In a farewell speech to his colleagues, U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar called on the chamber to devote more of its time to governing and less to partisan politics.
Lugar, R-Ind., lamented that senators “have not lived up to the expectations of our constituents to make excellence in governance our top priority.”
After losing in the May 8 Republican primary election, Lugar will leave the Senate at year’s end, wrapping up a 36-year career.
His parting speech touched on a broad range of issues – national security and terrorist threats, global food and energy deficiencies, the expanding power of China and India, and the need for changes in U.S. immigration policy and entitlement spending.
But Lugar, 80, predicted that the federal government will accomplish little unless Congress and President Obama are willing to work together. Lugar called on congressional leaders to “set aside partisan advantage” and for the White House to put more effort into securing support from Congress.
He said lawmakers "must deal with failures of governance that have delayed resolutions to obvious problems."
Here are excerpts from his prepared remarks:
“In a few weeks I will leave the Senate for new pursuits that will allow me to devote much deeper attention to a number of issues that have been a part of my Senate service. Among these are preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and developing more efficient ways to feed the world,” Lugar said.
“In my experience, it is difficult to conceive of a better platform from which to devote oneself to public service and the search for solutions to national and international problems. At its best, the Senate is one of the Founders’ most important creations.
“But I do believe that as an institution we have not lived up to the expectations of our constituents to make excellence in governance our top priority.
“It takes courage to declare dozens or even hundreds of positions and stand for office, knowing that with each position, you are displeasing some group of voters. But we do our country a disservice if we mistake the act of taking positions for governance. They are not the same thing. Governance requires adaptation to shifting circumstances. It often requires finding common ground with Americans who have a different vision than your own. It requires leaders who believe, like Edmund Burke, that their first responsibility to their constituents is to apply their best judgment.
“My hope is that senators will devote much more of their energies to governance,” he said. “In a perfect world, we would not only govern, we would execute a coherent strategy. That is a very high bar for any legislative branch to clear. But we must aspire to it in cooperation with the president because we are facing fundamental changes in the world order that will deeply affect America’s security and standard of living.
“The list of such changes is long, but it starts in Asia with the rise of China and India as economic, political and military powers.
“More broadly, we face the specter of global resource constraints, especially deficiencies of energy and food that could stimulate conflict and deepen poverty. We have made startling gains in domestic energy production, but we remain highly vulnerable still to our dependency on oil.
“The potential global crisis over food production is less well understood. Whereas research is opening many new frontiers in the energy sphere, the productivity of global agriculture will not keep up with projected food demand unless many countries change their policies. This starts with a much wider embrace of agriculture technology, including genetically modified techniques. The risks of climate change intensify this imperative.
“The potential catastrophe remains of a major terrorist attack on American soil employing weapons of mass destruction. If that happens, in addition to the lives lost, our expectations for economic growth and budget balancing could be set back by even a decade or more.
“Amidst all these security risks, we must maintain the competitiveness of the United States in the international economy. We should see education, energy efficiency, access to global markets, the attraction of immigrant entrepreneurs and other factors as national security issues.… We still can flourish in this global marketplace if we nurture the competitive genius of the American people that has allowed us time and again to reinvent our economy.
“But we must deal with failures of governance that have delayed resolutions to obvious problems. No rational strategy for our long-term growth and security, for example, should fail to restrain current entitlement spending. And no attempt to gain the maximum strategic advantage from our human resource potential should fail to enact comprehensive immigration reform that resolves the status of undocumented immigrants and encourages the most talented immigrants to contribute to America’s future.
“It is vital that the president and Congress establish a closer working relationship, especially on national security.
“This cooperation depends both on congressional leaders who are willing to set aside partisan advantage and on administration officials who understand that the benefits of having the support of Congress is worth the effort it takes to secure it.”
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., followed Lugar on the Senate floor, commending him for a lifelong “passion for knowledge” and his “leadership ability and intellectual prowess.”
“Without question, Sen. Lugar is the type of lawmaker and leader who works hard to bring both parties together, find common ground and pass needed legislation,” Coats said.
He described Lugar, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as “one of the most influential minds on foreign policy in the United States Senate’s history,” especially when it came to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons and controlling global food prices.
“All those who work in this chamber can learn from Dick Lugar’s passion for public service, his sincere desire to reach across the aisle to find common ground and his unique talent for forging coalitions and bringing people together to accomplish big things,” Coats said.
Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who also is leaving the Senate this year after 26 years, said he has joked with Lugar that “he’s been my secretary of state…because you could count on Sen. Lugar to give good, unbiased advice on complicated foreign relations issues.
Senate leaders and President Obama have been singing Lugar’s praises in recent weeks. His replacement in the Senate did the same thing Wednesday.
Lugar is “an extraordinary man who has dedicated his life to our country,” Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-2nd, said in a telephone interview. “People from all over the world are sending him plaudits in regard to his service because he’s done such a great job for our country.”
Donnelly will take Lugar’s seat in January after defeating state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in the Nov. 6 general election. Mourdock beat Lugar in the May 8 Republican primary election.
Also Wednesday, Lugar introduced legislation designed to increase U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas to European allies that buy the fuel from Russia and Iran.
Lugar’s proposal would amend the Natural Gas Act to extend to NATO members the automatic licensing for natural gas exports that free-trade partners of the U.S. receive.
NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – is an alliance of 28 countries. All but the U.S., Canada and Turkey are European countries.
“Lack of diversity in natural gas supplies to NATO allies and friends is a critical concern for United States national security interests,” Lugar said in a statement.
He said his legislation could help “dramatically shift gas markets to blunt the temptation for political manipulation of supplies by Russia and Iran.”