Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Amend and Debate

Posted on June 23, 2009

Madam President, in about an hour, we will be asked to vote on whether the Senate can continue to do what the Senate is supposed to do and that is to amend and debate. When I ran for the Senate, the people of Tennessee sent me up here to represent them. They expected that when I got here, I would have a chance to say what I had to say on their behalf, and sometimes what I think may not be so important but what they think is important. The people of Tennessee know the history of the Senate -- as Senator Byrd has so often said -- is distinguished only by a couple things. One is virtually an unlimited right to amend, and another is a virtually unlimited right to debate. What is going to happen at 5:30 is we are going to be asked to vote to cut off amendments and cut off debate. A vote of yes will be a vote to obstruct our right to amend, obstruct our right to debate and to make it impossible for me to represent the people of Tennessee, who voted for me with the idea that I might be able to do that. Let me explain a little more what I mean by that. A great many people write books about America, but unquestionably I think the best regarded such book is a book by Alexis de Tocqueville, entitled "Democracy in America." When the young Frenchman came to this country, he ran across Davy Crockett and all sorts of people. When he wrote about what he thought might be, in the long term, the greatest danger to the American democracy, he said he thought it might be the "tyranny of the majority." He was afraid that in our type of system, what might happen is that the majority would get control and run over the minority. The Senate was one of the institutions created to avoid that. So when we get a situation where we have only 40 or 41 Republican Senators and 57 or 58 or 56 or more Democratic Senators, the minority always has a right to make sure there is no tyranny of the majority. It has been the other way and it will be again; when I first came here the Republicans held the majority, and we had 55 Republicans at one point. So a vote of yes at 5:30 is a vote to obstruct the right of Senators to represent the people who hired them to come and offer amendments and speak for them. Ironically, this vote will give the majority the right to suppress a majority view -- because what is the issue that is attempting to be suppressed? The issue is whether we ought to get the government in Washington out of the automobile business. I think most people in the country are thinking we are having too many Washington takeovers. That is not the American way. We know we have had trouble in this country economically, but taking over banks, insurance companies, student loans, car companies, and now maybe taking over health care – the American people don't like that. We have a series of amendments to be offered -- both Republican and some with bipartisan support -- which would say: Let's get the government out of the automobile business and put it back in the hands of the American people and the free enterprise system of America. That is a majority view in this country. According to an AutoPacific Survey in the Nashville Tennessean, 81 percent of Americans polled agree that the faster the government gets out of the automotive business the better; 95 percent disagreed that the government is a good overseer of corporations, such as General Motors and Chrysler; 93 percent disagree that having the government in charge of General Motors and Chrysler will result in cars and trucks Americans want to buy. Most Americans don't want a car that a United States Senator engineered, designed, and sold. That is not what we are here for. They know better than that. According to a Rasmussen Poll of June 13 and 14, 80 percent of those polled believe the government should sell the government stake in the auto companies to private investors "as soon as possible." And 71 percent of those polled believe the government should sell their stake to private investors as soon as possible. According to the Wall Street Journal on June 18, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said they had concerns about Federal intervention into the economy, including the President's decision to take an ownership interest in General Motors, put limits on executive compensation, and the prospect of more government involvement in health care. We have a situation where the President is calling the mayor of Detroit to get into the question of whether the headquarters of General Motors is going to be there or in Warren, MI. We have the chairman of the House bailout committee - the House Financial Services Committee - calling the president of General Motors saying: Don't close the warehouse in my district. And all of us in Congress are saying: Please build a car in my district. We will have some Congressmen saying: Don't buy a battery from South Korea; buy one made in my district. We have automobile company executives driving to Washington in their congressionally approved hybrid cars to spend 4 hours testifying and then drive home. How many cars do they design, build, and make while doing this? The American people know the car companies cannot compete if they have 435 congressional political meddlers, 100 senators, plus a whole administration, trying to tell them how to compete in a very complex business. Senator Bennett of Utah and I, cosponsored by the Republican leader, Senator Kyl, and others, have a bill called the Auto Stock for Every Taxpayer Act. We would like to offer it as an amendment this week and get a vote on it. The Auto Stock for every Taxpayer amendment would say that the Treasury can't use any more TARP funds to bail out General Motors or Chrysler. Also, while the government owns stock in these companies, the Secretary of the Treasury, or his designee, has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer to maximize returns on that investment. And most importantly, our amendment says that within a year after General Motors comes out of bankruptcy, the government should distribute its stock to the 120 million Americans who pay taxes on April 15. In other words, let's have a big stock distribution, the same way Procter & Gamble did when it distributed stock in Clorox or the same way other companies do every year. We have a core business, the car company, that has nothing to do with the owner, the United States government, and we should give the car company to the owners -- the 120 million people who pay taxes. That is what we should do. And the rationale is: I paid for it, I should own it. That is the first amendment we want to offer. Senator Corker, with a couple of cosponsors, including Senator Warner from the other side of the aisle, has another idea, which I am glad to support. It is a little different approach to the same idea. He would create a limited-liability corporation to manage the government ownership stake in companies in which the government owns at least 20 percent. By the fall of this year that will probably include AIG, Citigroup, and General Motors. The government’s assets would be placed in a trust and managed by three independent, nonpolitical trustees. The trustees would have to liquidate the government's interest by December 24, 2011. And there is a waiver process in case the trustees think there is a problem with that deadline. That is a responsible, interesting approach. Why shouldn't Senator Corker and Senator Warner have a chance to offer that amendment? That is what the majority of people in America would like to see done. Senator Johanns, a distinguished former Governor of Nebraska, has his Free Enterprise Act of 2009. He has 29 cosponsors. He would like to require congressional approval before the Federal Government can use TARP funds to acquire ownership of an entity through stock. Senator Thune, a member of the Republican leadership, has the Government Ownership Exit Plan Act of 2009. He would require the Treasury to sell any ownership of a private entity by July 1, 2010, and prohibit the government from acquiring any additional ownership stake in private companies. Well, I think you can get the drift, Madam President. We have a number of Senators, mostly from this side but some cosponsored from the other side, who say that the American people are tired of Washington takeovers. They know cars aren't going to get better in this country if the government is meddling with them and designing them and building them and making them. I can just imagine what we will have if we meddle. We will have a purple polka dot car that gets 50 miles per gallon and will have a windmill on top and a solar panel on the side, and it will have this part made in this Congressman's district and that part made in that Senator's State, and it probably won't run 5 miles. Then we will lower the price to get people to buy it, all the while losing money, losing competition, and putting real competitors out of business. And then we will have no American automobile industry left. So we need to get the government out of the car business and stop the Washington takeover. And over 80 percent of the American people agree. So what are we doing in the Senate? We are going to vote at 5:30 to say: No, Senators. No, Senator Corker. No, Senator Warner. No, Senator Alexander. No, Senator Bennett. We are going to say no to the other Senators, you can't continue to debate. You can't continue to offer your amendments. We are going to obstruct your right to do that. We are going to keep you from representing the people of Tennessee, the people of Utah, or the other people you were sent here to represent. We are going to stop the debate; stop the amendment. That is the tyranny of the majority that Alexis de Tocqueville envisioned. That is not the way the Senate has been running this year. This year in the Senate, Senator Reid has made a good-faith effort, and Republican Senators appreciate that, in saying we are going to have some amendments. That means we are going to have some amendments offered on which some of us don't really want to vote. There have been some amendments I really didn't want to vote on, including some offered by people on my side of the aisle, but that is what we do in the Senate. So why are we doing this? Why are we saying suddenly, no amendments? So I would hope Senators would agree that at 5:30 we should vote no. We should vote no. And by voting no, we would be saying: Let's continue to debate. Let's continue to amend. A vote yes is a vote to obstruct. A vote no is to continue to debate and continue to amend. And the issue is, shall we take the government ownership of automobile companies and put it, as soon as it is practicable, back in the hands of the American people, where it belongs, in our free enterprise system? That is the American way. We have at least four different options. We have a whole menu here. If you don't like the Alexander-Bennet amendment, vote for the Corker amendment. If you don't like that, vote for one of the other amendments. We have four ways to go about it, all carefully thought out, all in front of everybody. Why don't we do that? That is what the Senate does. So I prefer the way the Senate has operated pretty much all the time, up to today, which is to say: Senators, offer your amendments, take your votes. Today is an aberration -a change away from the way the Senate should function. My old friend, the late Alex Haley, author of Roots, used to say: Find the good and praise it. Well, I can find plenty of good in the way the majority leader has conducted the Senate this year by allowing debate and amendments. I would consider this an aberration. I hope we will vote to continue to amend, to continue to debate, and get the Senate back to the practice we had most of this year, which is to say: If you have an amendment, Senator, bring it on over, call it up, and we will vote on it, and then we will go on to the next thing. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record an article from the American Spectator entitled "Are There Obamashares in Your Future?" ###