Mrs. LINCOLN. Mr. President, I am glad to be here with my colleagues to express my gratitude for the incredible, blessed life's journey I have experienced thus far and the wonderful contributions this place has made to that. I have been enormously blessed by the people of Arkansas to have represented them in the U.S. Congress, first as a Member of the House of Representatives and finally now as a U.S. Senator.
Today, I rise as the daughter of two amazing parents, Martha and the late Jordan Lambert, the proud daughter of a seventh-generation Arkansas family, dirt farmers--not to be confused, we didn't farm dirt, but we were hardworking farmers who were not afraid to get dirty, to get our hands into the Earth and to do what it was we have done for generations in Arkansas. I am also the proud wife of Dr. Steve Lincoln and the very proud mother of two incredible young men, Reece and Bennett--great boys. You all have watched them grow up. It is the many unique life experiences each of us brings to this place and to this job that really and truly contribute to the mark we leave on this institution.
When I came to the Senate, my boys were 2 and we were about to celebrate their third birthday. We didn't have any friends up here, so I looked around the Senate to see who had children, who could bring their kids to our birthday party, and there were a few. We kind of had to rent out some kids to come to the Moonbounce to have a great party and it was fun. I realized how important that experience was for me to bring to this body, to share with people. PATTY MURRAY knows--she has been there--MARY LANDRIEU, AMY KLOBUCHAR, and so many others who have had their children here in the Senate. What a difference that makes in your perspective on what you are doing here. It makes a big difference.
Birthdays were a big deal when we first got here. In my household, you are allowed to celebrate your birthday for an entire week, and it is always a great time. My first birthday I celebrated in the Senate was unusual. We had just moved. My husband had moved his practice. The boys were here. They had just turned 3. It was hectic. It was a new Congress. We had all just come through an impeachment trial. There were many things going on. When my birthday came around, it kind of came and went. My husband noticed that. So we had gone to a spouse dinner shortly after my first birthday in the Senate. My good friend, Joe Biden, who was my seatmate before he left to become Vice President, and his wife Jill had reached out to us to make us feel comfortable. We were young parents. We had small children. We were both working very hard.
The first spouse dinner we went to, we were sitting with Joe and Jill, and Jill produced a lovely birthday gift. It was a monogrammed box, obviously something that was thought about. It wasn't something she picked up and regifted from her closet at home. It meant so much to my husband and to me, that we were a part of a family who realized what we were going through--not just what they were going through but what we were going through. I looked at Jill and told her: You couldn't have done anything to make me or my husband more happy than to think of something that was important in our lives, and they did that. I have been a part of this family, and it has been a great time.
As I glance back on my time here, I do so with great pride, knowing that each of my votes and actions were taken with the best interests of the people of Arkansas in mind. I have always attempted to conduct myself in a manner that would make Arkansans proud, and my tears today I hope are not going to affect that. Living by my mother's rule as we did growing up, if it was rude or dangerous, it was not allowed, and I hope I have definitely met that rule because Mother sent us off with it.
As a farmer's daughter, I am honored to have helped craft three farm bills that were crucial to the economy of Arkansas. I was able to persuade my colleagues to understand the regional differences in production agriculture in our country but, most of all, I am proud I was able to impress upon my colleagues and others, hopefully, across this great Nation of ours the enormous blessing our Nation receives from farm and ranch families, what they bestow upon us, what they allow us and all the rest of the world to do each and every day; that is, to eat, to sustain ourselves, and to be able to grow.
I am particularly honored to have become the first woman and the first Arkansan to serve as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. It has been a wonderful year I have had, and I will always be proud of what we have accomplished in that committee this year and certainly in years past.
We passed historic child nutrition legislation. As a result, each meal served in schools will meet nutritional standards our children and future generations deserve, putting them on a path to wellness instead of obesity. As a result, we will see an increase in the reimbursement rate for schools for the first time since 1973--since I was in junior high, younger than my own children today--and we did so by not adding one penny to the national debt as well as doing it in a bipartisan way.
We produced historic Wall Street reform legislation. When I became chairman of the committee, our economy was on the brink of collapse. Our legislation targeted the least transparent parts of the financial system and will bring them not only within the plain view of regulators but also in the view of hardworking Americans who want to know what is going on in our economy and in the marketplace.
Throughout my time in the Senate, I have fought hard on behalf of rural communities and families. In the House, sitting next to ED MARKEY on the Energy and Commerce Committee, he always called me BLANCHE ``Rural'' LAMBERT. He said: BLANCHE, every time your mouth opens, it says rural. I said: That is where I grew up, that is whom I represent, and you will always hear me speaking on behalf of the families in rural America.
I wrote the legislation establishing the Delta Regional Authority, the only Federal agency designed to channel resources, aid, and technical assistance for economic development in the rural and impoverished Mississippi Delta region.
I fought for tax relief for hardworking low- and middle-income Arkansas families, and I am most proud of the refundable child tax credit I worked on with Senator OLYMPIA SNOWE. I have also fought for the certainty for farmers and ranchers and small businesses in Arkansas with fair estate tax reforms with Senator JON KYL.
I am proud of my work on behalf of Arkansas and our Nation's seniors, including my work on the prescription drug program for seniors, working with Senator Baucus and others on the Finance Committee; the Elder Justice Act that is now law, the first Federal law ever enacted to address elder abuse in a comprehensive manner. I was honored to be joined in that effort by Senators ORRIN HATCH and HERB KOHL and the hard work we put toward that.
Growing up in a family of infantrymen, I am proud to have fought for Arkansas servicemembers, veterans, and their families, specifically fighting for funding increases for the VA and the creation of the VA's Office of Rural Health, as well as better access to quality mental health care for all our veterans.
I came to Congress to fight on behalf of our Nation's children, families, veterans, small businesses, and farmers, and I am honored and humbled that in each of these areas, I was able to achieve legislative success on their behalf.
But as my mother would say, straighten up and pay attention to what this is about. This speech is not about yesterday, and it is not about today. What I would like for people to remember about this speech is that it was about our Nation's future and what we can achieve together. We have great work to do, great work. I may be leaving this body, but that doesn't mean I give up on my country. You all have much work to do.
Colleagues, we have approached a fork in the road. This is not the first, nor do I suspect it will be the last, but we have within ourselves the ability in this Nation to choose a positive and uplifting path. Harry Reid teases me all the time: Do you smile at everything? You know what. There is a lot to smile about. We have great opportunities ahead of us in this country, but they are not going to happen by themselves. We have the opportunity to choose a path that respects differences of opinion. We have the opportunity to choose a path that sets aside short-term political gains, a path that maintains this body's historic rules that protect the views of the minority but also puts results ahead of obstruction.
Again, I grew up in a family of four kids, and I am the youngest. You all wonder why I am so tough. I have been beat up on all my life. But my dad always said: It is results that count. It is what you finish and what you accomplish. It is not these little battles we fight; it is the war we are going to win, and it is not a war we are going to win without the Republicans or without the administration or without our constituents. It is a war on behalf of our Nation, and it has to be done together.
Many of my colleagues have had the wonderful opportunity of meeting my husband. My husband doesn't like crowds a lot. I love crowds because I love being together. I love being a part of things. I love being a part of a team. My team is here, my Lincoln team. It is a great team. They have been a wonderful group to work with. You are a part of my team. You are my family in the Senate. Being together and working together is an incredible blessing, and we have to make sure we realize that.
Our country is certainly at its best when we are collectively working together for a goal. All you have to do is listen to your parents or your grandparents talk about victory gardens or rationing nylons or anything else that happened during the war when people were working collectively together.
Our country is facing many challenges. There is no doubt the American people are frustrated. They are frustrated with our lack of productivity, and they are so anxious to be a part of the solution that needs to happen here--the coming together, the finding of solutions to the problems we face and the results we need to have. I am confident that, together, we can overcome all these differences and continue to be the leader of the rest of the world as we have been and should be. I leave this body with confidence that we can provide our citizens with the type of government they deserve: a government that provides results and certainty about the future they so longingly want to be a part of and that they want to protect for their children, rather than obstruction and sound bites and confusion.
With teenage children at home, it is a true blessing that we live in a day and in an age where information is available at a moment's notice. I have watched my children--I had to go borrow the encyclopedia from my cousins next door. My kids click on the computer and immediately there are incredible volumes of information. They teach me: Mom, come look at this. Did you ever know this? It is amazing what is available to us. It is equally as important, though, that we, the American people, take the time that is necessary to understand the solutions to the challenges and not succumb to the convenience of modern technologies to take the place of our own good judgment. We cannot do that. The minds of the people of this country, the minds of the body of this institution ensure that we use the good sense God has given us to know what those right solutions are. To all of America, myself included, we must all discern carefully the information that is provided to us. It is all extremely convenient, but convenience is not what this is about. It is not about convenience. It is all about doing the right thing. So I call on not only our good judgment but our collective love for this country so we can meet the challenges our Nation faces. I know I am teaching my children that at home. I am also blocking some of the things they can get on the Internet. But I am also teaching them to use their own minds, their own thoughts: What is it you would have for your fellow man? How would you want people to behave? It is absolutely critical in this day and age.
To my colleagues on both sides of the political aisle, I implore each of you to set the example for our country by working together to move our Nation forward. We must start practicing greater civility toward one another, both privately and publicly. I can't forget when I first came to the House of Representatives, I called my colleague and neighbor, Bill Emerson from southern Missouri. I told him, I said: Bill, you know when you move into a new place, where I come from you bring somebody a cake or a pie, a batch of rolls or something. I said: I am not a bad cook, but I don't have a lot of time on my hands. I want to visit with you. You are a Republican, I am a Democrat, but you are my neighbor, and I am willing to bet you we agree on far more than we disagree on. As we visited for 45 minutes in that very first introduction, we came to the conclusion that we agreed far more on the same things than we disagreed. We decided to start the civility caucus. It lasted 3 months.
The fact is, there is much work to be done there, and we can do it.
Taking advantage of political gusts of wind is not what our constituents expect of us nor is it what they deserve. I urge you to have the courage to work across party lines. There is simply no other way to accomplish our Nation's objectives, nor should there be. Although you run the risk of being the center of attention for both political extremes, it is a far greater consequence to put personal or political success ahead of our country, and I know firsthand.
We must have the courage to come out of our foxholes--the foxholes we dig into--to the middle, where the rest of America is and discuss our collective path forward. I am counting on each of you to do so in a way that respects the temporary position we have all been granted here and respect this institution of ours that we have been blessed to inherit. It is an amazing place. Each of you has seen it in your own right and you know it.
To the young people of America, I think this is so important. I came here as the youngest woman in the history of our country to ever be elected to the Senate. I did so because I believed so strongly in the difference I could make. I still do. That is what this country is about. It is about making a difference, not for yourself but for others. I continue that journey now, as I leave this place, knowing there are still so many ways I will make a difference. But to those young people out there in this country, do not think this place is reserved just for age or experience. It is here that you could make a difference, whether you are elected or whether you are one of the incredible and phenomenal staff that helps to run this place, or whether you just simply choose to be out there and engaged in what is going on. There are many contributions to be made to this Nation by the young people of this country.
I leave this body with no regrets and with many incredible friendships. You know the old adage, ``If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.'' You all know I have a very large dog. But I also have some wonderful friends, and I am very grateful for those friendships.
When I first arrived, my friend MARY LANDRIEU had been in the hospital. I showed up at her house with a chicken spaghetti casserole, a bag of salad, and a bottle of wine.
She said: What are you doing here?
I said: You know, where I come from, when your neighbor or friend is sick, you take them dinner.
She said: BLANCHE, we don't do that up here.
I said: Let me tell you, if we forget where we come from, there is a big problem.
I am grateful. I will not attempt to go one by one through each of you, but know that every one of you all have a special place in my heart. You have taught me something. You have enriched my life in such a way, it is amazing. You also know--many of you personally--that I follow in some very large footsteps, between so many Arkansans, most recent being McClellan and Fulbright, David Pryor, and Dale Bumpers, who is my immediate predecessor. I thank Dale for the incredible mentor he has been to me and for the wonderful things he has done for our State.
I leave you with an unbelievable Senator, and that is my good friend MARK PRYOR. He is a statesman. He follows in the footsteps of all of those giants from Arkansas. I am enormously grateful to him for his friendship and, more importantly, for his great service to the people of Arkansas. So I leave you in good hands, without a doubt, with my good friend, Senator MARK PRYOR.
I have been surrounded, both in the past and currently, by an unbelievably dedicated, loyal, and hard-working staff, in my personal Senate office both in Arkansas and Washington, and certainly in the Agriculture Committee. To my staff, they know how much I love them. Our State and this institution are better because of their hard work and dedication. Without a doubt, they are smart and they are a great group of people. I am so blessed to not only know them but to have worked with them.
I have always been blessed with a loving and supportive family who have been my inspiration and bedrock all my life, and they continue to be.
Finally, let me, once again, say thanks to the people of Arkansas. My roots have been and always will be in Arkansas. That will never change. When Steve and the boys and I left after Thanksgiving to come back for the lameduck session--of course, as you all know, traveling with your family and just getting back in time--we left at 5 in the morning. We drove to Memphis because it was faster. We were halfway between. We had been at the cabin duck hunting and celebrating Thanksgiving with family. We were headed to the Memphis Airport, and the Sun was rising over the Arkansas delta.
Now, I am sure many of you all have never seen that, but it is a magnificent view. It reminded me of all of the great things I came here to do. It made me feel blessed with all of the things I was able to accomplish. But to know that I could go back to that same home and see that sunrise, it is unbelievable.
I will always treasure the experiences of this chapter in my life and the thousands of Arkansans I have come to know and love. They are a great group of people. I thank you again from the bottom of my heart.
To the people of Arkansas and this body, my good friends, I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT