On my first day in the Senate, I made a point of finding Indiana senator Richard Lugar on the Senate floor and telling him that he was a hero of mine. Dick, a moderate conservative, who served Indiana for six terms in the Senate, died yesterday at age 87, leaving a distinguished legacy of public service for Indiana, the United States, and the world.
Lugar was a hero because of the work that he and Sam Nunn, a conservative Democrat of Georgia, did to secure and destroy nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union after its fall in 1991. Upon its collapse, the USSR splintered into fifteen separate countries, several of which instantly became nuclear threats to the rest of the world. The Nunn-Lugar program led to the deactivation and destruction of more than 7,600 Soviet nuclear warheads and 900 intercontinental ballistic missiles. It removed all nuclear weapons from the Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. There’s a distinct possibility that had it not been for Dick Lugar and Sam Nunn, we might all be dead now.
But who likes to think that way about things anyway?
I worked with Dick on a number of things in the time we overlapped in the Senate. He and I co-authored one of the last bipartisan amendments to the Affordable Care Act. The National Diabetes Prevention Program (NDPP) provides funding for a diabetes prevention protocol that had initially been piloted by the Centers for Disease Control at two YMCAs – one in St. Paul and one in Indianapolis. The program takes people with pre-diabetes (elevated levels of blood glucose) and gave them sixteen weeks of training in both exercise and healthy eating at a YMCA. In the pilot, people with pre-diabetes were 58% less likely to develop full-blown diabetes over the next five years.
Two-thirds of our healthcare spending goes to people with pre-existing conditions like heart disease and diabetes. In fact, more than 30 million Americans have diabetes at a cost of more than $330 billion a year, and those numbers are going up every year along with the outrageous spikes in the price of insulin.
Dick and I championed the NDPP, and it became part of the prevention piece of the ACA. The program has expanded in the years since and improved a lot of lives and saved bucketloads of money that the Trump Administration has been giving to very wealthy Americans in the form of tax cuts.
After six distinguished terms in the Senate, Dick was defeated in the Republican primary by State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a new-style Tea Party Republican, and one of two Republican nominees for the US Senate that year who believed that rape victims should not be allowed to have abortions. Both lost in the general election, but their primary victories augured a frightening transition within the national Republican party.
This week we lost Richard Lugar, a throwback to the kind of thoughtful, conscientious, policy-centered Republican who made Washington work and understood America’s indispensable role in the world. America needs more Dick Lugars and should mourn his loss. Franni and I send our condolences to Charlene and their four sons. We know his memory will be a blessing to all who loved Dick.