In his first lecture on campus as the inaugural Dartmouth Distinguished Fellow, former U.S. Senator Judd Gregg called the Senate a “great institution” that must remain a forum where difficult issues are debated and addressed. Early in his lecture, entitled “The Role of the Senate in the Coming Fiscal Crisis,” Gregg posed a question: Can the Senate be the place where really tough decisions are taken on?
Gregg’s talk reflected more than 30 years of public service in representing New Hampshire—as a U.S. Senator, governor, and U.S. Congressman. In the Senate, he served as chairman for both the Committee on the Budget and the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Given that it was Constitution Day, Gregg talked about that “most amazing document,” the history and role of the Senate, and issues facing America. The former senator said the greatest problem facing the United States today, other than the threat of terrorist attack, is the country’s economic woes.
“We are on a path that is unsustainable,” he said. “At some point you’ve got to pay the piper.”
He said the “fiscal cliff”—the point at which lawmakers will have to decide whether to allow scheduled tax increases and spending cuts to go into effect—combined with the November elections will help create a “perfect storm for fiscal policy” by the end of 2012.
Gregg fielded questions from the audience of about 100, including a query about the current political climate and whether partisanship has increased in recent years.
“I don’t think it has changed that much,” Gregg said, noting Representative Preston Brooks’ attack with a cane on Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor in 1856. “The intensity has always been there.”
Gregg was recently named the first Dartmouth Distinguished Fellow for an initial appointment of three years. He will have an office at Baker-Berry Library and will advise students working on thesis or independent-research projects.
When asked afterward about what he looked forward to about the fellowship, Gregg said he was eager for “the chance to interact with students and participate in the Dartmouth community. It’s such a great school; Kathy and I are huge admirers of it.”
Gregg, who is married to Kathleen MacLellan Gregg, is the father of three alumni—Molly ’00, Sarah ’02, and Joshua ’06—and said Dartmouth gave them “a wonderful zest for life.” Gregg has been a frequent visitor to campus and an advocate for Dartmouth. In 2006, he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2011, he delivered the opening lecture for the “Leading Voices in Politics and Policy” series. As a senator, he supported the founding at Dartmouth of the Institute for Information Infrastructure Protection and the Institute for Security, Technology, and Society, helping both Dartmouth organizations becoming leading authorities on cyberspace and cyber security.
At the conclusion of his address, Gregg gave his thoughts on the question he had posed at the outset. Gregg said that if the difficult issue of the fiscal cliff is to be successfully addressed, it will have to be in the Senate, and that leadership will need to “open the floor” for everyone to deliberate. Whether that will happen or not, Gregg is unsure.
“I’m actually reasonably optimistic,” he said. “But I wouldn’t guarantee it.”