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Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations and Surface Transportation Extensions Act, 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. PELOSI. Madam Speaker, I rise, not to talk about the continuing resolution that is before us, but in praise of the gentleman from Wisconsin (Mr. Obey), the chair of the Appropriations Committee. And this, hopefully, will be the last piece of legislation, not that hopefully it's your last, but hopefully it's the last that this body will hear from the Appropriations Committee. And I want to take the time on this bill to express the gratitude of our colleagues in the House, to the people of our country who care about America's working families, and to all who care about a world at peace, to thank Mr. Obey for his tremendous leadership. I rise to celebrate his career and the contributions. I think he is one of the greatest appropriators and one of Congress' greatest legislative minds.

For more than four decades he has fought in favor on this floor for the people of the Wisconsin seventh district and for America's middle class. He is a visionary for a better life for the American people and a legislative genius. He has an ability to see around corners, anticipate challenges and opportunities, and sustain a fight on behalf of what is right.

I had the privilege of serving on the Appropriations Committee under the leadership of Dave Obey. He was my chairman on the full committee and on Labor, Health and Human Services, and he was chair for a long time of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of Appropriations, which appropriated our foreign aid. To that committee, the Foreign Ops Committee, he brought the values of middle America to our foreign policy. Values-based, people-oriented, again, in the interest of our national security, the strength of our country and recognizing that that strength was also about our values.

He then chaired the Health and Human Services Subcommittee, where he measured the strength of our country in another way, in the health, the education, the economic well-being of America's working families. To see him operate on that committee was to see a master at work. We use that phrase from time to time. In the case of Dave Obey, it is an understatement. I sometimes think, when he's working, of the phrase, you'll understand when you understand, because when David sees so far down the road from the rest of us, sometimes we're not quite up there with him, and then he is always right. I don't know whether he's a self-fulfilling prophecy or he's just always right from the start.

For nearly half a century, from demanding open committee hearings, more transparency in our caucus, ethics reform, he has been an unyielding and unflinching reformer.

Mr. Obey, again, as I've said, was my chairman and, as a chairman, he had no parallel. He refused to allow measures designed to harm our air, water, and environment into the Federal budget. And after 9/11, he reached across the aisle to secure funding for first responders and the recovery effort and to extend our investment in homeland security.

Of course he championed Federal investments in education, and devoted his energy to making health insurance a right, not a privilege for all. And it was a special privilege for all of us here to see Dave Obey gavel down the health care reform bill. It is a well-deserved privilege for him, a recognition by his colleagues in the House that he was the one who should do that.

In every hearing in his committee, and with every vote, Chairman Obey sought to strengthen the middle class, and he acted on the belief that how we invest the public's money reflects our values as a people and will determine the future of our country.

The reach of Mr. Obey's achievements has extended nationwide. But his first priorities have always been for the families, the workers, the businesses, and the communities of his beloved district.

LIHEAP, for one. We always knew how important low-income--LIHEAP is a term of art here, and Dave Obey has been a great champion for it, as he has been for Pell Grants and other initiatives that affect America's working families. But the aspirations of his constituents, their hopes, their challenges, that was his call to action.

Chairman Obey's official biography opens with these words: ``Every American who works hard should be able to fully share in the bounty of America, and so should their families.'' This has been Dave Obey's mission statement. He has been a transformational figure in Congress. His leadership on behalf of the American people, as I said, is unsurpassed.

He has been blessed by a wonderful family. And we all are grateful to his wife, Joan, and his sons for sharing David with us. We also want to salute his staff person, his staff director, Beverly Pheto, for her leadership and her excellent work, and some might say, her patience with this great mind.

I just have to tell one story on Dave Obey because I just love it so much.
Dave Obey, as I mentioned, was the Chair of the Foreign Ops Subcommittee. Some years later, after Charlie Wilson was chair in that, I had the privilege of becoming the ranking member on that committee, no longer in the majority. So when we went to the floor for the first bill that we were managing, that I was managing on the minority side, I was very prepared and ready and wanted to please David.

So I made my case, we won our amendments. I see Congresswoman Lowey is here who now chairs the Foreign Ops Committee. And after we won our amendments, it was very bipartisan then. It wasn't that confrontational.

But, in any event, after it was finished, and the job was done, I looked to David for some sign of something, at least that it was over. And David said to me, You did all right, but I think you could have been more diplomatic.

Now, hearing Dave Obey tell me I should be more diplomatic, well, David, of all the things he is known for, diplomacy is not among them. And that happened to be on the heels of running into Barney Frank on my way to the rostrum to manage the bill. He said to me, That suit you have on, give it away. It looks terrible on you.

And I thought, In 1 day, I have gotten fashion advice from Barney Frank and diplomacy advice from David Obey. Maybe I will go home and start all over again, with all due respect to their various strengths.

Reformer, visionary, public servant, David Obey has our gratitude and our appreciation. We will miss him enormously. He cannot be replaced. His legacy will live long in this body and in this country. We will long benefit from his leadership, his commitment, his values, his impatience, his eloquence, his Archy. His Archy, whose words of wisdom have guided us on occasions where other eloquence may have fallen short.

The Congress he loves so much will miss Dave Obey. And I hope that he leaves here knowing the high regard that his colleagues hold him in, the deep respect we have for his intellect, his boundless energy, and from time to time, yes, his humor, and occasionally his diplomacy.

So, Mr. Chairman, thank you. It has been an honor to serve with you. I know, again, that I speak for all of our colleagues when I say it is an honor to call you ``colleague.'' Thank you, Mr. Obey, for what you have done for our country.


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