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Public Statements

Making the Senate Work

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. GRAHAM. Madam President, my first thought is that the American people are not very impressed with what we are doing up here. We have a congressional approval rating of about 10 to 15 percent. I think it would help all of us if we could go back home and say: This coming week we are going to be talking about the Department of Education budget; we are going to be talking about Veterans Affairs; we are going to be talking about Energy and Water.

We want to be able to tell our mayors and people--county council, city council, our constituents--we are going to be debating how much money we will allocate for different parts of the government, even knowing we are broke. I think that would resonate, I say to the Senator from Tennessee.

This whole idea of a volunteer fire department, when we think about it--particularly in the South, and I am sure it is true everywhere--volunteer fire departments have citizens who have a lot of things to do but feel as though if they work together to protect each others' homes from devastation by fire, that would be a good thing. They are all volunteers. They don't get any money. They lower everybody's insurance premiums by having a volunteer fire department. I think a lot of Members of the Senate feel very frustrated, as does the average person on the street. We want to do better. So we are volunteering our services here to the body so that if we will do things that make sense to the American people, count us in to kind of push the ball up the hill.

The good news, I say to my colleague, is our leaderships have committed to this. Without ``followship,'' it doesn't matter what they say. This is going to take discipline in this body. I expect those on the other side of the aisle to take votes they won't like, and I expect those on this side of the aisle to take votes we won't like. But we have to have some discipline about it. We want the bills to get done in an orderly fashion, and we want the Senate to be a Senate.

This comes about because Senator Warner spent a lot of time getting us all together. This volunteer fire department idea we have, the Senator from Tennessee and Senator Warner have made this happen. We had several dinners among the people here tonight to try to find a way to get the Senate back to doing business. I am convinced that if we could bring one appropriations bill to the floor, have an honest debate about how much we should spend on that part of the government, have amendments relevant and not relevant but in an orderly fashion, that would be momentum to get the Senate back to being the Senate. That would help us all and it would help the country.

I want to tell Senator Reid and Senator McConnell: Don't let this moment pass. We have your back and we want to conduct the Senate in a way that is more traditional than is going on today.

I came here to do things. I think everybody who has spoken here tonight is telling the public and telling each other: Enough is enough. This is a lousy way--to appropriate a couple three trillion dollars at the end of the year in a big bill nobody reads. If you think that is a broken system, we agree. We don't like the idea of passing a bill in the last week of the fiscal year--3,000, 4,000 pages, whatever it is--and nobody knows what is in it, but that is the only way we can run the government if we didn't go back to the normal course of business. So for those who want better government, this will give us better government. If you want to do something constructive, this gives us an opportunity. For those who want to set priorities, this allows you to do it.

To the leaders of the Senate: If you will follow through with this, it will pay enormous dividends for the body. And to Senators Alexander, Pryor, and others who have been in the volunteer fire department, I think this is a good moment for the Senate and I am proud to be associated with it, and if it happens, it will be because of what they have done.


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