Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Fixing the Housing Problem First

Posted on February 6, 2009

I have been listening to the debate as well. I think it is important that all our colleagues and the American people understand what we mean by bipartisanship, because there is a disconnect between the tone I have been hearing for the last week from the administration and from the majority and from the substance I have been hearing. Here is what I heard. I heard we are going to work together to try to deal with this economy. First we are going to have to stimulate the economy. We all know next week the Secretary of the Treasury is coming forward to do something about banking and then maybe about housing. Then there is an appropriations bill, and then we have health care, which the Senator from Montana has been hard at work on. We have a great many things to do. So what do we mean by bipartisan? I thought what we meant, we thought what we meant, was that the President would define an agenda and then we would sit down together and take our best ideas. The President put his out there. We think we have a better idea. We said fix housing first. Housing got us into this mess. Housing can get us out of it. So we offered a way to offer up to 40 million Americans a 4- or 4.5-percent mortgage, 30-year rate, saving them an average of $400 a month. We brought it up. Senator Ensign proposed it. Not one single Democratic vote. Senator Isakson has been offering an amendment for the last year and a half to give $15,000 in tax credits to home buyers. That was accepted. I hope it survives the conference. But the tone has changed overnight. Suddenly the President, instead of inviting us to work with him, is saying basically: We won the election, we will write the bill. The attitude seems to be: Let's see if we can pick off one Republican or two Republicans or three Republicans. Then the tone is, well, suddenly: The tired old ideas. I didn't hear the President talk about his tax cut proposal for 2 years during his campaign as a tired old idea. It is still a part of his proposal. It is also a part of our proposal. We have offered ways to fix housing first. No. 1, we suggest letting people keep more of their own money, as the President has suggested. Senator McCain's own bill, which received not one single Democratic vote, offered to spend $420 billion, and it included a cut in the payroll tax for 1 year and a cut in the lower rates of taxation. Then we would like to do as Alice Rivlin, the former head of the Budget Office, suggested. We would like to take all of the spending that does not create jobs now and put it off and do it later. If we are going to borrow money at a time when we are heavily in debt, it ought to be targeted, timely, and temporary. Senator McCain yesterday offered legislation that received almost every Republican vote but no Democratic votes, that would have made it temporary. It would have said whatever spending we have, we will have it until the economy recovers. But once it starts to recover for 2 quarters -- the gross domestic product goes up for 2 quarters, then the spending stops. What has happened? This is the easy piece of legislation. This is one that most of us agree needs to be done. What we were expecting in this era of bipartisanship, given the President's campaign and his comments, was that he would offer his idea, we would offer ours, and we would put them together and come up with a result. Ours are: Fix housing first. That is not in the bill. Ours are: Make it temporary. They rejected that without a Democratic vote yesterday. Ours are: Let's get the spending off the bill that does not create jobs now. My staff finds that only about $135 billion of the $900 billion goes to things that happen in the first couple of years -- building roads, improving national parks, other things that create jobs now. The American people did not hear in the last campaign that the kind of change they were voting for was that the first thing we would do when we got to Washington is borrow $1 trillion, add it to the debt, and then take the position: We won the election, we will write the bill. If that is the tone, if that is the substance for the next several years that will not make a very successful Presidency. That will not be good for our country. We want this President to be successful because we need him to be successful for our country to recover.