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Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. GRAHAM. Madam President, before we get too far into explaining the problems we face with this bill, I think we need to acknowledge the hard work on behalf of those who have brought us to this point. We know it is not perfect. The chairman knows it is not perfect, but I think he has done the country a great service. To the Senators who have negotiated this with their House colleagues, to the staff who has been working night and day, from my point of view, you have stepped to the plate and you have done the country a great service.

Do more, we will. Make no mistake about it. To those who wonder: Will more follow? Yes. There will be more corrective action following in the Congress. Please understand, after we take this decisive action, there will be more troubles lying ahead for America. But we have two choices as far as I am concerned: A bad choice we all recognize, and a catastrophic choice if we do nothing.

Now, there are a lot of people getting phone calls. I am a king of the phone calls. I have been involved in immigration, Gang of 14, you name it. People have called my office, and you are always welcome to call and I will listen to what you have to say. But the people are against this proposal. Who are the people? That is the first thing you have to decide as a Member of the Senate. Whom do you represent?

Do you represent every corner of society: Republicans, Democrats, Independents, libertarians, and vegetarians?

One thing I have found is that a phone call from mad people helps you only so much. There will always be people calling my office telling me what I can't do. I think it is up to me to have a little broader view of what to do.

I challenge you to come to South Carolina and walk up and down Main Street and not find concern on the faces of people in business. I challenge you to go to retirement communities in South Carolina and not see fear in the faces of people who depend on their 401(k) plans for their retirement. I have never seen anything like it.

This is not about investment banks; this is about the ability of Sonic Drive-in to expand their franchise--a very big business--but, more importantly, it is about the plumber who can't make payroll because he can't get credit. It is about the lady who owns the diner, second-generation owner in Greenville who wants to expand and can't get money. It is about people trying to buy a car and they can't buy the car, and the dealerships in South Carolina are about to fold. It is about you--the average American--soon, if we don't act, being unable to exercise your hopes and dreams because you will not be able to borrow money.

Borrowing money responsibly is the heart and soul of a free market economy. The reason we are here today is people have borrowed money irresponsibly, and all of us are to blame. But if this was about an investment bank and a few CEOs, I don't think 70 Senators would vote for this legislation.

This is about something more fundamental. This is about a problem that started and has infiltrated our economy to the point that if we can't muster the political courage to listen to the phone calls and act decisively and tell people who are mad: I am sorry, there has to be a solution even if you don't agree, then average, everyday people are going to lose everything they have worked for throughout their life. People are not going to be able to send their kids to school and small businesses and big businesses in this country are going to fold next week. I said next week.

If you told me that Wachovia Bank, one of the largest banks in America, would be sold at 10 cents on the dollar, I would have said I don't think that can happen. But I would have been wrong. It is happening, and it will continue to happen until we find a solution. This proposal, to those who crafted it, you have done a very good job after having been dealt a very difficult hand. It allows intervention in a way that will protect the taxpayer.

To those who say that $700 billion of taxpayer money will be spent and it is gone, you don't know what you are talking about. You are scaring people. That is absolutely not true. I am convinced we are going to get most of the money back, if not all of it back, by the way we have crafted this proposal. But I am equally convinced if we do nothing, we are headed to recession, maybe a depression. And you think it costs a lot now. Just do nothing and see what it costs. Nobody wants to be in this spot, but if you don't want to be in these spots, don't run for office.

So to the people of South Carolina, on Main Street, to the car dealerships, to the small business enterprises, to the manufacturers, to the retired communities, to those with whom I have met over the last day or so, I have your message too. I have gotten the phone call, but I have also gotten your message. At the end of the day, I have to rely upon what good sense God may have given me, and sometimes I doubt how much sense I have. A lot of people obviously doubt it because they call me a lot. But I am convinced a lot of smart people are telling me things that I can visualize and see with my own eyes; that it is no longer about academia.

I have been home. I have seen people not be able to get loans to make payroll.

I know what is going to happen if I don't act, if I don't take a risk. If I am not willing to take a political risk, I know what happens to people I represent in large numbers. They are going to lose a lot more than I will lose.

We can stand replacing a few Senators. We cannot stand being unable to borrow money at the most basic level. This is not about an investment bank. This is about banks, small and large banks, and lending institutions that are locked down and cannot loan money. This is about the availability of credit that is going to be so high that no average working person is going to be able to borrow a dime. This is about Main Street. This is about the people I grew up with, and I didn't grow up on Wall Street.

I am the first person to go to college in my family. My dad owned a liquor store. Everything I know about politics I learned in the liquor store, a pretty good place to learn from. We borrowed money to make inventory. We owned a restaurant right next door. My mom worked 18 hours a day. I know what it is like to see my parents work hard and cannot afford to get sick because there is no money coming in.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator's time has expired.

Mr. GRAHAM. I end with this thought: I know this is not a perfect bill, and I know this is a bad choice. But I also know from my common sense and my life experiences that I need to act and I need to act now, and I will.


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