AUGUSTA, Maine — Sen. Angus King called on his colleagues in Congress on Wednesday to follow the advice of President Abraham Lincoln and overcome gridlock in order to confront the constantly evolving challenges faced by the United States in ensuring national security and keeping the nation’s finances in check.
“We must disenthrall ourselves, think in new and different ways, and then we shall save our country,” King said on the Senate floor, adapting Lincoln’s 1862 annual message to Congress.
King was delivering what’s known as his maiden speech, following a Senate tradition in which freshman members refrain from immediately participating in floor debates for a period of time in order to gain the respect of the Senate’s senior members. King was sworn in as Maine’s junior senator at the start of the year following an election victory over five rivals in November.
King is one of two independents in the Senate. He chose to caucus with Senate Democrats soon after his election, which followed a campaign in which he didn’t say whether he would caucus with either party.
During the 25-minutes address, King laid out a broad philosophy of government and his view on the balance between federal government power and states’ rights. That balance, King said, is what has framed every major dispute in U.S. history from the Civil War in the 1860s to the civil rights movement a century later.
“Many of the arguments we’re having now, they’re all manifestations of this age-old debate that we keep having,” King said, referring to recent debates over gun control and health care. “What I think is amazing is the arguments — even the rhetoric, the words themselves — always seem to be about the same.
“The tension is hardwired into our system, but I think it helps us find balanced policy,” he added.
King refrained from laying out many specific policy priorities during his maiden speech. He reiterated his support for a range of gun control measures that failed last week in the Senate, including a proposal to expand criminal background checks to private and Internet firearm sales. He also said he supports stricter gun trafficking laws.
Those are areas where national legislation, as opposed to state-by-state solutions, is appropriate, King said.
King also repeated his opposition from the campaign trail last year to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill passed by Congress in 2010 following the 2008 financial system collapse. King said he would have simply restored the Glass-Steagall Act, the Depression-era law that largely barred consumer banks from engaging in investment activities.
Instead, he said, the Dodd-Frank bill has saddled small banks with costly new regulations.
“Bangor Savings Bank didn’t cause the recession,” King said. “They’re going to have to bear the brunt of regulations that are expensive, driving costs for their customers and I don’t believe will be a solution.”