Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Washington Takeover

Posted on June 18, 2009

Madam President, I just finished reading an excellent address by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. Secretary Duncan made this to the National Governors Association. He said this: I am continually struck by the profound wisdom underlying the American political system. The genius of our system is that much of our power that shapes our future was wisely distributed to the States instead of being confined in Washington. Continuing, he says: Our best ideas have always come from State and local governments, which are the real hothouses of innovation in America. Secretary Duncan says: On so many issues: energy efficiency, mass transit, public safety, housing, economic development, [and then he goes on to say] education, it is the States that are often leading the way, sometimes with Federal help and sometimes without. That is indeed the American way. That is my comment. The American way was recognized by President Lincoln who honored the importance of States. He argued for a limited Federal Government. He used the limited Federal Government to confer opportunities through the Transcontinental Railway, the Land Grant Colleges, the Homestead Act, instead of a "Washington knows best" command and control sort of Federal Government. It has been our tradition to rely on decentralism of government and a free market to build our country, and it has given us the best colleges and universities, and a standard of living that produces 25 percent of all of the money in the world for just 5 percent of the people in the world, the Americans who live here. Unfortunately, the wisdom that Secretary Duncan expressed seems to lie almost exclusively in the Department of Education in this administration. It is an oasis of common sense, because at an astonishing rate, almost everything else in Washington seems to think that Washington knows best. I was visited by a European auto executive the other day who said to me jokingly: Well, I am glad to be in the new American automotive capital: Washington, DC. It is not only America's automotive headquarters, it is becoming America's banking center and it is becoming America's insurance center. Unfortunately, even in education, Washington, DC is now about to become America's student loan center for 15 million students, because the administration believes Washington knows best. Instead of having 2,000 banks make 15 million loans, we are going to have the U.S. Department of Education make the Secretary the banker of the year. And now, we are discussing in the HELP Committee and in the Finance Committee a brazen takeover representing 16 percent of our economy which would say: Washington knows best about our health care system. Washington will become America's health care center as well. The health care bill we are discussing in the HELP Committee, of which I am a member, would expand one failed government program, Medicaid, and create a new one, a new government insurance program, a so-called public option. Those who support the public option -- this includes our President -- feel very strongly about it, and they speak eloquently about it. They say things such as one Senator said yesterday at our hearing, we need to "keep the insurance companies honest." That is why we need a government-run insurance program. We need some "good old-fashioned competition," so they said, and, "we need to keep prices in check." They say that is why we need a government-run health insurance program. Well, if that is the argument, perhaps we ought to start doing that with every sector of the economy, starting with automobiles. Why not buy the rest of General Motors -- we already own 60 percent of it -- and let's create a government car, and let's keep what is left of the American automobile industry honest by doing that. Let's have some good old-fashioned competition to keep prices in check. We could own the car company, we could regulate the car company, we could subsidize the car company. And we could create a car that we knew is exactly the right size, the right color, that got 50 miles a gallon that ran on ethanol, that had a solar panel, and that had a windmill on top. That would be the government car. To be fair to the American communities across the country, because we would want to be, we could mandate that equal numbers of parts for the government car could be made in every congressional district and no one could buy an electric battery made in South Korea, even if it was the best battery in the world and would make the Chevy Volt an instant success. We could have a board of directors on our government car company of 120 Members of the Congress or Senate. All of us, great car experts, right? We know how to build cars and trucks, how to design them, how to build them, how to sell them. And there are 120 of us who are the chairman or ranking member of some committee or subcommittee that has the authority to call the head of the car company into Washington, presumably driving his or her congressionally approved hybrid car, to come testify for 3 or 4 hours, and then drive back to Detroit having not a minute that day to design, build, or make a car. That is what we could do. And we know what the result would be. The result would be a car a lot like the Soviet cars we all used to laugh about years ago. They were clunkers. They were the butt of jokes. They barely worked. No one wanted to buy them. And, of course, they kept lowering the price, so that people would want them. Pretty soon they priced everybody else out of business. There was only one car, the government car, and people either drove the government car or they walked, or they took the Metro, or they found some other way, maybe a bicycle. That is what we are talking about here when we talk about a government-run health insurance program to keep the health insurance companies honest. It is the same idea as having a government-run car program to keep the American automobile companies honest. We already have one government-run health care program. We call it Medicaid. It is a terrible example. The Government Accountability Office says we literally waste 10 percent of every dollar of all of the dollars that we give to Medicaid. That is $32 billion a year. It is filled with lawsuits, bureaucracies, inefficiencies. It is a tremendous expense to States. It is ruining higher education because Governors and legislatures are putting every available dollar into Medicaid, and they have nothing left for the community colleges. The worst of it is it does not provide service. It is like giving you a Metro pass and there is no subway. Approximately 40 percent of the doctors will not serve Medicaid patients - low-income Americans - because of the low reimbursement rates. So what do we have with our great government program called Medicaid? Twice as many Medicaid patients go to the emergency room to get their care as do uninsured Americans going to the emergency room. That is what we have with that government program. Yet the Kennedy bill which we are considering in the Senate HELP Committee, the only bill we are considering even though there are other alternatives on the table, would expand that government-run program by 150 percent, increase its costs both to the Federal Government and to States, all in the name of keeping insurance companies honest. There is a better way to give subsidies or grants to low-income Americans so they may buy their own health insurance. There is a better way with autos as well. Instead of having a government car for the next 4 or 5 years, with politicians meddling in how GM and Chrysler operate their business, let's give the stock we own back to the American people. Give the 60 percent of General Motors stock and the 8 percent of Chrysler stock to the 120 million Americans who paid taxes on April 15 of this year. The reason would be they paid for it, they should own it. Some might say: Well, let's sell the stock. I would favor selling the stock. I would like to get the stock out of Washington and end this incestuous relationship of Congressmen calling up the President of General Motors and saying: Do not close the warehouse in my district. But it might take several years, according to the President of GM, to sell that block of stock. So the faster way to do it is a stock distribution, a corporate spinoff. Proctor & Gamble did this with Clorox in 1969. Time Warner did it with Time Warner Cable in March of 2009. All of the stockholders of Time Warner simply received shares in Time Warner Cable. PepsiCo did it with its restaurant businesses - KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. If you owned shares of Pepsico, suddenly you had some of Colonel Sander's stock. Pepsico shareholders received one share in the new restaurant company. These companies did all of this when the main company decided that the subsidiary was not consistent with the core business. That is what we should do with General Motors - give taxpayers its shares and get General Motors back in the marketplace where it belongs. This idea is fast, it is simple, and it creates a market for the shares. The United States is not like the Soviet Union where people are not used to handling shares. Half of American families own shares of stock. Distributing government owned shares in General Motors to taxpayers would create a fan base for the next Chevy, like the fan base for the Green Bay Packers, where the people in the community own the football team. I have been giving "Car Czar" awards to political meddlers to put a spotlight on this incestuous relationship in Washington. American manufacturing of autos will not succeed if Washington is America's new automotive headquarters. Neither will American insurance succeed, neither will American banking succeed, neither will students be happy waiting outside the Department of Education for their student loans, and neither will health care help low-income Americans if Washington is the headquarters. Later today or tomorrow I hope to be able to offer my amendment, cosponsored by Senators Bennett, Kyl, and others, to give all of the General Motors stock and all of the Chrysler stock our federal government owns back to the people who paid for it. They paid for it; they should own it. Let's get the Washington meddlers out of the automobile business and auto manufacturing back on its feet. I ask unanimous consent to print in the Record newspaper articles supporting the Auto Stock for Every Taxpayer Act I have introduced and plan to offer as soon as I am able ###