Kingsport Times-News: Alexander says GOP working to get spending under control

‘We need to take a number of steps in the right direction. We can’t do it all at once.’ — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander

Posted on November 18, 2010

    U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said Wednesday a Senate Republican Conference demand for an earmark ban and other proposals to curb spending next year is merely a first step to getting the federal government’s finances under control.

    “Of course there are going to be reductions in spending,” the Tennessee Republican, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference, promised in a conference call with reporters. “We have to do that. We’re borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar that we’re spending today in the federal government. But if you’re in a hole, one good step to take is to stop digging. ... We need to take a number of steps in the right direction. We can’t do it all at once.”

    On Tuesday, the conference adopted a two-year earmark ban, in addition to Alexander’s call to place moratoriums on creating new unfunded mandates and starting new entitlement programs.

    GOP senators, who are about a half dozen sena- tors short of holding a majority in next year’s Congress, also passed resolutions advocating a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, imposing a federal hiring freeze, and canceling unspent stimulus funds. But under conference rules, the resolutions are deemed “an expression of conference policy but not binding on individual senators.”

    Alexander sponsored or cosponsored 47 earmarks totaling $85.9 million in the 2010 fiscal year, ranking 59th out of 100 senators, according to Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics.

    Earmarks slipped into the federal budget steer spending to lawmakers’ pet projects.

    When asked why his position on earmarks had changed, Alexander said: “I came to the conclusion earmarks have become a symbol of wasteful spending and we needed to take a timeout to clean them up. ... The American people sent a message (during the November midterm elections) that cleaning up earmarks is part of the whole job. ... We shouldn’t mislead anyone into thinking that an earmark ban will save much money. It doesn’t. It’s more about good government than saving money. ... This election was supposed to be about checking the president (Barack Obama) not giving him the checkbook.”

    To rein in spending, Alexander said Senate Republicans hope to partner with 23 Senate Democrats who face re-election in 2012.

    As for a ban on new entitlements, Alexander noted existing entitlement spending totals about 56 percent of the federal budget n o w.

    Alexander also pointed out federal health care reform enacted this year will cost Tennessee $1.1 billion in new Medicaid spending beginning in 2014.

    Still, Alexander warned attempts next year to control spending or roll back taxes would be unpleasant and controversial.

    “The question is who has the best ideas,” he told reporters. “The easiest place to start would be Social Security. The hardest place to do it is the other entitlement programs, namely Medicare and Medicaid.”

    As for the year-end congressional legislative session going on now, Alexander indicated his vote on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty depends on “how serious” the Obama administration is on modernizing nuclear facilities.

    The nuclear arms treaty was signed by Obama last April but still awaits Senate ratification.

    Alexander insisted taxpayers could save $200 million if the Y-12 National Security Complex at Oak Ridge was upgraded.

    “It is more expensive to do work in older facilities like Y-12,” Alexander stressed.

    Alexander was also asked about being mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate in former President George W. Bush’s new memoir, “Decision Points,” and what his political plans are for the 2012 presidential election year.

    “I intend to be a senator trying to help create jobs and reduce spending,” Alexander responded.

    For more about Alexander go to www.alexander.senate.gov.