This is rather heartbreaking:
May 5, 2010
Statement by Congressman David R. Obey
Seventh District Congressman Dave Obey (D-WI) released the following
In December I will have been in public service for 48 years – over 6
years in the Wisconsin State Legislature and almost 42 years in the
U.S. Congress. I have served in the House longer than anyone in
Wisconsin history. God and my constituents have been incredibly good
When I was a kid growing up in Wausau I never dreamed that I would
have even one-tenth of the opportunities that have come my way. I
hope that I have used those opportunities to do the most that could be
done for the causes I believe in: fairer taxes; greater economic
opportunity; better schools; affordable health care; expanded
education and health care benefits for veterans; research that will
help us fight diseases like cancer, diabetes and Parkinson’s; better
health, safety, and economic security for workers; cleaner air; and
water and preservation of National Parks and public places.
The people of Northern Wisconsin have given me the honor and the
privilege of representing them on the great issues of our times,
ranging from Vietnam to Watergate, the Iranian hostage crisis, the
Reagan deficits, Iran-Contra, the collapse of communism, two Gulf
Wars, the economic and budget reforms of the early 1990s, the
government shut down, 9/11, and the economic meltdown of the past
For a decade, as Chairman of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I
had the privilege of helping lead the effort to meet our
responsibilities to our fellow human beings around the globe who share
this planet with us, but do not share our same good fortune. During
that time, we consistently moved foreign aid money away from support
of military dictators to the expansion of long-term development
activities and through programs like UNICEF contributed to saving
millions of children’s lives.
I’m especially proud of the role I paid in resisting American
colonialism in Central America, working with people like James Baker,
Dave Bonior, Jim Wright, Lee Hamilton, Matt McHugh, Joe Moakley, and
Tom Foley to end the Contra War in Nicaragua. Probably, the most
important historic role the committee played was the bipartisan work
we did with the George H. Bush Administration and officials like
Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger in helping Eastern European countries
to transition from communist authoritarianism to Western capitalist
democracies after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the
Although it happened a long time ago, I am especially proud of the
losing fight that I helped wage with Congressmen Henry Reuss and Mo
Udall to prevent the passage of the fiscally irresponsible Reagan
budgets, which at a time of devastating inflation cut taxes at the
same time the defense budget was being doubled, all paid for with
borrowed money, more than tripling the long-term budget deficit
picture. The Obey-Udall-Reuss alternative budget was a progressive
alternative to the budgets of both parties, which spent less, borrowed
less, and produced smaller deficits than either the Democratic or
Republican base bills, and won the support of a majority of
Democrats. At the time our actions were hugely unpopular. About 70%
of the voters in my district supported Reagan’s budget, but time has
proven us right.
Today, I am similarly proud that I was the principle author of the
much maligned but absolutely essential Economic Recovery Act of 2009,
which in the midst of the deepest and most dangerous economic
catastrophe in 70 years, has pumped desperately needed purchasing
power into the economy to cushion the fall and reduced the number of
families whose breadwinners were thrown out of work. When it was
passed last year, the American economy was losing 750,000 jobs per
month. Last month, by contrast, the economy added 162,000 jobs, the
largest increase in three years. That corner could not have been
turned without the Recovery Act. My only apology is that it should
have been larger, but it was the most that the system would bear at
I am especially pleased to have had the privilege of presiding over
the House when it passed the historic health insurance reform
legislation three weeks ago. I have been waiting for that moment for
41 years and its arrival – finally – made all the frustrations of
public life worth it.
During my Congressional service, I have also tried to do what I could
to keep us out of misguided wars and I have fought to reform the
political institutions – especially, the Congress – to improve the
quality of their work and to strengthen public confidence in them.
And despite the misguided and disastrously destructive decisions of
the U.S. Supreme Court that have put the system of American elections
on the auction block, I have worked to limit the influence of private
money in elections that by definition should be public events.
I think that along the way I have made a difference for the district
and state that I represent and for the country.
But there is a time to stay and a time to go. And this is my time to
go. I hate to do it. There is so much that needs to be done. But,
frankly, I am bone tired. When I first put my name on the ballot for
the State Assembly in 1962, I was 23 years old. Now, 48 years later,
I will soon be 72. When I went to Congress in 1969, I was the
youngest member of the House of Representatives. I’m not anymore.
Since that first day in 1962, I have gone through 25 elections and
engaged in countless battles.
I’m ready to turn the page, and I think, frankly, that my district is
ready for someone new to make a fresh start. Not someone who poses as
a fresh face, but would in reality take us back to the “good old days”
of Bush tax cuts for the rich and a misguided Iraq war. Not someone
whose idea of a fresh idea is to say: “Let the market do it,” which
translated means: “Let the corporate elites, big banks, and Wall
Street big shots and insurance company CEO’s do anything they want
with no regulation to protect investors and consumers.” There is
nothing fresh about that. No, what the 7th district deserves and what
the country deserves is for someone to step up who can be counted on
to put working people first, someone who will bring fresh eyes and
fresh energy to the battle, someone who won’t use slick words and an
actor’s ability to hide the fact that he is willing to gut and
privatize Social Security and Medicare and abandon working people to
the arbitrary power of America’s corporate and economic elite.
When I first ran for Congress I wanted to do three things:
1) The first was to help make our economic system more fair for the
poor and for middle class working families. Unfortunately, powerful
economic and political forces have largely frustrated that effort.
Over the last 30 years we have seen the largest transfer of income up
the income scale in history. In fact, for six straight years under
George W. Bush, over 90% of all the income growth in the country went
into the pockets of the wealthiest 10%. The other 90% of the
population – the regular people of the country – got table scraps. I
regret not being able to do more to turn that around. That, and the
inability of the political system to achieve the public financing of
political campaigns, represent the biggest disappointments of my
2) My second goal was to expand federal support for education in order
to expand opportunity for every American. That has been a hard slog,
but, especially in the last three years, we have been able to move a
large amount of federal resources to do just that. Just this last
year, we were able to greatly enhance federal support for student
aid. It is not enough, but it makes a difference.
3) My third goal was to help move this country into the ranks of
civilized nations by making it possible for almost every American to
receive quality health care without begging. For years I despaired of
ever getting that done. But last month, I had the great privilege of
presiding over the House of Representatives as it finally completed
action on historic health insurance reform legislation.
Over the past few years, whenever a member of the press asked if I was
contemplating retirement, I would respond by saying that I did not
want to leave Congress until we had passed health care reform. Well,
now it has. And I can leave with the knowledge that thanks to Speaker
Pelosi and President Obama and so many others, we got the job done. I
haven’t done all the big things that I wanted to do when I started
out, but I’ve done all the big things I’m likely to do.
Frankly, I had considered retiring after the 2000 election, but I
became so angered by the policies of the Bush administration that I
decided to stick around as long as he was here. In 2002, after a year-
long reapportionment struggle, which devoured my time and the time of
my colleague Jim Sensenbrenner, I publicly stated I would not be
around for another one. That is exactly what I would face if I
returned to Congress next year. I simply don’t want to do it.
Many years ago, in an interview with Richard Cohen, I told him that
the way I looked at public service, I believe the job of a good
politician was to be used up fighting on behalf of causes you believed
in, and when you are used up, to step aside and let someone else carry
on the battle. Well, today I feel used up.
In the last months, two colleagues, Charlie Wilson and Jack Murtha,
have died. Both were 76. For me, that is only four years away. At
the end of this term I will have served in the House longer than all
but 18 of the 10,637 men and women who have ever served there. The
wear and tear is beginning to take its toll. Given that fact, I have
to ask myself how I want to spend the time I have left. Frankly, I do
not know what I will do next. All I do know is that there has to be
more to life than explaining the ridiculous, accountability destroying
rules of the Senate to confused, angry, and frustrated constituents.
I absolutely believe that, after the economy returns to a decent
level of growth, we must attack our long-term budget deficit. But,
perhaps I expect too much because, in addition to an attack on the
federal budget deficit, I also want to see an equal determination to
attack the family security deficit, the family income deficit, and the
opportunity deficit which also plague the American people.
I am, frankly, weary of having to beg on a daily basis that both
parties recognize that we do no favor for the country if we neglect to
make the long-term investments in education, science, health, and
energy that are necessary to modernize our economy and decline to
raise the revenue needed to pay for those crucial investments. I do
not want to be in a position as Chairman of the Appropriations
Committee of producing and defending lowest common denominator
legislation that is inadequate to that task and, given the mood of the
country, that is what I would have to do if I stayed.
I am also increasingly weary of having to deal with a press which has
become increasingly focused on trivia, driven at least in part by the
financial collapse of the news industry and the need, with the 24-hour
news cycle, to fill the air waves with hot air. I say that
regretfully because I regard what is happening to the news profession
as nothing short of a national catastrophe which I know pains many
quality journalists as much as it pains me. Both our professions have
been coarsened in recent years and the nation is the loser for it.
Let me close by thanking some people.
First, let me thank my wife, Joan, who has put up with so much and
endured so much so that I might follow my dream of public service.
When she agreed to marry me, she thought she was getting a college
teacher. Instead, she got stuck with the “charms” of political life.
Whatever good I’ve done, I could not have done without her.
Let me also thank my two sons, Craig and Douglas, who have also
shared in the burden of public service. Craig has spent his adult
life trying to bring health care to people who needed it, trying to
protect workers in the work place, and trying to protect our precious
public lands from abuse by special interests and their mouthpieces in
government. Doug has spent his life as a working journalist, first
covering Capitol Hill, and then informing his readers about the
realities of the politics of environmental protection and the
interaction between science and politics on the profoundly important
issue of global climate change.
Let me thank all those who have worked with me as staff through the
years – those who have worked in my district offices in Wisconsin, in
my personal office in Washington, my Joint Economic Committee staff,
and my Appropriations Committee staff. Your ability, your decency,
and your fierce loyalty to me are gratefully appreciated. You have
been not just my counselors, but my protectors, and my understanding
Let me thank those special friends who have helped me get through 25
elections and everything that has happened in between. You know who
you are. By giving me your political and emotional support, you have
sustained me through the pressures and the ups and downs of political
and public life. I will not forget. I hope you feel that your
support helped to make possible whatever good I have done through the
Let me thank Bob Huber, Frank Nikolay, Dick Bolling, and Gaylord
Nelson for teaching me how to be a legislator – in Madison and in
Wisconsin. And let me express a special thanks to Speaker Nancy
Pelosi whose heart, guts, and soul have provided the steel necessary
to accomplish some extraordinary things.
Let me also thank so many of my Congressional colleagues, past and
present, who have worked shoulder to shoulder with me in pursuit of so
many causes – some won, some lost, and who have on occasion forgiven
me for my excessive passion. It has been said that in life our
strength can also be our weakness as I have demonstrated on more than
And let me profoundly thank everyone who has ever cast a vote for me
for the privilege of representing you in Madison and Washington all
I hope that in whatever years I may have remaining, I will still find
occasion to help move the needle forward. But for now, after 48
years, it is time to pass the torch.
To be a liberal in a conservative era is very frustrating indeed. But guys like him tried to hold the line and they succeeded as often as not. It's not a very satisfying career, I'm sure. But it was important.