Dec. 12, Rep. Jeb Hensarling gave the final scheduled speech of his Congressional career on the floor of the House of Representatives. Below is a transcript of the speech.
“After eight terms, I have chosen to go home to Texas, the land of my forefathers, and with hope of being a better father and a better husband myself. I’m also going home because I believe America is best served by the Jeffersonian model of American democracy. And that is a citizen legislature. I fear too many wish to become members of the permanent ruling class. I am not among them. I also know that this congressional seat, Mr. Speaker, it never belonged to me. It belonged to the people of the Fifth Congressional District of Texas. It’s always belonged to them. They allowed me to hold it in trust. So, come Jan. 3, I reverently return their seat back to them. And I wish my successor, Lance Gooden of Kaufman County, Texas, all the best.
Mr. Speaker, 16 years ago I went to these very same people in the Fifth Congressional District of Texas, and I told them, I believe I know what the genius of America is. It’s faith, it’s family, it’s free enterprise, and, yes, it is freedom. And it does indeed all start with faith, because, Mr. Speaker, over your chair right there is emblazoned our national motto: “In God We Trust.” I firmly believe we cannot be a virtuous nation unless we are first a Godly nation … Mr. Speaker, as vital as faith is, so are our families.
Free enterprise is about wealth creation. But this not to be confused with materialism.
But even perhaps more profound than wealth creation, free market capitalism is really about the pursuit of happiness. It’s about the freedom to use your God-given talents to create, to innovate and to produce.
Freedom, Mr. Speaker. The inalienable right to liberty endowed by our Creator. Never in the vast expanse of time, history and space have the blessings of liberty been enjoyed in greater abundance than they have here in the United States of America. Only in America are you only limited by the size of your dreams. Mr. Speaker, generations, generations of our forefathers have taken up arms in defense of liberty and found it worthy of the very sacrifice of their lives.
There is no greater foundational principle to the American people than liberty. Personal liberty, political liberty, religious liberty and economic liberty. May we in this body always fight to preserve it.
Now, in the federal city, political calculus changes by the moment. Policies come and go, but principles endure and there are no more enduring or foundational principles in America than faith, family, free enterprise and freedom.
I believed it 16 years ago when I came to this body, I believe it even more fervently today, Mr. Speaker. Now, Mr. Speaker, I have learned a couple of things in my 16 years of service in Congress. One thing I learned is that when one announces their retirement, two things happen. One, people begin to say nice things about you. Had I known about this phenomenon earlier, perhaps I would have retired years ago.
Second of all, reporters ask you about your so-called legacy. Mr. Speaker, I have to laugh because I’m not sure there’s anything as soon forgotten in the federal city than as a former member in Congress. So, I don’t think in terms of legacy. I frankly don’t know if I have changed Washington, but, Mr. Speaker, I know Washington didn’t change me.
I do take solace, though, and I take a measure of pride knowing that along with a handful of other conservatives in this body, I fought steadfastly against the forces of what I view as crony capitalism. And that be either by earmark, set aside, subsidies, tax preferences or trade protectionism. Particularly now, as the specter of socialism once again rears its ugly head in our nation, we can never let our fellow countrymen somehow confuse free market capitalism with crony capitalism.
Mr. Speaker, you know personally, as does the previous speaker,how much pride I take in the work of the great men and women of the House Financial Services Committee. Most Americans today are seeing the best economy that they have ever seen in their lifetimes, and that is in no small measure to the work of the men and women of the House Financial Services Committee. The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act signed by President Trump was the most pro-growth banking bill in a generation and has certainly done more to grow our economy than any other legislation passed by the House besides tax reform. Now, Mr. Speaker, economic growth cannot solve all of America’s problems, but it lifts the downtrodden from poverty. It empowers middle-income America and enables tens of millions to achieve their version of the American dream.
It has indeed, for 16 years of my service, been worth fighting for. And as I prepare to leave office, Mr. Speaker, I leave with many, many hopes. And Mr. Speaker, I leave with a few fears as well that I believe my fellow countrymen should pay attention to.
First, I’m concerned about the state of America’s entrepreneurial spirit. I wonder how long we will have robust economic growth if the government continues a regulatory onslaught against American business in attempt to render all risk out of our financial system.
Fewer entrepreneurs taking fewer risks means fewer jobs, Mr. Speaker. It’s that simple. And so one day, if we lose our ability to fail in America, we will soon lose our ability to succeed. There are simply too many burdensome regulations that crush the entrepreneurial spirit. This must cease.
Another fear I have, Mr. Speaker, I fear we are drifting away from our Constitutional mooring as I witness the rise of the administrative state, because we need to appreciate our birthright, the sheer genius of the Constitution, which, unfortunately, today is threatened. Our Constitution’s framework of checks and balances, limited government, and co-equal branches of government, that has secured our fundamental rights and given us the freest, most prosperous society that the world has ever known.
The next fear I have as I get ready to leave Congress is one that has really come about fairly recently in the state of our union, and that is the tenor and tone of the national debate. In other words, what is happening in our public square.
But with the exception of the notorious Alien and Sedition Acts, I don’t recall ever there being a greater effort in our nation’s history to ever actually silence dissent. The cry for civility in political discourse, as welcome as it is, is actually somewhat misplaced. The threat to democracy does not come from incivility, but from instead those who are committed to preventing the debate as opposed to winning the debate. That’s where the true threat comes.
There was a time in America’s history that the American ethos was encapsulated by the words that had been attributed to Patrick Henry: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Regrettably, I can hear all over the nation today people saying something along the lines of “I disapprove of what you say, and I’m going to harass and intimidate you and your family, defame your character, and attempt to take away your livelihood until you simply shut up and withdraw.”
Those who do not respect the rights of others to be heard in the public square may be little better than book burners and represent a clear and present danger to American democracy. It is a time for every citizen who cares about the destiny of their nation. It is time for courage, but it is a time also for goodwill and mutual respect among our citizens. It is time to re-secure our democratic values in the public square.
Mr. Speaker, my greatest fear for my nation, though, is our national debt. When I first came to Congress, the national debt was $6.7 trillion Today, it has tripled. Tripled.
My greatest regret in public office is my inability to convince more of my colleagues and more of my fellow citizens of the peril of this national debt. We are experiencing debt to G.D.P. ratios that haven’t been seen since World War II. But in World War II, they were episodic and temporary. Today’s debt is structural and permanent. As a veteran of the so-called “Super Committee,” Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Committee, and now Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, my iPad is awash in reports saying that our national debt is simply unsustainable, yet denial, justification and obstruction continue to rule the day.
Opportunity abounds like few periods in our nation’s history. In our military might that has been hollowed out, it is being rebuilt, and it is respected and feared around the globe again. As we look at our nation’s history we cannot but conclude that we live in a time of relative peace, relative security, and we should always, always be grateful. But the main reason I come to this floor tonight so hopeful, so hopeful for the future because of the people I’ve met in the 5th District of Texas that I’ve had this privilege to represent.
I also have hope because I met great patriots. Patriots like Doc. Collins from Van Zandt County, who is a real conservative leader from that county. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, he has bone cancer that he continues to battle. But during a recent election, he got chemo in the morning for his bone cancer and he was working the polling places in the afternoon because he felt that strongly about his cause and his country.
And then, Mr. Speaker, there’s Howard Banks of Kaufman, Texas. I wish that everyone could me this wonderful patriot. He’s legally blind, he’s a World War II veteran, and he flies Old Glory every day. Every day. One day, some no-account vandal decided he would take Mr. Banks’ flag, and Mr. Banks fought him. He fought him. He is age 92 and he still decided that he would fight for and he was willing to die for his American flag and the country it represents. These patriots inspire me, Mr. Speaker.
For me it’s time for me to go home. It is time to go home to my family, it is time to go home to Texas. All things must pass, including our congressional service. I continue to have so many blessings in my life, but, Mr. Speaker, I don’t believe I’ll ever have a greater privilege than fighting for freedom and opportunity in the People’s House, the House of Representatives.
Here’s what I know after 16 years, Mr. Speaker. I know if we will continue to trust in God, I know if we will continue to revere freedom, I know that if we will keep faith with our founders’ vision, our children will have brighter futures, and our republic will be forever preserved. May God continue to shed his grace on this great country. And for the final time on the House floor, I yield back the balance of my time.