Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander - Working Together

Posted on September 18, 2008

Mr. President, I congratulate the Senators from Washington and Nevada not just for the product of their work but for the way they are working together. I think what the American people want to see the Senate focus more on the biggest issues facing our country and work across party lines to get a result. I was one of the few Senators earlier who voted against the Ensign-Cantwell legislation because I thought it disproportionately favored one form of renewable energy. I think this is a great improvement over what had been done before, and I especially like the fact that solar has a chance to move up the line as a developing energy. It is not proven yet, it is not able yet to do all we hope it will do, but this should help. And the idea that we would use this vast reservoir of unused electricity we have at night around the country to plug in our cars, rather than spend money on gasoline that we send overseas to unfriendly people, is a very appealing idea. All those ideas have broad support on both sides of the aisle, and Senators Cantwell and Ensign have been persistent in their efforts to fashion a bipartisan result. So I congratulate them for what they have done, and I thank them for it. I feel confident, with the support of the majority and Republican leaders, that we will get to a result. My colleagues' work on this bill, and the majority leader and the Republican leader's work on this bill, to bring us toward a bipartisan result on one of the largest issues facing our country is in great contrast to some of what I heard this morning from the Democratic side of the aisle about today's financial structure. What I heard was what I call kindergarten politics. It looked as if somebody had been down in the War Room with crayons and paper on the floor coming up with how do we score political points about the financial crisis in the country today, instead of saying: What can we do, working together, to reassure the American people we are going to take every step we need to take here to make certain we restore the vibrancy of our economy? I came to the Senate, not as a Senator but as a staff member, more than 40 years ago, and what was going through my mind is the way Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen would have worked when Everett Dirksen was the Republican leader and Lyndon Johnson was the President. When it was important, they worked together, and they let the American people know that. So did President Kennedy and Senator Dirksen, when he was the Republican leader. So did Senator Mansfield, from the Democratic side of the aisle, and President Nixon, a Republican. I remember Senator Byrd telling me that both he and Senator Baker, the Democratic and Republican leaders when President Carter was here, changed their minds about the Panama Canal, and they cast controversial votes because they thought it was the right thing to do. We had a major issue before the country, and some in the country didn't like the result, but they respected the fact that Senators had the instinct to recognize that when something is important, threatening our country, that people expect us not to play kindergarten politics but to put that aside, leave it off the Senate floor, and come here and do our jobs. The same was true with President Reagan and Tip O'Neill, the Speaker of the House, who had very different points of view. But when Social Security was nearly broken, they worked together. Now we have a serious financial crisis facing our country, and what do we get from some of the Members of the other side of the aisle but a lot of kindergarten partisan politics, which should be left in the trash can somewhere. We even had the majority leader criticizing a former Republican Senator for something the majority leader himself voted for. Why was it even being discussed? Because somebody over in the kindergarten room wrote out a press release and handed it to somebody. So instead of seeing what we just saw on the Senate floor a few minutes ago, which was a Democratic and Republican Senator saying: Let's work together on energy, we saw something much different. From the Republican side of the aisle, we could come and say: Well, this whole financial crisis is caused fundamentally by a collapse in housing prices. And one of the greatest factors in that is the great housing institutions, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. When we brought up a bill to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, all the Democrats voted no and all the Republicans voted yes. We could say that. We could say it was a Democratic President who stopped us from bringing in oil from Alaska 10 years ago, which today would have kept gas prices from going up. We could say it was a Democratic President who encouraged a lot of people to buy homes who didn't have the money to pay it back. But that is not what we should be doing here. We should put all that aside, and we should say to the President and say to the Speaker and say to each other: We have a serious financial crisis facing our country. What can we do, working together, to reassure the American people we are going to take any step we can to ensure the security of their savings accounts, the values of their homes, the security of their money markets, of their accounts? We can do that. We should do that. That is what most of us are elected to do, or we feel we are elected to do. So I was very disappointed to see so much of the partisan kindergarten-talk coming from the other side of the aisle this morning. I would much rather see the kind of action that the Senator from Washington and the Senator from Nevada have demonstrated throughout the year and did today, as did the majority leader and the Republican leader when they said: We are very close to having a renewable energy bill that meets the objections many have had. And that is one step we can take to deal with the problem of the high price of energy, because we need to, as we say, find more American energy as well as use less energy, including alternative and renewable energy. There is one other thing that we could do together and I would like to briefly outline it today. It was pointed out in an article in the Washington Post last week by Susan Hockfield, the President of MIT, one of our great research universities. I ask unanimous consent that her op-ed be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. (See Exhibit 1) Mr. ALEXANDER. She suggested that we should have a dramatic new investment, a new Federal investment in energy research and development; that our current spending for energy research and development had shrunk, in her words, "almost to irrelevancy"; and that the $2 billion to $3 billion that the Federal Government is spending annually on energy R&D is less than half of what our largest pharmaceutical company spends on research each year. Yesterday, I had a visit from the President of Yale University who made the point that, since 1973, we have found as much oil as we have used. Mr. President, 1973 was the year we had the big oil shock. He pointed out the reason we were able to do that was because of extensive science and technology advances. Most of our wealth since World War II in this country has been created by our brainpower advantage, and we worked together as a Senate and as a Congress, with everyone taking credit, to pass legislation to help. We called it the America COMPETES Act -- to help keep America's brainpower advantage so we can keep growing good jobs here. What the president of MIT and the president of Yale are saying, and most of our research universities would say and most of us know, is we need to keep pushing on science and technology. As we stand here today, thinking about how we deal with high gasoline prices and electricity prices that are increasing and the national security issues that arise from depending so much on other countries in the world for oil; and as we think about the financial markets and how over the long-term we strengthen our country so we are able to withstand any sort of jolt to the system -- one of the most important things we should consider doing, and doing in a bipartisan way, is to make a dramatic new Federal investment in energy research and development. I may have more to say about that next week. It is a tremendous opportunity for the next President to take. Let me give an example of what I mean by it. In May, I went to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, along with Bart Gordon, the Democratic chairman of the House Science Committee. I proposed that the United States set as a goal putting our country on a path to clean energy independence within the next 5 years and do it in a way that we have done it before, with a new Manhattan Project for clean energy independence. The Manhattan Project was the project the United States launched during World War II to create the atom bomb before Germany did, because we were afraid that if Germany beat us in that, it would blackmail us in the same way many oil-producing countries are blackmailing us today. We succeeded in that. But we did it because we put a clear focus on it, we put an objective, we dedicated the money, we drafted companies, we assembled the best scientists in the world, and we won that race. We could do the same with energy. What I suggested in May was that we adopt seven grand challenges. First, of course, we ought to do what we already know how to do, which is to drill offshore and create more nuclear power. But then there are some things we don't know how to do, and most of the legislation we are considering –- whether it is the legislation that Senators Ensign and Cantwell have proposed or the Gang of 20 legislation or the bill that Senator Bingaman and others might propose –- does not do much for energy research and development. Energy research and development would be this, for example: To make, within the next 5 years, electric cars and trucks commonplace -- which would mean research on advanced batteries; and to make solar energy competitive within the next 5 years with fossil fuels. Incentives will help with that. That is in the tax extenders bill that will be coming before the Senate. But in order to accomplish that, we need money for research and development. Among the other challenges, I suggested carbon capture and sequestration. We need to be able to use our coal plants and we need other ways of capturing carbon than taking it and putting it into the ground. We need it within 5 years as well. I see my time has come to an end. My point is the same. I like what Senator Ensign and Cantwell have been doing. I like the approach. I would like to see more of that rather than the finger-pointing and blame calling, and one of the areas in which I hope we will work is a dramatic new Federal investment in energy research and development.