Knoxville News Sentinel: Johnson: Tennessee senators gain strength from battles

Posted on September 24, 2010

With Democrats in control in Washington, policy victories are few and far between for Tennessee's Republican senators. But pugilistic perseverance appears to be paying off politically for U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker.

Corker won big this week when the Durbin-Corker Water for the World Act passed the Senate and was sent to the House for consideration. The bill would direct foreign aid to an area that matters most globally - clean water - with the goal of reaching 100 million people with sustainable water sources.

"The needs around the world are tremendous, but our foreign aid dollars are limited. We need to make every single penny count by better focusing and coordinating our efforts," said Corker. "A lack of clean water leads to the deaths of 1.8 million people each year - 90 percent of them children. I'm a fiscal conservative and want to see each of our foreign aid dollars go as far as possible, and I believe water is one of the wisest places we can invest."

But Corker and Alexander lost a battle when President Barack Obama named Elizabeth Warren an aide with the task of organizing the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a $400 million agency created by financial reform legislation. Corker sent a letter of protest to Obama.

"I am writing to express my concern over reports that you plan to appoint an interim head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, circumventing the intent of the legislation passed over the summer which established a confirmation process," Corker wrote. "It is a key responsibility of the U.S. Senate and its committees of jurisdiction to advise and consent and one that I believe was not meant to be abdicated by the Executive Branch's use of appointments." By making Warren a czarina, Obama bypassed what promised to be a contentious confirmation process for the anti-business Warren.

Alexander was outraged by Obama's extra-constitutional activity. "Appointing Elizabeth Warren to oversee this agency, even though she's not confirmed by the Senate, is just another disturbing trend in this administration of creating unaccountable czars and czarinas," Alexander said in a statement. "Every administration has had a few, but none at this level, and one of the great complaints of the American people is the lack of checks and balances."

The Washington Post called Warren "qualified" but buttressed the argument of Alexander and Corker in an editorial. The Post wrote, "For all intents and purposes, the president has created, and filled, a de facto directorship. This might have been in keeping with the letter of the laws, but not with their spirit."

If Warren and the CFPB are too heavy-handed in their rule writing, consumers will suffer. Alexander said, "She represents a view, which is a view represented in the financial regulatory bill, that makes credit harder to get on Main Street, that imposes Washington decisions on local banking issues, and that would put her and the agency in charge of making millions of decisions that ought to be made by the free market or by community banks."

Though Warren went in, Corker has become the go-to Republican at financial news outlets like CNBC and Fortune magazine for questions on financial legislation. Alexander, in a June poll of GOP primary voters, was viewed favorably by 80 percent of conservative voters. In a separate poll, three-fourths of tea partying Tennesseans had a favorable opinion of Alexander. As Corker and Alexander fight the good fight, they burnish their conservative credentials.

Greg Johnson's columns appear on Wednesdays, Fridays and the second Sunday of each month. Read more on his blog at E-mail him at