Maryville Daily Times: Sen. Alexander calls TVA privatization 'loony'

Posted on May 3, 2018

Maryville Daily Times: Sen. Alexander calls TVA privatization 'loony' 

By Rachel Totten 

May 3, 2018

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Wednesday that privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority is a “loony idea” that “makes no sense.”

During an editorial board meeting with The Daily Times, the Tennessee Republican and Maryville native said he’s told President Donald Trump the same thing and has urged members of TVA area congressional delegations to let the Office of Budget and Management know of the idea’s folly.

“Some gremlin in the Office of Management and Budget pops up in every administration with this idea,” he said. “The last time President Obama proposed it ... just the publicity associated with it increased the cost to borrow money for TVA.”

That means higher rates for people in the Tennessee Valley, Alexander said.

“It has zero chance of passage,” he said, adding that the proposal to sell TVA transmission lines is like “selling the tires off the car and keeping the car.

“It makes no sense.”

Alexander reiterated his enthusiasm for the National Park Restoration Act. He is principal sponsor of the bipartisan bill that seeks to address the $11.6 billion National Park Service maintenance backlog, including the $215 million worth of backlogged projects in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The legislation would mandate a portion of revenues from energy exploration on federal lands to rebuild roads, buildings, campgrounds, trails and water systems in America’s national parks.

“I think it has a good chance of success, and if it does, it will be the most significant piece of legislation to help restore and rebuild the national park system in decades,” he said.

In Blount County, for example, the senator said the bill would take $2 million and allow the Look Rock campground and picnic area to be reopened for the first time since 2013.

“For Blount Countians, that’s a really handy, beautiful place to go,” he said.

And with the opening of Foothills Parkway’s “missing link” in November, he said local spots like Look Rock will gain even more popularity.

“It’s going to be maybe the most spectacular drive in any national park in the United States,” he said of the parkway. “It’s going to be a signature, signature photograph. ... This is a view of the Great Smoky Mountains that even those of us who live here have never seen before.”

Health care

Alexander blamed partisan politics on the failure of a health care deal he attempted to strike with Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state.

The deal would have extended subsidies for insurance companies to cover low-income patients for two more years.

“It was a temporary solution until we got our long-term solution to Obamacare, and at the last minute, the Democrats refused to vote for it because they did not want to apply the traditional, high-compromise language on abortion funding that they’ve voted every year for since 1976,” he said.

Although the two senators couldn’t pass through a compromise on health care, Alexander said he and Murray are currently working on a bill to address the opioid epidemic. The Senate Health Committee passed it unanimously last week.

“I’ve got high hopes for that,” Alexander said.

Trade and tariffs

Asked how low the president has to go before Republican officials begin to speak out, Alexander said, “The people chose President Trump.

“My responsibility, I think, is to work with him when I agree with him and oppose him when I don’t,” he said.

The senator noted that he has been working alongside Trump in regards to health insurance, the National Park System and the opioid crisis, but he disagrees with the new tariff policy.

“I think his trade and tariff policy is bad for Tennessee, and I’ve told him that directly two or three times in meetings,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve had no impact, but I’m going to continue to speak out because when you raise the price of aluminum and steel, you throw a lot of Tennesseans out of jobs.”

Alexander also said he would look into the Canadian newsprint tariff that threatens newspapers large and small across the country.

“They’re our allies,” he said of Canada. “The better they do, the better we do.”