On Capitol Hill it’s like the last day of school before final exams.
With Congress in a stalemate over the fiscal cliff, today the Senate floor was reserved for farewell speeches by retiring Senators.
The speeches — a tradition for those stepping down or from those who failed to win reelection — ranged from the emotional to the funny, from the provocative, to the odd and the poignant.
Senator Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said that when he first joined the Senate a blackberry was a fruit and tweeting was something reserved for birds. And Lieberman, the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee, seemed unable to resist one last parting shot from his failed bid for higher office.
“I was given the opportunity to be the first Jewish American nominated by a major political party for national office. And incidentally, thanks to the American people, grateful to have received a half million more votes than my opponent on the other side, but that’s a longer story.”
Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass., hinted that even though he lost his reelection bid, perhaps this is not really a goodbye yet. It is widely believed if President Obama nominates Sen. John Kerry for a cabinet position that Brown would run again for the Senate from Massachusetts.
“Defeat is temporary, depending on what happens and all of us, we may obviously meet again,” Brown said on the floor of the Senate, “I’m looking forward to continuing on with those friendships, continuing on working with my staff.”
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, became tearful as she spoke about Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs, for homemakers. She championed a bill to make them legal, and it was renamed in her honor on Monday.
“I had the experience as a young single woman starting an IRA, getting married, and being told, I really couldn’t provide for my own retirement security,” she said pausing when she was overcome by emotion. “I know it will help women long after I leave.”
Senator Kent Conrad, D-N.D., gave a shout-out to his dog, Dakota, who could be seen at his feet daily roaming the halls of Congress.
“I think he will be missed perhaps more than I am as I leave the Senate,” he joked.
Conrad noted the irony of giving a farewell speech before a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff has been worked out in Congress.
“I don’t consider this my final speech,” Conrad said, “I hope we can reach agreement on averting the fiscal cliff, because that’s important to the country. So I hope we’ll have additional chances to communicate with colleagues and the public before we’re done.”
Perhaps trying to send a message to those negotiating this deal, as well as the other deals in the future, Conrad said he’s witnessed a gradual change in Congress over the 26 years he’s been in office, one that needs to be remedied.
“We spend now too much of our time seeking partisan advantage,” Conrad said. “We spend too little time trying to solve problems. We spend too little time in our caucuses, in our meetings, focused on how to solve the problems facing the country.”
Conrad said, “I believe we can do better than this.”