Excerpts from the prepared text of U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar’s valedictory Senate floor speech, delivered Wednesday:
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.
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. 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.