Johnson City Press: What conflict?

Posted on October 31, 2011

BRISTOL — Conflict in Congress — which has been blamed partially for the stock market’s uneven performance — is “overblown,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Friday.

   The Tennessee Republican told a small gathering of business leaders at the Bristol Chamber of Commerce that people ask him if he hates working in Washington, D.C., because of its current ultrapartisan atmosphere.

   “I tell them ‘Have you read any American history at all?’ ” Alexander said.

   He cited the famous 1804 duel when Aaron Burr, vice president during President Thomas Jefferson’s administration, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.

   “The United States has always been the place for the resolution of big disputes,” Alexander said. “(But) I will admit there is not enough working across party lines in the Senate.”

   Alexander recently resigned from his most partisan position as Senate GOP Conference chairman   and noted he’s gotten a good reception from the decision.

   “I think people respect the fact it will give me more time to work on the issues I care about and I think are important to Tennessee,” he said of the decision. “I am accustomed to working across party lines to get results ... (but) I am still a very Republican Republican.”

   At the stop in Bristol and later in a talk to the Washington County Republican Club in downtown Johnson City, Alexander harped on four other subjects: Jobs, education, energy and debt.

   On jobs, Alexander said America remains mired in a long period of high unemployment.

   “No one blames President (Barack) Obama for the things he inherited, but I’d like to see him focus on long-term structural changes in our economy,” Alexander said. “Those are the things that will make more difference. For instance, tax reform. Lower rates. Closing loopholes. Debt reduction.”

   Alexander also recalled his time in the 1980s as Tennessee governor when he recruited automakers, including those from Japan, to the state.  

   “I used to take a satellite photograph taken of the United States at night,” Alexander said. “You can imagine that showing all the lights on. The lights in the East you could see. ... I would show that to the Japanese and say ‘Tennessee is right in the middle of the lights.’ ... Every state north of us did not have a right-to-work law, and we did. ... Thirty years ago there were no automotive jobs in Tennessee, but now we are at the center of that market.”

   On education, Alexander said he is trying to fix the federal No Child Left Behind law by strongly opposing federal mandates to do teacher evaluations.

   “I think the reporting requirements are good,” he said of NCLB. “I think we need to know how our children are doing, but I would like to get Washington out of the business ... of whether teachers in Bristol are succeeding or failing. That should be a state and local responsibility.”

   On energy, Alexander said coal   will continue to be a major resource, but he also pitched his “Blueprint For 100 New Nuclear Power Plants In 20 Years” plan.

   In that 2009 plan, Alexander makes this point: “The difficulties with nuclear power are political not technological, social not economic. The main obstacle is a lingering doubt and fear in the public mind about the technology. Any progressive administration that wishes to solve the problem of global warming without crushing the American economy should help the public resolve these doubts and fears. What is needed boils down to two words: presidential leadership.”

   On debt, Alexander said that won’t be dealt with until Congress deals with entitlements like Medicare and Social Security.

   “If you’re 66, you would have paid $110,000 into Medicare, but you will get $340,000 in benefits,” he pointed out. “We have to find a way to get that under control. ... Anybody who says they can get   control of the debt problem without dealing with entitlements, I wouldn’t buy a bridge from them.”

   The debt problem, Alexander added, won’t be solved by cutting Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals because all they will do is stop seeing patients.

   “The problem is the benefit packages have to be changed,” he stressed. “If you’re paying $110,000 into a program and you’re getting $340,000 back ... that program is going to go broke. ... We want to save Medicare and Medicaid, and we can do that on down the road in age of eligibility. ... Or you could say to people of higher incomes ‘Your Medicare is going to be a little less than someone with lower incomes.’ ... I think people would accept that.”

   U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, who joined Alexander at the Johnson City stop, noted the Congressional Joint Select Committee looking to trim the federal budget is charged to come up with more than $1 trillion in cuts.