Speeches & Floor Statements

Colloquy Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) with Republican Colleagues on the Budget

Posted on March 12, 2009

Madam President, I ask the Chair to let me know when I have 2 minutes remaining. I believe we have 30 minutes allocated to us at this stage. Madam President, this is an important next 3 or 4 weeks for the United States. The President of the United States has outlined his 10-year blueprint for our country's future in the form of a budget. The budget is now before the Congress, and it is our job to consider it. We are doing that every day in hearings, and we are looking forward to the details the President will send later this month. But for the next 4 weeks, including this week, the major subject for debate in this Senate Chamber is this: Can we afford the Democrats' proposals for spending, taxes, and borrowing? And our view -- the Republican view -- is the answer is no. As an example, in the 1990s, President Clinton and the Congress raised taxes, but they raised taxes to balance the budget. This proposal -- and we will be discussing it more as we go along -- will raise taxes to grow the government. Not long ago, the President visited our Republican caucus, and we talked some about entitlement reform -- the automatic spending that the government says we don't appropriate; mostly all of it is for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- and he talked about the importance to him of dealing with entitlement spending. Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, made a speech at the National Press Club to begin this Congress in which he said that he was going to say to this President: Let's work together to bring the growth in entitlement spending, automatic spending, under control. We had a summit at the White House, which we were glad to attend, about that. But I say to Senator Gregg, the Senator from New Hampshire, who is the ranking Republican on the Budget Committee, I was disappointed to come back from the excellent meeting we had at the White House on fiscal responsibility and find, for example, that in this budget we have $117 billion more for entitlement spending on Pell grants. So my question to the Senator from New Hampshire is: Does this budget actually reform entitlement spending, or does it not? At this point, let me ask the Senator from New Hampshire a question. I have heard you say, and I believe I said a moment ago, that in the 1990s, President Clinton raised taxes, as President Obama is planning to raise taxes, but that President Clinton used it to reduce the deficit. I wonder if I may ask the Senator from New Hampshire about this. Some people may say, with some justification: You Republicans are complaining about spending, yet in the last 8 years you participated in a lot of it yourself. How would you compare the proposed spending and proposed debt over the next 10 years in this blueprint by the Obama administration with the last 8 years? I see the Senator from Arizona, who is a longtime member of the Senate Finance Committee and pays a lot of attention to Federal spending and is the assistant Republican leader. I wonder, Senator Kyl, as you have watched the Congress over the years, to what do you attribute this remarkable increase in spending? We heard a lot of talk last year about change, but this may be the kind of change that produces a sticker shock. It may be a little bit more change in terms of spending than a lot of Americans were expecting. I wonder if I might ask the Senator from Arizona, one might look at the chart Senator Gregg has up and say that is not too big an increase in Federal spending, but of course the United States produces about 25 percent of the world’s wealth. When we go up on an annual basis by a few percentage points, it begins to change the character of the kind of country we have. How do you see this kind of dramatic increase in spending and taxing and debt affecting the character of the country as compared with, say, countries in Europe or other countries around the world? I wonder if either the Senator from Arizona or New Hampshire would have a comment on the way that spending was accomplished in the stimulus bill. For example, in the Department of Education, where I used to work, the annual budget was $68 billion. But the stimulus added $40 billion per year to the department’s budget for the next 2 years. There were no hearings. There was no discussion about this. No one said: Are we spending all the money we are spending now in the right way, and if we were to spend more would we give parents more choices? Would we create more charter schools? Would we, as the President said yesterday, of which I approve, spend some money to reward outstanding teachers? What about the way this is being spent on energy, education, and Medicaid, for example? I heard the Senator from Arizona say it was not just a $1 trillion stimulus package, that by the time you add in all these projected costs in the future, it might be much more. It is very hard to imagine, Senator Kyl. Just to make the point we are not being personal about that, my son attended the same school that the President's daughters attend when we were here and I was Education Secretary. School vouchers may not be the solution in every rural county in America, but in the District of Columbia, 1,700 children who are low-income children have a chance to choose among private schools, their parents are delighted with the choice, and a study is coming out this spring to assess what they are learning. I do not know the motive behind this, but I do know the National Education Association has made its reputation opposing giving low-income parents the same choices that wealthy people have. That is a poor policy and one we ought not to have stuck on an appropriations bill like that. The President has shown good instincts on education. His Education Secretary is a good one. But had we had a chance to debate this in committee and to hear from them, perhaps we could have had a bipartisan agreement that we need to pay good teachers more, we need more charter schools, and we need to give parents some more choices like these District of Columbia parents. I know our time is running short. I wonder if the Senator from New Hampshire has any further thoughts about spending. Senator Kyl, to conclude our discussion, this is the beginning of a process in the Senate in which everyone in this country can participate. We are asking that they consider: Can you afford this amount of spending, this amount of borrowing, this amount of taxes? There is a different path we could take toward the future. I thank the Senator from Arizona for his leadership and the Senator from New Hampshire for his views. This is the beginning of a discussion about a 10-year blueprint offered by our new President about the direction in which our country should go. We on the Republican side believe American families cannot afford this much new spending, this many new taxes, and this much new debt. We will be suggesting why over the next 3 or 4 weeks, and in addition to that we will be offering our vision for the future. For example, on energy, some things we agree with, such as conservation and efficiency; some things we would encourage more of, such as nuclear power for carbon-free electricity. This is the beginning of a very important debate, and the direction in which it goes will dramatically influence the future of this country and make a difference to every single family, not just today's parents but children and their children as well. I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.