THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT LUNCHEON HONORING SENATOR MAX BAUCUS Caucus Room Restaurant Washington. D.C.
1:00 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Max, I thank you for what you said. But you were entirely to generous to a person who can't run for anything anymore. (Laughter.) I thought, wow, I wish I had that on tape four years ago. (Laughter.) And in terms of going to meetings without cue cards, look, when you're dealing with a guy from Montana who knows who Sisyphus was, you can't carry your cue cards, right? (Laughter.)
I want to say, first of all, how honored I am to be here. I like Max Baucus a lot, and I respect him. And I want to say just a few words about that, but I also want to join in what you said, because this is maybe one of the last public occasions I'll have to say it in Washington, D.C. I don't think there's any way for me to explain the to rest of you what having Tom Daschle as a leader of our crowd in the Senate has meant to me and to the United States of America. (Applause.) And I do agree that his leadership had a lot to do with the fact that we were able to pick up five seats. And I was honored to work with him, and he's been great.
And I also think you were right about my good friend, Harry Reid. You know, Harry Reid never lifts his voice, he talks real soft. And pretty soon you're looking for your billfold. (Laughter.) He is such a good man and so effective, and I am very grateful to him.
Mary Landrieu and I have been friends for many, many years, as she's from my neighboring state of Louisiana, which has been very good to me and whom I'm very grateful. And I'm thrilled that she got elected to the Senate and has done so well. And I am especially proud of Maria Cantwell because Maria Cantwell is one of the people who gave up her seat in 1994 that turned the miserable economic condition of this country and that terrible deficit around. And she got beat because of it. (Applause.) And she did whine around, she went out and made a bunch of money and went on with her life. And then she ran for the Senate.
And they have this unusual system in Washington State -- they actually count all the votes. (Laughter and applause.) And when they were counted, she was a senator for Washington. And we are thrilled. (Applause.) And I'm very proud of her. And you mark my words, she's going to have a big impact on this country, and she has, I think, a well-deserved chance to serve.
I kind of am partial to this new crowd of senators. It got me in the Senate Spouses Club, that's true, where I intend to be a very vigorous member. I may run for President of the Senate Spouses Club. (Laughter.)
Some of you may have seen this in the paper, but I can't help mentioning it again, since Max said something about deregulation of the airlines. Hillary and Chelsea and I for eight years have gone to Foundry Methodist Church here in Washington, and the minister there is a great guy. So he says, I want you to come give a little talk on Sunday. I said, what do you want me to say? He said, just talk about whatever you want. So I said, well, I'm going to stand up and thank the church for everything they've done -- and I had this whole long list of things they've done, it's a wonderful place. So I had this list of things.
And I walked into church and they gave me a program, and I see that I am giving the sermon and the sermon has a title. And the title of the sermon is, Reflections and Anticipation. So I get up and give my little talk and I thank them all for everything I want to thank them for all. And I said I didn't know what I was talking about until I got here and read it in the program, but do you want to know what my anticipations are? I anticipate my Christian spirit will be sorely tested by a return to commercial air travel. (Laughter. I anticipate being disoriented in large rooms for several months because when I walk in, nobody will play a song anymore. (Laughter.)
So, anyway, I gave them a few anticipations. I anticipate that Terry McAuliffe will still ask me to help raise money for the Democratic Party -- and I hope he will. (Applause.) Thank you.
But to get back to the main event here, I'm here for a lot of reasons. First, I love Montana. I was a governor for a dozen years, and -- former Governor of Montana, Ted Schwindler, was one of the best friends I ever had in the Governors Conference. And in 1985, Hillary and Chelsea and I went to Montana before the governors met in Idaho and had what maybe was the best family vacation we ever had. It is the most spectacularly beautiful place I believe I have ever seen anywhere in the world. In 1992, we actually carried Montana, maybe because Ross Perot got so many votes. But anyway, for whatever reason, I was proud to have those votes in the column. (Laughter.)
Secondly, I believe that Montana is -- first of all, as you saw in these last elections, we lost both the Congress and the governor's race. It was a pretty closely divided state, and we have a real chance there, I think, to bring the Democrats back. But the key to that is Senator Baucus winning reelection. Now, the people of Montana know he's done a good job, but I'm not sure they know just how good a job he has done. And I want to talk about that, because I'm interested in the country, and I'm not running for anything anymore.
But the reason I always liked Max Baucus is he cared about ideas, he cares about things. And he also cares about how things are going to work. He's not just a talker. He cares about whether something will work or not. He had -- last summer, I think it was, he had an economic development conference in Montana and then set up an action group to implement the ideas that they came up with. That's not something senators normally do.
But a lot of rural parts of this country, and a lot of people that have depended on natural resource-based economies have not done all that well in this economy. And the farmers have been having a terrible time in the last two or three years. And the ones that get a lot of payments based on the way the old farm bill dolls the money out, when we come out with the emergency appropriations, they're getting by. But it's really been tough out there.
So Max actually decided to do something about it. And I think that makes him a better legislator, because if you think about how something's going to work, you're more likely to vote for the right kind of bills and draft them in the right way. And I am particularly interested in that.
I also am interested in the fact that he wants to bring the benefits of high technology to people in rural America, to small communities, to the Native American reservations, to the schools. This is a big deal. I really believe we can skip a whole generation of economic development in places that have been badly left behind in this country if we get the technology out there in the right way and train the people to use it. (Applause.)
And the third thing that I want to say is, even after the 20th, he'll be the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee. They're going to write tax legislation that will have an impact on this economy. They're going to deal with Medicare reform and the question of whether and in what form the seniors of this country will get a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. They're going to continue to deal with trade.
And you heard him say it, so I'll just say thank you back. I did my best at least to create a consensus within the Democratic Party on all the big issues, and then to work with the Republicans wherever we could. And this year we actually had the best year, in some ways, we've ever had. We passed the China trade bill, the Africa Caribbean trade bill. We passed the most massive debt relief for poor countries in the world, if they'll put the money -- if, but only if, they'll put the money back into education, health care and development in their own countries. We lifted the earnings limit on Social Security. We passed the largest bill in history -- thank you Mary Landrieu and others -- to buy land and preserve it for all time to come. Permanent funding has never been done before like this. And we passed the best education bill we've ever passed.
When I -- four years ago we weren't funding any kids in after-school programs. This year the federal government will fund 1.3 million children in after-school programs, to learn and stay off the street and out of trouble. And I was yesterday in Chicago in a school that's getting some of that money.
So we had a great, great year. But there's a lot of big questions that have to be faced about the whole issue of globalization. And I've talked ad nauseam about this. I went to England and gave a speech with Tony Blair about it, and I don't want to bore you with all of it again. But let me just say that the growing interdependence of people on this increasingly shrinking planet, and the explosion of population -- almost a hundred percent of which is supposed to be in the poorest countries of the world -- and the phenomenal explosion of wealth in this country, which has helped everybody -- yes, we've got more billionaires and more millionaires, but we also have people in the lower 20 percent of the population the last three years had the biggest percentage increase in their income.
If you look at all that good and all those storm clouds, we've got to work out a new agreement with other wealthy countries about how we're going to continue to expand trade and how it's going to work in a way that lifts the lives of people everywhere. And if we don't, then you're going to see a lot of these countries' democracies themselves under stress.
How are we going to do it in a way that helps everybody? And when a country has a non-economic problem and they're a big trading partner of ours, what are we supposed to do about it? That's another thing this Congress did for which I'm very grateful -- the Plan Colombia program. You know, it may or may not work, but if we lose the oldest democracy in South America because the narco-traffickers and the guerrillas have teamed up, that's not a good omen for the 21st century.
These are big questions. Do you want somebody, to go back to Max's term, who doesn't have to look at his note cards. This guy thinks about these kinds of things all the time. And he understands how these big sort of trade issues affect people in Montana. He understands why it's important to have sustainable economies in other parts of the world so they can buy the products that people in his state want to sell. And he can connect it all to what he's trying to do to help empower people at the grass-roots level to make a decent living, get a good education and hook into the technology of the 21st century.
We need people like this in the Senate. We need people who read things and think about things. I tell people all the time, the main reason I'm for campaign finance reform is so people like Max and Harry and Mary and Maria and Tom won't have to spend quite so much time at fundraisers like this, because if you're from a little state and it costs you a lot of money to run, by the time you run all over the country -- especially if you're on a crowded airplane -- you're too tired to read a book or call the guy that wrote an article that struck you as interesting, or meet with a bunch of people who have got a new idea.
That's why Max Baucus -- and from my honest opinion now -- this is all the Montana-specific issues -- but when I think about America, to have somebody like him in the most important position our party can have on the Senate Finance Committee, who has read and thought about these issues and tried to make some sense out of them, and who thinks about how the big things translate into the practical daily lives of ordinary citizens, that's a big deal for a democracy. And the more complicated the world gets and the more we'll have to process all this information and make decisions in a hurry without knowing everything, the more you're going to need people like Max Baucus in positions of responsibility.
So I thank you for helping him today and I hope you'll help him all the way through to the election next year. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 1:14 P.M. EST