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U.S. Senate taking a new approach to problem-solving: Part I

The wheels of government turn slowly it’s been said, and they seem to have been turning even more slowly than usual in recent years. But that’s beginning to change in at least one chamber of the Congress, one of its members says.

“I hope people are beginning to notice there has been some important progress lately in the chamber where I serve,” says Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, who became one of a long line of members of the U.S. Senate to address the annual meeting of the Delta Council in Cleveland, Miss., on Friday (May 29).

“The Senate, I would submit to you, is different this year,” he said. “We’re taking more votes; we’re moving more legislation; we’re actually reaching across the aisle Congressman Bowen (a Democrat who represented north Mississippi in Congress for many years and was a platform guest at the Delta Council meeting). And we’re getting things done.”

Sen. Wicker said the Senate’s committee structure is working again in the areas of education, defense, foreign policy and trade. “We have found bipartisan consensus during the first five months of 2015. All politics aside, I believe we are confronting issues that Americans care about.”

One of those is the tinderbox known as the Middle East.

“Those of us who support Israel’s right to exist and who worry about instability in the Middle East want to know the details of that nuclear agreement the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran,” he noted.

Reform No Child Left Behind

“Those of us who care about our children getting the best education possible, and that’s all of us, we want to see central core reforms made to No Child Left Behind, and I don’t want the federal Department of Education to become our national school board.”

Wicker said most everyone in Mississippi recognizes the importance of trade, “and this is particularly true of our farmers and our agribusiness community. We want our goods and our products to be competitive in the global marketplace.”

Military preparedness is another important issue, said Wicker, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and is chair of the Subcommittee on Sea Power along with positions on the Budget and Commerce, Science and Transportation Committees.

“There are those of us who believe and understand this is a dangerous world,” he said. “Our troops need to be prepared for complex and unprecedented threats. We want a timely and comprehensive defense strategy. We want to avoid the across-the-board cuts that sequestration would make to our readiness.”

The new “bipartisan and constructive spirit” in the Senate has led to passage of a number of measures, including the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act – “which the president has agreed to sign” – to the Every Child Achieves Act, Trade Promotion Authority and the Defense Authorization bill.

Wicker also referred to 2014 legislation aimed at modernizing the nation’s ports and waterways as an example of bipartisanship and stressed the need for additional appropriations for improving antiquated roads and bridges and other portions of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Highways to the birthplace

“I share the beliefs of many Delta Council members that infrastructure can drive positive change in our communities and create jobs – from the recently approved permanent Amtrak stop in Marks, Miss., to projects like Interstate 69,” he said.

“Of course, these roads and rail lines aren’t just taking people anywhere,” he noted. “They are bringing them to one of the most culturally rich places in the world – the Mississippi Delta. As we say, this is the birthplace of American music.”

Being asked to speak at the annual meeting of the Delta Council was a rare privilege, according to Sen. Wicker, who noted he was standing in the same spot where then-Secretary of State Dean Acheson first spoke of the Marshall Plan in 1947, where William Faulkner talked about the Mississippi Delta and two Presidents – Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush – talked about national issues.

The senator dropped another name, that of singer-songwriter Paul Simon, who recorded an album in 1986 entitled “Graceland” that included the words “The Mississippi Delta shining like a national guitar.”

“That was 20 years before the first Mississippi Blues Trail marker was placed,” said Wicker. “So perhaps it was 20 years before we fully realized the potential we have for tourism here in the Delta that the governor (Phil Bryant) just talked about.

“With his nine-year-old son in tow, Paul Simon wrote that he was following the river down the highway to the cradle of the Civil War. He was bound for Graceland, Memphis, Tenn.,” said Wicker. “Just imagine if Paul Simon made that trip this year, he could be one of the 22 million visitors who will come to Mississippi this year, and I daresay that Graceland in Memphis would not be his final destination.” 

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