to quit, he is at the end of the rope. I don't know how many times he did that to me, but that is how you do it. You have to push and push, and then you have to give. That was a very exciting thing and a lesson for all of us.

There are too many people who don't know what is in that bill and they talk about it. But that bill is the reason why we are going to have a rebirth of nuclear power. It is the reason we are moving ahead as rapidly as we are in solar energy and wind energy, no question about it. It is a bill that set the ground rules for improving the national grid for electricity so we might have a day soon when we can say the national grid will not break again. It will continue unabated. No matter what you do to it, you will not knock the whole thing offline. Those are the kinds of things that are in this bill, and much more, on conservation and a host of other issues.

We did that bill in 2 years because we walked hand in hand, Republican and Democrat. He had to, as it goes, because I was chairman, take a lot less notoriety in New Mexico than I got. I never heard him complain a bit. He should have probably told me every now and then: Why don't you shut up for a week and let me talk about the bill so New Mexicans will know I am working too. But he didn't do that. When we finally finished, the President of the United States made sure he got his credit because Senator Bingaman went for the signing of that bill. The reason he got so much credit is because I put on a pair of glasses to hide from the Sun. They were so big and bulky that people didn't know who I was. They surely knew who he was because he was clear and lucid and I had these glasses hiding me. So he got his just due.

My last comments have something to do internal to the Senate that I have achieved with the help of some mighty fine people, with Steve Bell and Bill Hoagland as leaders.

We passed a bill in 1974 called the Budget Impoundment Act of the United States. That was done for two reasons. One, President Richard Nixon got involved a little too much in impounding as a means of cutting budgets. So he would impound ongoing projects, such as a water project, I say to David sitting there.

I should comment that without David Schiappa and all his staff, we cannot make it. This place needs the young, smart, dedicated and honest.

Here is what happened in that law. That law was passed, and it was bragged about that Senator ROBERT BYRD joined with those who put it together and it will run and operate exactly as it was written and there are no loopholes in that bill. Maybe there were not and maybe there were, but early on, we found you could not get anything out of the Budget Act by just adopting budget resolutions because there was no way to make enforce anything other than points of order. So we found a little section in there called reconciliation. That is a funny word. We said: We are going to interpret reconciliation to mean our committee can order another committee to do something and how. What they are ordered to do is reconcile with the budget. We soon found we could reconcile tax bills. We could reconcile entitlements. We could reconcile direct spending.

Lo and behold, the committees had to do it or we would do it. They said: You will never do it because you are not the committee chairman; it is my committee. I said that is the perfect intent of this provision. If you don't want me to do it, you better do it. We never had to find out whether the chairman could because they always did it.

Why is that so important? Because reconciliation was provided to make sure you could not delay matters of budget. It was not filibusterable, let me say. A matter in that budget, anything in that Budget Act that was put forth before the Senate was not subject to filibuster.

Senator Byrd, the first or second time we used it, came to the floor and said: That is not what we intended. And we said: Well, we think it is. We had a vote. The Senate said it was.

If you wonder why almost all the major legislation of the U.S. Government has been appearing with a funny name--it is usually called something that says ``Budget and Reconciliation Act of'' such and such a year. That is generally the major piece of legislation that we passed--major tax changes, major Medicare changes, major Social Security changes, if any. All of them will come out in that form. That means every one of those bills became law because of that interpretation of the Budget Act that we put on it called reconciliation. That is how all the bills passed.

What does it tell you then? It tells you that a filibuster doesn't work because to get the work of budgeting done, you abandon filibuster. You send it to a temporary ash heap--not permanently--because if you tried to do it permanently, everybody would die because they think the filibuster would be abolished and maybe there would be a vote. But that is not what happens in the Budget Act. You can read it in the act and interpret it and say you cannot stop budgets indefinitely. There is no reason to have a budget. If you stop the implementation indefinitely, you kill the budget. Right? That is where it comes from.

I certainly took a lot more than 20 minutes, but I didn't take 2 days to say goodbye and to tell you how I felt about this place. But it took a long time. Some of you certainly could have gone a long time ago, but out of courtesy to me, you have sat here, including you, Mr. Leader.

I do hope whoever reads the Record and whoever hears me today and those of you who are on the floor, at least got out of this that I worked pretty hard at being a Senator. I somehow got myself involved in a lot of different things, and it was kind of fun that way. We got things done. We didn't always make a lot of noise, although I am known to make noise, if necessary. But those were not the areas I was involved in.

I wish to close with one funny story about my wife, Senator TED KENNEDY, and myself. One night I was over here and Senator Kennedy was over there. My wife sometimes watches the TV to see what we do here on the floor. It was between 7 and 9 in the evening. When I talk loud, you notice my face gets red. I didn't talk very loud today, but you have seen plenty of times late in the evening when I talk loud and my face gets red. Some people say it is because you are yelling. I don't know what it is. Maybe it is yelling, maybe it is just talking too loud.

I got a note. I was called to the cloakroom, so I went to the cloakroom while Senator Kennedy held the floor. My wife had written a note and said--my family nickname is Bocci, not Pete: Bocci, you don't do any better when you yell and get red in the face than when you talk low and you don't get red in the face. I love you.

I came back. I said to Senator Kennedy, when it finally got to be my turn: Senator Kennedy, I want you to know I got a note from my wife.

He said: Oh, you mean Nancy.

I said: Yes, Nancy.

He said: What about it?

I said: She sent you a note. Really. So I read him the note with his name in place of Bocci my name: Dear Senator Kennedy, you don't do any better when you yell and get red in the face than you do when you talk low and you don't get red in the face. I said: I don't know why my wife said that to you, but she did. My wife would almost not let me in the door that night. But we made our point and both of us tried from time to time to yell a little less.

I hope he is getting well or feeling better. We finished a bill that I did not mention--maybe I did in passing--but we did a bill together over the past 8 years, which is a very important bill for the mentally ill of our country. I have worked on the mentally illness issues for about 25 years. The treatment of the mentally ill in the United States is one of the most disgraceful ways of handling a social problem of almost anything. We let them all out of dungeons and then provided no physical facilities for them. We just thought it will happen, but it didn't happen. That is the worst. We acted like it wasn't a disease, even though it is. In the meantime, insurance companies decided not to cover it. Even if they had an insurance policy that covered everything, they would cover mentally ill less. This bill says that will not happen anymore. Insurance companies would not be able to do that any more--the bill is called parity, which means fairness, which means equality. We are going to have fairness and equality of treatment by all insurance companies for the mentally ill.

Senator Kennedy was as excited about that as I was. He is very sorry he couldn't be here when you helped me, Mr. Leader, get that through the other day. We called him and told him and sent him a letter saying we couldn't have done it without him.

That bill will cover 113 million people who will no longer have the threat of having less than full coverage for their mental illness, such as they do for other diseases.

That seems like it is pretty close to the end of my time, my 36 years. It will soon actually be, literally, 36 years, but for now, I will act as if it is and say this is my time to say thank you to the Senate. To all those who have worked with me and with whom I have been privileged to work.

What a magnificent opportunity I have had. Coming from Albuquerque, my father never went to school. He got here at 13. He claimed he was lucky. He didn't have to go to school because the law said if you are 13, you don't have to. He didn't know education was valuable, so he was glad to go to work.

He didn't want me to go to law school because he was quite sure I had been overeducated. But when I explained it to him, he paid for everything. He said: I want you to be a lawyer, which was absolutely fantastic.

It has been an honor to serve my home state of New Mexico. With that, I just want to say thank you and goodbye.

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