Mr. President, I rise to speak on the floor of this Chamber for the first time as a Senator. I am honored to have this opportunity to be a voice for Arkansans who want to change the direction our country is headed so that we still have a great nation to leave behind for future generations, just as the Greatest Generation did for us.
I am eager to carry out the traditions of this body and I am honored to serve alongside my distinguished colleagues. The traditions set forth and established in this Chamber have long been admired and often imitated in governments around the world. The work done here sets an example of how people of different backgrounds and expertise can come together for the betterment of this country. We need to provide results by balancing the budget, cutting the deficit, creating jobs and putting our differences aside to work for the best interests of our country. I am up for the task assigned by the American people.
We are a nation of great thinkers and innovators and I am confident the ideas proposed and debated here will put us on the continued path to success. There is no question that we have faced difficult times in our nation’s history. We have been tried and tested before. We have weathered the storms and have always emerged as a better, stronger country.
The debates and issues we face today are just as challenging as those faced by the men and women who served in this body before us. As the first Republican elected to this Arkansas Senate seat since reconstruction, it’s evident that Arkansans and all Americans are anxious for new results with new leaders to move our country into the future.
When I look back at the Senators who have served the great state of Arkansas, I am inspired by their service, dedication and commitment.
Growing up in Fort Smith, in Sebastian County, we were taught at an early age about William Sebastian. At thirty-six, he was the youngest senator in the Thirtieth U.S. Congress after leading an already distinguished career as a cotton farmer, judge and state legislator.
Hattie Caraway broke the glass ceiling, becoming the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. She recognized the important role of agriculture to the state and requested a seat on the agriculture committee. There is no doubt agriculture is still critical to the state today. My predecessor, Senator Blanche Lincoln, was the first woman to chair the agriculture committee and I am pleased to have a seat on that same committee and be part of the debates and discussions as we formulate future agriculture policies.
Throughout history, our state has been represented in this body by a diverse group of men and women who have put Arkansas and America first and I am honored to follow in their footsteps.
Each of these individuals had their generation’s crises to address. We have our own as well.
Mr. President, the American people are worried. And rightfully so. Some of them have to check the morning news to see if they still have a job. Still many other able-bodied, ready-to-work Americans have not received a paycheck for months—some for years now.
Between November and December of last year, unemployment rates increased in 72 of the 75 counties in my home state of Arkansas.
And these aren’t small hits to our communities. A plywood plant in Fordyce, a town of 5,000 closed its doors, displacing almost 350 workers. That’s more than 14 percent of the town’s population.
It’s not any easier in the state’s larger cities either. In Fort Smith, Arkansas’s second largest city, a leading appliance manufacturer laid-off 850 employees last year.
Even our nation’s largest retailer, and Arkansas’s largest employer, is not immune to this crisis. The economic downturn forced Wal-Mart to cut hundreds of jobs in its corporate office in Bentonville.
Like much of the rest of our nation, Arkansas’s job creators are nervous. It’s hard for a small business owner to invest in their business and create jobs if they are concerned about the negative impact actions in Washington will have on their bottom line.
Given the right tools and circumstances, small business owners can and will create good paying jobs for the people of Arkansas and all Americans. We need to create policies that empower the private sector. That means fostering an environment that promotes economic certainty and encourages growth and innovation.
We can see results of the combined efforts of city, county, state and federal leaders with Mitsubishi’s decision to build a wind-turbine manufacturing plant in Fort Smith. The region’s business leaders spent more than a year competing with more than 60 other U.S. cities to attract Mitsubishi, resulting in as many as 400 new good-paying jobs in the Fort Smith-community.
This, Mr. President, is how we stimulate the economy.
Unfortunately, instead of taking that approach to creating a business-friendly environment in our communities, Washington’s agenda over the past few years has created a climate of uncertainty.
From past experience, I know this hampers the private sector’s ability to create jobs.
Before entering public service, I practiced optometry at a clinic my brother and I started in Rogers, Arkansas. Over the course of 24 years, our little clinic grew from 5 employees to 85 employees and is now a leading provider of eye care in Northwest Arkansas. We were able to grow over the years because we could plot our course with some degree of certainty. While no one can see the future, we could, with a fair degree of confidence, understand what our tax burden would be, what our energy costs would be and what our healthcare costs would be.
What we are hearing today from small business owners and investors is the exact opposite. They are afraid to invest any capitol, because they don’t know what their taxes will be; afraid to hire another employee because they are nervous about what that does to their health care costs; and afraid to expand until they know how big their energy bill is going to be.
Compound that uncertainty with the excessive spending, and you have a recipe for a disaster. While Americans tighten their belts, they watch in disbelief as Washington throws taxpayer money around with reckless abandonment.
The extent of this problem is documented in a recent report by the Government Accountability Office. The report highlights wasteful spending by revealing a number of duplicative programs within the federal government, which come with a price tag estimated to be in the billions.
There is simply no room for wasteful spending, especially when much of that money isn’t ours. 40 cents of every dollar we spend is borrowed, much of which is owed to countries that are not always friendly to us—countries like Saudi Arabia and China, the latter of which now owns more than $1 trillion of our debt.
In testimony before Congress, Admiral Mike Mullen said the greatest threat to our sovereignty is not Iran; not al-Qaida; not radical Islam—it’s our national debt. He’s right. We simply cannot continue to operate at this pace.
We cannot continue to add billions to our already staggering national debt. This year alone, the federal government will spend $3.7 trillion while only collecting $2.2 trillion. It doesn’t take an advanced math degree to understand that 3 is greater than 2.
The average American family doesn’t have the luxury to spend beyond its means. Their government shouldn’t, and doesn’t, either.
The only way will we get a handle on this situation is to reform the manner in which we budget and allocate federal dollars. It’s time we put mechanisms in place to stop the government from spending beyond its means.
This is why one of the first bills I signed my name onto after taking the oath of office was Senator Richard Shelby’s balanced budget amendment. Senator Shelby has been a champion on this front for a number of years, introducing this bill every session of Congress since 1987. Imagine what the country would look like if it had passed when he first proposed it. Now, more than ever, it is an idea that’s time has come and I look forward to working with the Senator from Alabama to get some sort of spending cap like a balanced budget amendment passed.
This is a catalyst for change. It holds us to spending limits and forces changes in the manner in which taxpayer money is allocated.
We are at a crossroads in our country. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road. The “tax, borrow, spend” philosophy is not creating jobs; it’s only creating more debt for our children and grandchildren.
We owe it to the generations of Americans who’ve made sacrifices in order for our country to prosper and that means working together to solve our problems.
No matter what political views we hold, at the end of the day we’re all Americans who are committed to seeing our country succeed.
As a child, I learned that commitment from my dad who retired as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force. He followed in the steps of his dad who served in the armed forces during WWI. And even before him, my great, great, uncle, James Davis, served as U.S. Secretary of Labor under Presidents Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover before serving in this Chamber.
We have a great ability through the power of this office that allows us to help Americans with issues they are facing. For our veterans who return home, a Senate office can be a huge resource. That’s what helped my grandfather when he returned home at the end of WWI. After surviving being gassed, his lungs didn’t function properly and he reached out to my great, great uncle, Sen. Davis to help him with his disability.
Today, as our servicemembers return from tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, we have the same responsibilities to the men and women who fight for our freedoms and interests of our country.
No matter what major legislative crisis we are facing, we have a responsibility to these brave men and women. And the debates that take place in this body are no doubt of great importance, but so is each constituent who is having trouble with a federal agency. In some cases, we are their last resort to overcome a major obstacle in their lives and each and every case that comes before us must be given our undivided attention.
When I was first elected to Congress as a member of the House in 2001, former Congressman John Paul Hammerschmidt, who represented the Third District of Arkansas for 26 years, gave me some excellent advice. He said: “John, always remember, now that the election is over, there are no more Republicans, no more Democrats, only the people of Arkansas and you need to take care of them.” That is the key to good governing and good public service. Nobody embodied that more than John Paul. He was and is a dedicated public servant and has been a wonderful mentor during my time on Capitol Hill.
I think Arkansas’s new Congressional delegation is going to make John Paul proud. Certainly, our Senior Senator Mark Pryor has embodied John Paul’s mantra of “taking care of the people of Arkansas.” I enjoyed working with Senator Pryor while serving the Third District of Arkansas and appreciate his leadership. I really believe that our delegation working together will be able to make a difference for the people of Arkansas.
The Senators who served Arkansas before Senator Pryor and myself—and those who sat at these very desks—understood that their desk never belonged to them personally; it has always belonged to the American people. And my name, carved-in that desk, will always remind me that I am here to serve them.
I am humbled and honored that the people of Arkansas have selected me to work from this desk for the next six years, and I will never forget why. I am here to be their voice, address their needs and help tackle these great challenges we face as a nation and I look forward to working with each and every one of my colleagues to accomplish our mutual goals to keep our country on the path of prosperity.
Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor.