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Congress to the Commonwealth: Lessons from Lincoln


Date: Feb. 28, 2008
Location: Washington, DC

Abraham Lincoln, one of our nation's most popular presidents, has been the focus of a lot of attention recently. February kicked off the year-long celebration and series of events leading up to the 200th anniversary of his birthday, February 12, 1809, and I was fortunate to be able to attend one of these events at the Singletary Center in Lexington. "Our Lincoln," as the program was aptly named, included a number of impressive musical and theatrical performances in honor of this great president.

Kentuckians are very proud to celebrate this day in history, especially since President Lincoln's birthplace is near Hodgenville, Kentucky. We proclaim our commonwealth's influence and importance in Lincoln's life—not just as his birthplace, but as the home state of his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and we are quick to point out these facts to people from Indiana and Illinois who also lay claim to Lincoln.

Lincoln was a simple man by most people's standards, born in a one-room log cabin with a dirt floor. However, he taught our nation many valuable lessons that have remained with us over the past two centuries. He spent a lot of his youth splitting rails on his family's farm, and he worked hard to educate himself, though he had only 18 months of formal schooling. He lost a total of 8 elections, yet he persevered.

Having served only one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lincoln ran for President in 1860 with the odds stacked against him. Underneath his sometimes rugged, sometimes stately appearance, he was filled with determination and foresight. His ideal of national unity has become a testament to what we can accomplish if we work together to solve our nation's problems. After all, it was Lincoln who said "A house divided against itself cannot stand." Kentucky's state motto reiterates this theme—"United We Stand; Divided We Fall."

In Congress, we aim for unity, but the lack of it can lead to frustrating roadblocks in our efforts to improve our nation. Since 2001, we have more Americans living in poverty, more Americans uninsured and the price of gas has increased almost threefold. The strength of the dollar has decreased, median household income has declined, college costs continue to rise and consumer debt has increased by more than $5 trillion.

In the midst of a faltering economy, Democrats, Republicans and the White House put their differences aside and passed a bill that will hopefully reinvigorate the economy by putting money back in the hands of those who will spend it quickly. President Bush signed this legislation into law on February 13, 2008.

The economic stimulus package provides a recovery rebate to more than 130 million American families, including seniors and disabled veterans. The broad-based stimulus package will provide tax relief of up to $600 per individual and $1,200 per married couple, plus an additional $300 per child. All told, the bill is estimated to provide an average tax rebate of $938 to Kentucky families, investing as much as $1.5 billion back into Kentucky's economy.

The bill also increases the amount small businesses can write off their taxes for capital investments and encourages investments in new equipment. Small businesses power our economy in Kentucky. Now these businesses will have incentives to expand their operations, hire new workers and help our economy get back on track. Perhaps most importantly, the stimulus package also includes provisions to help families avoid losing their homes by expanding affordable mortgage loan opportunities for families at risk of foreclosure.

I'm proud that Democrats, Republicans, and the Bush Administration were able to work together to craft a plan that will give the economy a much-needed boost and deliver to families the relief they need. This action proves that it is not just possible to work in a bipartisan manner but, sometimes, as Lincoln so nobly taught us, it is imperative.

Finally, I want to leave you all with one last message from our beloved 16th President's Second Inaugural Address on March 4, 1865. This quote summarizes what I strive for as a member of Congress and the mindset I believe Congress should have as we move through important legislation this year that affects every American:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations." -Abraham Lincoln