There are many, many people in this room I want to thank for their hard work, the countless hours they have dedicated to advancing the issues of the Fourth District of Michigan and the Ways and Means Committee, and the advice, counsel and friendship you all have given to me over the years.
Thank you Speaker Boehner for those kind remarks. John and I came to the House of Representatives in the same year, and I have had the honor of calling him a good friend for the past twenty-four years. His leadership and guidance in the party is part of the reason I went from a Member on the lower dais – in fact I had the least seniority on the entire Committee in 1993 – to the man holding the gavel for the last four years.
And thanks to Leader McCarthy for kicking-off this event. Kevin and I are close friends as well. His optimism and inclusive leadership style is what will undoubtedly help move our country forward. In his former role as Whip and now as our Leader, Kevin has ensured that Committee Chairmen can run their Committees and have a seat at the table. And, Kevin, thanks for always saving me a seat and for being nothing like Frank Underwood in House of Cards.
To my personal congressional staff and my four chiefs of staff who are here today – John Guzik, Elizabeth Harkins Meade, Behrends Foster, and Jim Brandell – my deepest thanks and appreciation.
To the staff of the Committee on Ways and Means and our leadership team – Jon Traub, Jennifer Safavian, Warren Payne and Sage Eastman – I am so proud of all that we have accomplished together. Thank you.
It is absolutely an honor to have my portrait hung in this room. Ander, thank you for emceeing this event and for all that you and Kitty have meant to Nancy and me over the years. Thank you, Becky Anderson for being a great friend and for chairing my portrait committee. And, of course, my deep appreciation to the artist, Leslie Bowman, whose talents brought this portrait to life.
It is safe to say that I never thought this was possible. In fact, I so wanted to be a Member of the Ways and Means Committee that I called a former President and native Michigander, Gerald Ford, to make some calls for me – and he did. There is nothing like having a former President of the United States in your corner.
I have always believed in good policy and that it was my job to try and make Washington work. That is a belief that I held when I first got on the Committee. I was in the minority and Dan Rostenkowski was Chairman. And while we got along, keeping my head down and studying policy wasn’t just a professional tactic, it was for my own safety.
In the minority I went to work on welfare reform. That was no easy task. Before welfare reform was eventually signed into law, we had to win the majority, then it was vetoed twice, and it divided our Leadership right until the end.
Now, that may have dissuaded some, but a group of us refused to stop pushing for welfare reform. Years after the effort began, it was finally signed into law. Despite the obstacles, welfare reform ultimately passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, helping millions achieve the American dream – moving them off welfare rolls and into the workforce.
It was the first of many challenges I would face in my career to get good policy done. However, I never anticipated just how frequent these challenges would be. Albert Einstein once said, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” Well, how about reforming it?
As you all know, this Committee put in years of work and hundreds of hours huddled in this room holding hearing after hearing, walking through the tax code with Tom Barthold and the staff of Joint Committee on Taxation, all with the common goal of making the tax code simpler and fairer for all Americans.
And, while I may be from Michigan, I commend everyone for surviving the arctic temperatures this room can drop to. In my defense, the thermostat is actually controlled by the Pentagon.
While some may have compared the task of reforming the tax code to Sisyphus rolling the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again, I can stand here today and say “we did it.” We produced a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code that grew the economy and created jobs for American workers.
And, while it may not become law this year, I know it will get done. And, when it does happen, it will be the work of this Committee and the staff that set the blueprint for a tax code that will put America, and its workers, back on top.
We did a lot of good in this room. From passing job creating free trade agreements to drafting a health care alternative that actually lowered premiums. But nothing may compare to the work we did when it comes to adoption and children in foster care – ensuring hundreds of thousands of kids were raised in safe, permanent and loving homes.
And that’s what being Chairman is about to me. It’s about providing a vision for this great country, one that will leave our children and grandchildren with more opportunities for a successful life – after all, that is the American Dream.
Reflecting over my years in this body, and sitting in that chair, I feel an overriding sense of pride that I did all I could to support that vision. The many people who have supported me along the way made this honor and privilege possible. And what a journey it has been.
I want to thank my wife, Nancy, my mother Norma, and my family who are here today to be with me. It is their support and love, and that of my children – Andrew, Lauren and Hadley, who are all at school today – that has given me the strength to pursue the privilege of being not only a Member of Congress, but also the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means.
Thank you all for being here today, it has been more than I could have ever imagined. Thank you, and God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America.