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I want to congratulate you on having an outstanding chairman, there’s no more effective party chairman in any state, in any part of this country - we ought to be grateful for Art Torres’ effective leadership.
We need Art Torres. They don’t come any better. I just have one question, how do we get you in Washington Art, we need someone like you out there too. And on behalf of the entire Congress, let me say thank you for sending two of the most outstanding United States Senators California has ever sent to Washington D.C. Thank you.
Barbara Boxer is one extraordinary woman, as you have just seen once again, they don’t come any better. She is a dear friend of mine. She is an effective member of the Senate leadership. She is the hardest and most ardent and persistent fighter the state of California could ever hope to have in the United States Senate. And thank you for Dianne Feinstein, another dear friend. She sits on one of the most powerful committees, as you know, in Washington, the Appropriations Committee. And given her strong position on issues and her ability to work across the aisle, you have a team in Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer that just don’t come any better.
And I thank you as well for your House delegations. Some of those members are here with us this morning. That team extends now to a remarkable woman, who was just selected as the Whip in the House and could soon be, one day be, the first woman speaker in U.S. history, Nancy Pelosi. The first in history, that could happen in the state of California.
And speaking of history, you have one of the most effective Governors in the State’s history in Gray Davis. Before Congress could even act, Gray Davis passed HMO reform, and he passed education reform and he has kept the state on the cutting edge. And I will predict that history will one day record that Gray Davis was elected to two consistent and back to back seats in the governorship of California. Two terms as our Governor in the state of California, I predict that will happen.
We made history, in so many ways over the course of the past twelve months. I remember so vividly last May when Jim Jeffords, with his courageous speech in Vermont, walked across the aisle and announced that he was leaving the Republican Party. It was an incredibly powerful moment and, if you’re like me, you remember it so vividly. His decision changed the Senate and changed our nation and the course of history. I remember, I remember calling Jim right after that speech, he had just gotten off the podium and I was calling from my office, and I said “Jim that was an extraordinary speech”, we talked for a little while and I will never forget the last words to me as we hung up the phone. He said Tom, “I hope now we can make a difference”, but we have made that difference as the Democratic majority in the United States Senate and we’re gonna keep doing it year in and year out as we stand in the majority, thanks in part to Jim Jeffords.
We made a difference as we passed in the first thirty days, a Patient’s Bill of Rights that had been languished in a Republican Congress for over five years. We made a difference in passing a very strong Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the first major overhaul of America’s basic education policies in thirty-five years. We showed that parties could work together and find principle compromise and bridge their differences for the good of the country. But then came the tragedies of September 11, and I remember that day so vividly too. Barbara and I were in a room very near my office in a leadership meeting and as we looked out of the Capitol windows, that black smoke billowing out over the Pentagon and the graves of Arlington National Cemetery. Again we made a difference that evening, as we stood on the steps of the Capitol, Democrats and Republicans, and sent a powerful message to the country and to the world that the doors to democracy, even in that most dark moment, will not close.
In the weeks that followed, we pulled together, we worked with the President and our Republican colleagues authorizing the use of force, we passed resolutions and legislation enacting tens of billions of dollars in emergency aid for the people of New York. We passed legislation to make airlines safer and airports more, more defense free of all the problems we were facing, as we knew that we were continuing the war and the battle on terrorism. And again, building a better homeland security system than we’ve ever had in the nation’s history. We did these things because we recognize that the miracle of America and our greatest strength in times of crisis and adversity is our unity. And standing together we helped bring our nation together. And that has made all the difference.
But sometimes it’s not what you do, but what you don’t do that makes a difference. Last December and again last month, the Senate Democratic caucus stood in opposition to huge tax giveaways to special interests, including $254 million to the Enron Corporation in the name of economic stimulus. We did it three times in two months and we will do it three more times if we have to. We will not allow bad policy to become bad law. We will not allow that to happen. It will not happen with Democrats in the majority. We won’t let it happen.
When the President is right, we will support him. But when he is wrong, we will say so. And just as we have done, over and over, as we did with the economic stimulus debate, we will offer constructive alternatives. Being a good American does not mean that we have to suppress good debate. It does not mean that we cannot give voice to questions. It does not mean walking in lock step. We will not stand idly by, when others propose policies that threaten America’s fiscal integrity, our precious natural resources, and our children’s future. We will not be intimidated into remaining silent, when others threaten to undo all the progress that we have made on the economy, the environment, on civil rights, and on healthcare, and on so many other areas. Standing for these things, doesn’t mean you don’t love America, it’s often a measure of how much you do.
We fought too hard and we’ve come too far to abandon our ideals, and with Democrats in the majority, we will not do so now. I have been amused in part by the commitment we have made over the years and the opposition of our Republicans to that commitment. I’ve been called in recent weeks and months an obstructionist. I’ve been called unpatriotic. One group with ties to Republicans ran an ad in my home state comparing me to Saddam Hussein. Well they can call me whatever they want as long as at the end of the day, they have to call me the Majority Leader of the United States Senate. Let them try. Bring them on. Bring them on. We’re ready, we can do it. Let them use those names.
I just finished reading the second great book in Edmund Morris’ trilogy on Teddy Roosevelt. He was a remarkable man and leader in so many ways and he had a phrase that I’ve adopted, because I believe in it too. “One of the greatest prizes of life is to work hard and work worth doing,” well we’ve got nine months before the American people go back to the polls. And we will dedicate every day, of every one of the months remaining, to working hard and work worth doing. We will continue to fight as Americans to win the war on terrorism, around the world and here at home, because nothing is more important than that. We will fight for the principles that make America the greatest democracy and the strongest economic power the world has ever known. The collapse of Enron has left thousands of former Enron employees suddenly in danger of growing old in poverty, and revealed flaws in our private pension system, and no one has pointed that out more eloquently and powerfully, as your Senator Barbara Boxer. And we must look at everything from federal rules governing 401(K) pension plans to corporate disclosure requirements, to the securities laws and accounting reforms and whether the accounting industry’s self-regulatory system is sufficient. We must learn what happened and then we must act on what we have learned.
We must also protect America’s public pension system. A year ago Republicans promised they could pay for their tax cut, increase funding for education, defense and other critical priorities, and pay off most of the national debt, without spending one dollar of the social security surplus. A year later, a year later we see the truth. Their plan uses all the budget surplus, all of the Medicare trust fund, and a trillion dollars in Social Security trust funds over the next decade alone. That’s the cost of their tax cut. It’s a ticking time bomb set off to go off, just as the baby boomers in this country retire. And what’s their solution. They want four trillion dollars in new tax cuts. They want to privatize Social Security. You are one great group let me tell you. We will not and we cannot ever allow that to happen. We will not privatize Social Security. Never, never, never!
We need to protect Social Security, not Enronize Social Security. We need to strengthen Medicare, not drain it to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy, and we need to add a real affordable prescription drug coverage this year, in this Congress. We’ve got to do that. That’s what Democrats believe, and we will not be silent. We believe that every child in America ought to have the right to a decent school, no matter where they live, or how much money a family makes. Two months ago, the President signed the bi-partisan Education Reform Act, the leave no child behind act. This month he sent Congress a budget that guts that very same bill. Rhetoric is no substitute for resources, as everyone in this room knows, and we’re going to fight for real reform and real resources in this budget. Our children deserve it, our future demands it, and we will not be silent about it.
We’re going to demonstrate that Democrats are the right party to lead this nation during this time of challenge and well into the future. In just one week, we will begin work on a balanced, responsible national energy plan. One that will strengthen our economy, protect our environment, and provide energy security for our nation, for decades to come. And we’re going stop them from drilling in ANWR! It will not happen! Frustrated by our desire to protect this precious land, some in the other party seem to want to move down the coast, and drill in California. Well I think that’s California’s decision to make, as we fight to make a difference, there is no greater fight than to ensure a mainstream judiciary. Democrats have been blamed this year for holding up the appointment of judges and nothing could be farther from the truth, but there is nothing more important than making sure that we have fair and qualified judges. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Canadian figure skaters this week. We believe that the President has a right to nominate men and women, who share their ideas, but we cannot and we will not advocate our constitutional responsibility to examine Presidential nominees fairly, confirm them if they deserve confirmation, and reject them if they do not.
On issue after issue, we are determined to search for common ground, but we will not surrender sacred ground, and that includes a woman’s constitutional right to choose. Democrats recognize that now more than ever America draws its strength and spirit from its immigrants, and we are going to respect our heritage as a nation of immigrants. Five weeks ago, a little girl was born in Princeton, New Jersey. You may have seen it in the press. Morgan Beamer came into this world, five months to the day, after her father Todd Beamer and other brave passengers aboard Flight 93, died defying their hijackers. She is probably the best known of the babies, born to fathers who died in the September 11 terrorist attack, but she’s not the only one, so far there are seventeen such babies, including a pair of twins, and by summer there will be forty more. Everyday in America, eleven thousand children are born. Last year it was one of the saddest in our nation’s life, but now we are beginning a new year, with new challenges and new opportunities. As we go about our business, let us remember those who died on September 11. Let us remember the children they left behind. Some of whom, who never even had the chance to be seen or held by their father. Let us remember all of those other children who are dependent upon us now to pass onto them an America that is filled with as much hope, as much freedom, as much possibility, as the nation we inherited from our parents. Let us resolve together to make a difference working hard at work worth doing.
Thank you all very, very much, you are great group of Democrats. Thank you.