December 9, 2003 - Issue: Vol. 149, No. 176 — Daily Edition108th Congress (2003 - 2004) - 1st Session
TRIBUTE TO FORMER U.S. SENATOR PETE WILLIAMS OF NEW JERSEY
(Extensions of Remarks - December 09, 2003)
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[Extensions of Remarks] [Pages E2490-E2491] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] TRIBUTE TO FORMER U.S. SENATOR PETE WILLIAMS OF NEW JERSEY ______ HON. RUSH D. HOLT of new jersey in the house of representatives Monday, December 8, 2003 Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, thousands, even millions, of American workers today have their fingers, eyesight, even their lives because of the legislative work of former U.S. Senator Harrison ``Pete'' Williams of New Jersey. They will never know who they are. Millions of Americans have adequate retirement pensions or health care coverage because of the legislative work of Sen. Williams. They don't remember Pete Williams when they open their monthly benefits checks. As the author and champion of landmark legislation, Pete Williams gave the country the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which is the single most important step in workplace safety in history, and he created the Employee Benefit Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA) which helped guarantee minimum benefits for all working Americans. Two years ago, former Senator Williams, who would have been 84 years old this week, died. He was retired after 4 years in this body and almost 24 years in the U.S. Senate. Since his death, neither body has given appropriate recognition to him and his contributions to America. A cloud has obscured his many great contributions. Pete Williams fought for a wide range of landmark laws to improve the quality of life for average Americans. As a member and longtime chair of the Committee on Labor and [[Page E2491]] Human Resources in the other body across the Capitol, he brought forth the Coal Mine and Health Safety Act; increases in the minimum wage in 1966, 1974, and 1977; the Vocational Rehabilitation the Alcohol Rehabilitation Act; legislation preventing discrimination against pregnant workers; legislation preventing age discrimination; the Migrant Labor Health Act; legislation for special education; the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972; legislation for college tuition assistance for needy students; legislation protecting the rights of workers to organize; and Meals on Wheels. Let me repeat: many of these are landmarks in American history. And that is not all; Pete Williams also produced legislation providing elderly housing, open space, arts funding, and marine mammal protection, and he led or contributed to many other laws. As my colleagues here know, it is customary for the President to give a pen from an important bill signing to each legislator who played a significant role in the bill. Pete Williams had seventy Presidential pens. As a young man working in the Senate, I first watched Senator Williams debate the 1964 Civil Rights Act and was impressed by his intellect and sincerity, qualities that defined his work as a United States Senator. Sometimes called the ``Voice for the Voiceless,'' Pete Williams spoke for many Americans who never knew him--never even knew of him. He did not need to work on the Migrant Labor Act; not many of those farm workers voted. He thought of those without privilege. He created the first standing subcommittee on aging and the first standing committee on issues related to physical disabilities. I noticed back in 1963 and 1964 that Senator Williams was a man who paid attention to those who were sometimes invisible to others like him--the cafeteria workers, the pages, the elevator operators, the support staff. He was not a showboat, although New Jerseyans were so devoted to him that he was reelected with acclaim for four terms. In fact, he was the only Democrat in the state up to that time to be re-elected to the Senate. But he was not to be the ``Senator for life'' as he was sometimes called. In his fourth term in the U.S. Senate, he was implicated, along with six members of this body, in the so-called Abscam bribery sting and resigned under a cloud and served time in prison. His colleagues and historians have not known how to remember this man, how to tell his complicated story, how to commemorate his legacy--a legacy that includes what is one of the greatest legislative records for the benefit of Americans. Fighting expulsion from the Senate, Senator Williams averred his innocence and maintained that ``time, history and Almighty God [would] vindicate'' him. I hope historians will find the way to do justice to this man and his work. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described his friend and colleague Sen. Pete Williams as ``thoughtful, decent, and determined in all he did.'' Many colleagues wondered how sad a man could fall from grace. One might try to blame judgment weakened by alcohol or perhaps overzealous or dishonest federal agents or simple political vindictiveness. His is a cautionary tale for anyone in elective office or public service. The lesson is that there are always those who would take advantage of one's weaknesses. Pete Williams, author of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and the Alcohol Rehabilitation Act, learned that there was no political rehabilitation act for him. But there is a more positive lesson, too; one person who works hard and shows compassion for others can improve the lives of others. History should not lose that more positive lesson of the career of Senator Pete Willams. ____________________