Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “Republicans: Helping the Family Budget”

Posted on March 10, 2008

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I first commend the Senators from North Dakota and Iowa for the way they conduct this debate. This is always a model for how the Senate ought to work. Sometimes toward the end of the debate it is not but at least at the beginning it is. What we are supposed to do is act like grownups, deal with big issues, base our arguments on principle, and come to results. We often are able to do that, and these two Senators are among the leaders in helping to make that happen. This is a week during which we talk about the Federal budget. I want to talk more about the family budget because what we do with the Federal budget makes a big difference to the family budget. We know this week in homes in Tennessee, Iowa, and across America people are talking about their family budgets. They’re worried about whether there will be enough money at the end of the month to pay the taxes that will be due in April and about whether there will be enough money to pay gasoline costs that are $3.50 a gallon or higher in some parts of the country. They are worried about whether there will be enough money to afford a reasonable health insurance plan and whether the homes so many Americans have been able to buy will maintain their value. They are worryied about whether we are going to be able to keep our advantage and brainpower here in America so we can keep our jobs from going overseas. They are worried about whether our schools are going to be good enough to help our children have good jobs. Those working in small businesses are worried about the cost of runaway lawsuits. Women who are pregnant in rural areas are worried about having to drive 60 or 80 miles to a doctor because the high cost of medical malpractice insurance has run the OB/GYN doctors out of the rural areas. Women must go to the big cities and they have to drive long distances to have their babies. Those who work with the capital markets -- and there are tens of millions of Americans who do -- want to revive those capital markets. Those who are sitting in traffic jams want us to meet our obligations to build roads, bridges, railroads, and airports. We want simpler taxes. We would like to have less Government. All of these ideas would affect the family budget. We must maintain a good balance in management-labor relations, for example, by not getting rid of the secret ballot in labor relations or keeping the right-to-work law. Those are all important issues. I saw in my State of Tennessee that having a right-to-work law helped to attract the auto industry. Now, a third of our manufacturing jobs are auto jobs and our family incomes have gone up. So let me talk for just a moment about what Republicans want to do to help balance the Federal budget. So the question is whether we will adopt the Democratic budget which, according to evidence presented by the Republican leaders of the Budget and Finance Committees, would raise taxes, raise spending, raise debt, and wreck the Federal budget or whether we will adopt the Republican pro-growth plan which keeps taxes low, which lowers energy costs, which helps make it possible for every American family to have health insurance without the government choosing the doctor. I wish to talk about the other picture that taking the Republican pro-growth plan to help balance the family budget instead of the Democratic budget for more taxes, more spending, and more debt. Traditionally, this budget week when we talk about the Federal budget is usually a week in which we are so awash in a blizzard of charts and speeches, abstractions, and competing statistics that it is very difficult to make much sense out of the whole discussion. What I am suggesting is not very hard to make such sense out of – it is a debate we hear quite a bit. In December, when we debated the Energy bill, we on this side were willing to join with many Democrats and pass a fuel efficiency standard. This is one of the best things this Congress has done to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, thereby reducing our use of oil and helping to stabilize the price of gasoline. But, first, we had to stop an effort from the other side to add $20 billion in taxes. Earlier this year, most of us on this side joined with most on the other side to pass an economic stimulus plan. But, first, we had to reject $40 billion in more spending that the other side wanted to add to the proposal. My point is that more spending is not a new argument and that the other side would propose more spending, more taxes, and more debt, and this side of the aisle would say, let's have less of that. There is another part to the story on the Republican side of the aisle and exactly what we would do to help balance the family budget. Over this week, we will be hearing proposals to lower or to keep taxes low. There are a variety of proposals to do that. One would be to lower corporate tax rates from 35 to 25 percent. That would help keep jobs in America. That helps the family budget. One would be to index capital gains for inflation. That would help keep jobs in America. That helps the family budget. I would like to see us make permanent the expensing provisions that we passed in the stimulus package. That would help keep small businesses healthy in this country and create new jobs. Those incomes would increase family incomes, and that would help the family budget. We would like to lower energy costs as well and bring some common sense to the discussion about energy. That would mean, from our point of view, more nuclear power because that is the cleanest power. If we are really serious about climate change in this generation and about cleaning up the sulfur and the nitrogen and the mercury, we need to remember 66 percent of all the clean energy we produce in America is produced by nuclear power. Instead of wasting dollars by spending, for example, $11 billion to subsidize more large wind turbines, we could spend the money to encourage the building of nuclear power. We could encourage reprocessing of nuclear waste which would reduce by 95 percent the amount of that waste and storing it, thus making it easier for nuclear power. More oil would increase the supply of oil and reduce the price of oil. Simple economics tells us that. Most of us on this side of the aisle are ready to give States the option to drill for oil and gas off the coast of America. You can do that at a distance. It can't be seen and it can be done safely. Then a significant amount of the royalties from the revenue from that can be taken into the State, put in a trust fund, which could either lower taxes or protect the coastal areas or could be spent to improve the higher education system. The State of Virginia has said it wants to do this. Most of us on this side of the aisle, the Republican side of the aisle, say, why not? And why not take some of the royalties as well and devote them to conservation purposes, as Senator Domenici and Senator Salazar on the Democratic side of the aisle led us to do in the 2005 Energy bill. I would like to see us take some of the money that we are spending and use it to give incentives to utilities to increase incentives for using electricity in the off-peak hours. To put that in plain English, the Tennessee Valley Authority uses about 27,000 megawatts of electricity on any given day, a typical day, on the average. But at night, it has 7,000 or 8,000 megawatts it doesn't use. So if we had ways to plug in hybrid cars at night, we wouldn't have to spend money for new plants and could lower the cost of electricity, improve the quality of the air, and deal with climate change at the same time. That is all part of the Republican plan. Not just Republican ideas, but the Republican plan, which we hope is so compelling that it attracts Democratic support to help balance the family budget. On the Republican side of the aisle, we want to make sure every American has health insurance without the Government choosing the doctor. We have a variety of proposals for doing this. We want to integrate the idea of every American having access to health insurance with two words: private sector. We believe we can do that, and do that in a way that lowers the cost of health care and makes a basic health care plan available to every American. One way, of course, to lower the costs of health care would be, as I mentioned a little earlier, to stop runaway lawsuits that are driving up the costs of medical malpractice lawsuits and causing OB/GYN doctors to leave rural areas. We have pregnant women in Tennessee who drive 60 or 80 miles to Memphis for their prenatal health care or to have their babies because the OB/GYN doctors' health care costs - their medical malpractice costs - are so high because of unnecessary lawsuits that they have left town and gone to some other place. We could enact a small business health insurance plan, which has significant support on both sides of the aisle, but we haven't been able to get it through the Congress yet. It would help an estimated 1 million more Americans to have health insurance at a lower cost. These are some of the ideas we on this side of the aisle believe would make a difference in helping the family budget. Most Americans are concerned today about the values of their homes. There are a number of proposals that would simply add billions of dollars in spending as a way of approaching the housing slowdown. However, we would like to see proposals like that of Senator Isakson of Georgia that would adopt an idea - similar to what the government had in the 1970s - to give a $5,000 tax credit to home buyers who buy newly constructed or homes that are being foreclosed. This would bring back into the marketplace those who would buy foreclosed homes or new homes. Another idea, which I believe there is substantial agreement with on both sides of the aisle, is to increase the amount of money that would be available to State housing agencies to help refinance subprime mortgages or mortgages that are now headed to foreclosure or in foreclosure. In terms of education, I know for a fact if you want a stronger economy and higher family incomes, you have to have a focus on education. Better schools, better colleges, and better universities mean better jobs. And that doesn't always mean more spending. For example, giving parents more choices of schools, particularly low-income parents, with the idea of a Pell grant for kids would be one way of helping hard-working American families make sure their children have a chance to attend a good school. Another way to make sure there are good schools is to pay outstanding teachers more money for teaching well. This weekend, there was a story in the New York Times about a charter school in New York City where teachers are being paid $125,000 a year. And the manager of the school said: I would rather have a classroom with 30 kids and the very best teacher, rather than a classroom with 20 students and an average teacher. I agree with that, Mr. President. So let's double the amount of money we would spend for the teachers' incentive fund, enacted in No Child Left Behind, which would give to State and local governments funds to experiment with programs that reward outstanding teaching and outstanding school leadership by paying those individuals more. We have strong agreement about the America COMPETES Act. We understand that since World War II America's technological advances have been the source of its growth. Using some of the funding we have in this budget to have a sufficient amount of funding to give 1 1/2 million low-income children an opportunity to take advanced placement tests, to hire math and science teachers according to the America COMPETES Act, and to put us on a path of double funding for the physical sciences are things that would be part of a Republican pro-growth plan to help balance the family budget. As we begin this debate on the budget, what we are likely to see are two very different visions of America's future. The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. STABENOW). The gentleman has used 15 minutes. Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent for 4 more minutes. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. Mr. ALEXANDER. So again, the question is whether we will adopt the Democratic budget which would raise taxes, raise spending, raise debt, and wreck the Federal budget or whether we will adopt the Republican pro-growth plan. Will we make room for the Republican pro-growth plan which would begin to keep taxes low, which would begin to lower energy costs, which would help make it possible for every American family to have health insurance without the Government choosing the doctor, which would stimulate home buying, which would make more room for science, which would adjust our spending so we are able to reward outstanding teachers and give parents more choices of good schools. This is a different picture of how we can move ahead in this country. We hear a lot of talk about change. A real change would be to stop more taxes. Stop excessive spending. Stop more debt. And focus more attention on the family budget. Have a Federal budget that emphasizes lower taxes, lower energy costs, lower health insurance costs, stimulating home buying, more for science and more for better schools. That’s really the way to create better jobs. I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.