Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.): Federal Reserve Board nominees

Posted on May 17, 2012

Mr. President, at noon the Senate will be voting on two of President Obama's nominees to the Federal Reserve Board. These are important positions. They have long terms. They come at a time when our economy is in trouble and doing its best to recover. In these votes, the Senate will be acting in the way it should, and let me say why I am saying that.

On Tuesday of this week, someone most of us know -- Marty Paone, who was the Democratic secretary in the Senate for 13 years, until 2008 -- wrote an article in the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper. The headline is "Senate rule changes come with risk," but all I want to refer to today is a description of the Senate that is on our Senate Web site. Marty describes our own Web site in the article and says: ...[t]he legislative process on the Senate Floor [as] a balance between the rights guaranteed to Senators under the standing rules and the need for Senators to forgo some of these rights in order to expedite business.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the article I just referred to following my remarks.

What is reflected on the Senate Web site is the action the Senate is about to take at noon today.

There has been at least one vacancy -- and sometimes two -- on the Federal Reserve Board since 2006. That is 6 years ago. That is one whole Senate term. The Federal Reserve Board has seven Governors nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. So during that whole 6 year-period, it has had one or two of those seven positions vacant. And this has been during a time -- since 2008 -- of the greatest economic crisis we have had since the Great Depression.

The President tried once to nominate someone to that position who wasn't accepted by the Senate. So in January the President took the unusual step of nominating a well-qualified Republican, Jay Powell, as well as a well-qualified Democrat.

There is a good deal of unease in the Republican caucus -- as I am sure was reflected in some of the comments on the floor -- about the response the Federal Reserve Board has taken to the economic crisis since 2008. Senators on this side of the aisle who have those concerns have a perfect right to filibuster, to object, and perhaps to kill these two nominations. But the Republican Senators have realized that if we were to do that to President Obama's nominees today, then if there were a President Romney after the first of the year, the Democrats very likely would say: We will object to President Romney's nominees, and there would still be vacancies on the Federal Reserve Board at a time of economic crisis.

Just as the President took a step toward making government work by nominating a well-qualified Republican to one of these two Federal Reserve Governor positions, I want to acknowledge the fact that Republican Senators who feel strongly about this issue have taken a step forward and forgone -- in the words of our Senate Web site -- some of their rights so that we can move straight to a vote today, up or down, at 60-votes, on each of the two nominees.

The article to which I referred said that sometimes in the Senate, even though we all have many rights, we have to forgo some of those rights in order to make the place work. That has been happening more lately. Republican Senators in the minority have been occasionally forgoing some of our rights to slow down a bill coming to the floor or to insist on an amendment that is not relevant. The majority leader has on some occasions forgone his right to block our amendments. We would like for him to do that more often,but it has been happening more lately.

I think of the scheduling difficulty Senator Reid and Senator McConnell had on district judges a few weeks ago. Instead of letting that issue blow up the Senate, they met privately and agreed they would proceed at a schedule the two of them determined. As a result, we have been considering and confirming district judges at a regular rate.

Their agreement permitted us to move to a jobs bill, which benefitted startup companies, to move ahead. The House Republicans had already passed the bill, then we passed it, and the President of the United States then signed it into law.

The Senate moved forward on the FAA authorization bill after many efforts and failed attempts to do so.

We have a 2-year highway bill which the Senate has passed and which is now in conference. I would like for it to be a 7-year bill, but we have made progress and passed a 2-year bill.

The Senate had a big debate on the Postal Service. I would have liked to have seen a stronger bill come out of the Senate, and I hope the House will send us back a stronger bill. But we had 39 relevant amendments to that bill considered, we worked on it, and we are moving toward dealing with the big debt the Postal Service has.

This week we considered an extension of the Ex-Im Bank and took up a bill passed by the Republican House. We offered and voted on five relevant amendments to the Ex-Im Bank bill and disposed of the bill that same day.

The majority leader says we have the FDA bill coming up -- very important because it affects medicines that Americans everywhere depend on. Senator Enzi and Senator Harkin have worked that bill through the HELP Committee.

It has broad support on both sides of the aisle. The majority leader may allow it to come up only with relevant amendments, and we may be able to consider it and pass it.

Earlier this year several of us came to the floor and complimented Senator Reid, the majority leader, and Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, for saying that they want to do their best to pass all the appropriations bills this year. That is the basic work of the Senate -- paying our bills and doing our oversight. Only twice since the year 2000 has the Senate passed every single appropriations bill. I don't want to make too much of this progress, but it is a little progress, and it is an example of the Senate working the way the Senate is supposed to work.

Now, let's be honest about the fact that this is a more partisan country than it was even 10 years ago, and that partisanship is reflected in the Senate. By any definition there is a narrower range of views on the Republican side of the aisle and a narrower range of views on the Democratic side of the aisle. But we still have our job to do. Our job is not just to stand and express our views. If our job was to only stand and express our views, each one of us would always be right and we wouldn't get anything done. The second part of the job is to take our views, put them together, and see if we can get a result.

Some people say: Well, you are interested in bipartisanship.

I am not so interested in bipartisanship. That interests me very little, to tell you the truth. I am interested in results. I learned in the Maryville city schools how to count, and I can count to 60. I know that if it takes 60 votes to get anything done in this Senate, it is going to have to take some on that side and some on this side to get to 60. And I know the American people are expecting results -- results on the debt, results on tax reform, results on fixing No Child Left Behind, results on finding a place to put used nuclear fuel. I want to be a part of getting those results. We have too many problems to solve for us to think we have finished our job simply by announcing our positions, stating our principles, and sitting down. We need to take those principles and put them together and see whether they can mesh and get a result.

It is not easy to get elected to the Senate. It is very hard to get here. Most candidates campaign for a long time, and their campaigns are intense for 2 years. They usually have terrific opposition, and people say things about them that they don't like. We end up with some very talented men and women among the hundred in the Senate.

It kind of reminds me of country music. A lot of the artists in Nashville I know play in every bar they can find and every State fair they can find for 20 years, and finally they might get invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. Well, being in the Senate for a lot of the last year was like being invited to join the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing. The majority leader would bring up a bill and block the amendments because he would say the Republicans were keeping him from bringing up bills. Our side would say: Well, we are not going to let you bring it up unless you let us have amendments. So we would be sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, and wasting time when there was a lot to do. That is why I am so glad to see some things changing here in the Senate over the last few weeks.

We all have our wishes about what will happen in the November election. I hope that after November we will see President Romney and that we will see more desks on this side of the aisle, a Republican majority. My friends on the other side expect and hope the President will be reelected, and they would like to enlarge their majority on the other side of the aisle. We don't know whether there will be a Republican or a Democratic President. We don't know whether there will be 51 or 52 Republican Senators or 51 or 52 Democratic Senators. We do know pretty well that there probably won't be many more than 51 or 52 or 53 Democratic Senators or 51 or 52 or 53 Republican Senators, and we all can count, and we all know that is not 60.

We also know we are going to get to the end of the year and we are going to have taxes to reform, debt to reduce, highways to deal with, nuclear waste to do something about, the payroll tax credit expiration, and the biggest tax increase in history facing us. We know the country's lack of confidence in the future will be greatly relieved if it has more confidence in the ability of Washington, DC, to govern this country.

We see what is happening in Europe. We can look at ourselves, and we know we have trillions of dollars sitting on the side lines of the United States. Part of the reason that money is sitting there is to wait to see whether the Senators can do our jobs. Well, doing our jobs may require forgoing some of our rights. That is what it says on our Web site -- that we have the rights, that we can insist on them. And sometimes we will. But to get things done in the Senate, sometimes we will forgo some of our minority rights and the majority leader, we hope, will forgo some of his rights. Then we will be able to move to a bill, amend it, vote on it, and get some results. That is what the American people would like for us to do.

We are moving today to vote on a Democratic and a Republican nomination by the President. We are doing it without any obstruction by Republicans in the minority, who are very well aware and hope there will be a President Romney after January who will have a number of Federal Reserve appointments to make. And President Romney will hope his nominees are entitled to the same respect President Obama's nominees are.

If these two nominees are confirmed today, the Federal Reserve Board will have a full complement of seven for the first time since 2006. The Federal Reserve will have a full Board at a time of great economic crisis for our country and as we come up on the end of the year when we will have a fiscal cliff -- according to the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board -- that will cause Congressional action to take care of.

So I am here today only to say that I admire the nominees. I know one of them well, Jay Powell, who was Under Secretary of the Treasury for the first President Bush, an administration in which I served. He has a fine reputation. He should be a fine member. I want to acknowledge the fact that the President chose to break the stalemate by nominating Mr. Powell, a Republican, as well as a Democrat. I want to acknowledge the fact that several of my Republican colleagues, who have deep concerns about the actions of the Federal Reserve Board during this economic crisis over the last few years, have forgone some of their rights and allowed us to have an up-or-down vote at noon.

That, taken with the other actions of the last few months, should give a little bit of confidence to the American people that we in the Senate are perfectly able to assert our principles, to stand on our principles, not to give up on our principles. But then, after we have made our speeches, to sit down and come to a result that may not be perfect, it may not be ideal to each of our principles, but will be good for our country.