While I am generally an opponent of trite phrases, there is one that emphatically represents my feelings
as you hear this: I am very much with you in spirit, and deeply regret that I cannot be there in person.
While that was a phrase which I employed from time to time during my service in Congress, in fact, more often I was feeling the exact opposite, although prudence kept me from saying it explicitly. There were times when I wanted to tell an audience that while I was joining them in person, I was very much not with them in spirit.
For those of you in the public health field, and the rest of us who appreciate the importance of your work to maintaining a high quality of life for all people, there is a silver lining to the cloud that hovered over the country during that period when the Tea Party’s choke-hold on the Republican Party so disrupted our lives. People who had taken government functions for granted were reminded of how important they were, and how much they miss them in their absences. the recognition that there are essential activities that must be performed if we are to maintain an appropriate quality of life and which can only be done if we come together-through government-to do them has been strengthened. The value of the work you do-and the fact that it would not be accomplished relying wholly on the private sector is an important message, to which I believe the public is now more receptive.
We should be taking a two-pronged approach here: first, reminding people how important it is that we work together in this way, with public health activities being in the forefront of those things that society needs and will not otherwise get. Secondly, precisely because we do want to see an expansion in funding for this kind of activity, I think it is our obligation to point out how we can free up those funds in a way that is both morally appropriate and politically achievable: cutting back the swollen American military expenditures that have done far more to drive up our deficit in recent years than any other expenditure.
For example we should be pressuring my former colleagues in Congress to add to appropriations bills amendments requiring that America begin the orderly, safe withdrawal of all our military personnel from Afghanistan now. I was dismayed to read that an administration of which I am generally supportive is now negotiating to keep troops there, not only for all of next year, but beyond. To contemplate cutting back on public health or other similarly important measures while committing to spend additional tens of billions of dollars in that wasted effort makes no sense form any standpoint.
I was particularly pleased to be told that I would be getting an honor named for a man for whom I had great respect and admiration- Paul Wallstone. I am sure if Paul had not been taken from us so prematurely, he would be joining in this effort to stop the waste of funds represented by an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan, and put them to the kind of good use that you exemplify."
U.S. CONGRESSMAN (1981-2012)
CHAIRMAN, HOUSE FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE (2007-2011)
Former U.S. Congressman Barney Frank
2013 Wellstone Award Co-Recipient