MUCH TO REFLECT UPON -- MUCH WORK TO DO
This is the time of year that traditionally seems to bring out the best in all of us. As I travelled throughout the new areas of Missouri's Fifth District in the last year, I was blessed to meet so many caring and wonderful people. People who strive to do their best and be their best all year round. These people I refer to are Republicans and Democrats alike.
As you may know, civility is something I wholeheartedly believe in, as a person and as a politician. I believe it is the basic foundation for being at our best. In our world, country, and own communities, we are surrounded by neighbors, friends, and strangers of many different faiths, cultures, and belief structures. It is in respecting those beliefs and in listening to one another that we are strengthened. It is, in my opinion, our differences that should bring us together for the greater good, rather than rip us apart.
This is perhaps a strange message given the current climate that exists in Washington DC. I speak often about the dysfunction in our nation's capital. As I travel through my district, I hear, probably more than anything, "Why can't you guys find a way to work together?" It is a question I have often asked myself -- and an effort I have tried to further at each and every turn. That was one of my primary goals behind co- founding the Civility Caucus with my friend and colleague, Republican Shelly Moore Capito, the Republican Congresswoman from the 2nd Congressional District in West Virginia.
But my heart is heavy this holiday season. We need look no further than the unspeakable tragedy in Connecticut to remember how far we have to go as a nation. It is always difficult to think of anyone facing pain and struggle. But certainly the reality of first graders dying in a hail of gunfire is beyond what most of us are equipped to emotionally handle. I am a strong believer in the Constitution and will continue to defend it. But there is a necessary and pressing conversation that must take place on what types of weapons, ammunitions and laws are necessary to work to prevent another Sandy Hook Elementary. And this conversation must take place with open hearts and level heads. Yes, there is much work ahead.
As we continue to debate the Fiscal Cliff in Washington, we must recognize this country must balance our budget while continuing to provide vital services. The budget cannot be balanced on the backs of the elderly, disabled, poor, or in the name of special interests. Hardworking middle class families, playing by the rules, and taking care of their families, should not face higher taxes. And the wealthiest in this country must pay their fair share. Indeed, there is much work ahead.
We still have not passed a Farm Bill. This is unacceptable. The Farm Bill expired on September 30th and still -- nothing. The lack of action on the part of legislators is putting our farmers, ranchers, rural communities and middle class families in jeopardy. The agriculture sector should not take a larger hit than its fair share of spending cuts. And I will fight any effort to do this. One of our first orders of business when we return for the 113th Congress should be to take action on the five-year extension of the federal farm bill. Indeed, there is much work ahead.
But with all of the challenges we will face together -- there is much to be thankful for this holiday season. It is a chance for us to remember all of the good in our lives and all of the kindness and generosity that surround us. The holidays are a chance to be with family and friends and recharge our batteries for the battles ahead, as we work to make this country a better place.
For a moment, let's just imagine what we could accomplish if we treated each day and each other with as much heart and good intention as we do this time of year.
AND THE RESULTS ARE IN...
Last week I asked you what you believe should be protected in these fiscal cliff negotiations. It was an important question for me and for you, and the answers were clear. Many of you have been following the negotiations in Washington, and are aware of the impact these matters could have on your family. And a majority of you, 76%, favor raising taxes on those earning more as a way to prevent increasing taxes on the middle class.
Further, the vast majority of you pushed for protecting Medicare and Social Security, K-12 education, job training and unemployment benefits, and student loans. Most people favor protecting all of the above.
You can hear more about my thoughts in my interview here but I want you to know I hear you loud and clear. And I appreciate you taking the time, especially during this busy holiday season, to let me know how you feel about this very important issue. We must protect vital programs, while reforming what we can, to ensure their continued resilience. I am especially concerned with talk of putting Social Security on the table.
Social Security is not an entitlement, but rather an earned benefit, funded by a lifetime of hard work from our nation's seniors. Unfortunately, a deal including the chained CPI breaks Social Security's promise, cutting benefits and balancing the budget on the backs of seniors. Let me be clear, this proposal would not merely affect future retirees -- but would cut benefits from seniors currently living on meager benefits, and would compound as seniors grow older.
My ninety year-old father worked his entire life in order to send all four children to college. He paid into Social Security, year after year, and today depends on his modest monthly benefit. Social Security does not contribute a cent to the deficit, and should not be on the table.
We must not hold our most vulnerable citizens and communities hostage as Washington's political tribalism takes us to the brink.
GREEN IMPACT ZONE UPDATE
As we near the end of the year -- I think it is important to share with you some of the major accomplishments inside the Green Impact Zone, as well as some of our goals. There have been many victories -- large and small.
From developing leadership skills and engaging young people in discussions about the future of their communities to securing funds for the high-tech, bullet detection system called ShotSpotter and the opening of the new Troost Bridge. Indeed, there are many things to be proud of.
None of these things would have been possible without community residents, city, county, and state officials working together with my office to make sure that every dollar and every opportunity was maximized.
As we move into 2013 we will continue to focus on bringing in new investment and jobs to this area. We will also explore new ways to attract major development and redevelopment projects to the area. And we will continue to take what we have learned and share it with other communities throughout the Fifth District -- so everyone can benefit.
On Friday evening, December 14, while sitting in the family room of my home in Kansas City, watching the wall to wall TV coverage of the horrific and senseless murder of 26 Americans by an American in Newtown, Connecticut, my emotions shifted from shock to sorrow, to fury to grief, and ultimately to pathos.
As the evening went on, I eventually reached the point I imagine most Members of Congress reached. How can we stop this from happening again? Then I realized something that made me sick to my stomach: Congress has become focused exclusively on the negative -- all of us. We solve problems instead of preventing them, and pick up the pieces instead of building what cannot be broken. It seems as if we believe that we're elected and sworn in to stop something: falling off the fiscal cliff, a downgrade of the nation's credit rating, a double dip recession, Iran obtaining "the bomb," the rise of poverty, or mass murders.
We have become so preoccupied with stopping something that we have failed to start something. Please don't get me wrong, we must stop the Washington warring, but my greatest fear is that we might comfortably serve in Congress for years simply trying to get out of the ditch, rather than progress to our destination.
Let's dare to begin. Let's look at what's ahead, through the bright and exciting headlights of our opportunity to start something great - as opposed to the tarnished glow of the tail lights of our polarized past.
Congressman Cleaver has publically stated that he believes the assault weapons ban should never have expired. He also believes addressing guns alone will not solve our problems.
SAYING GOODBYE AS CBC CHAIR
As my Chairmanship of the Congressional Black Caucus comes to an end, I am grateful and moved by the kindness of my colleagues, who generously took a moment of time to share a few kind words on the House Floor today. If you would like to listen: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/clip/4237170.
Emanuel Cleaver, II
Member of Congress