Speeches & Floor Statements

Colloquy Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Colleagues on High Gas Prices and Energy

Posted on July 25, 2008

Mr. President, the Senate just voted, because of the way Republicans voted, to stay on $4 gasoline until we can find a serious solution to this problem. This is the biggest problem facing our country. The point we are trying to make is that we think we ought to take it up, take a week, take several days, offer our ideas, and the Democratic ideas -- there are many about which we agree -- and see if we can make some substantial progress to finding more oil and gas and using less oil and gas, which is the way we lower price if you believe in the law of supply and demand. What we have discovered, to our surprise -- we are willing to do both, to find more and use less, but the Democratic leader, at least, is not. Whenever we say we want to use more, he says: No, we can't. More oil shale: No. More offshore drilling: No. So what we would like to emphasize in these next few minutes is that, unlike the way the Democratic leader has characterized our proposal, we are equally interested in using less oil and finding more. After all, the United States uses 25 percent of all the oil in the world. So if we really want to reduce the demand for oil as a way of affecting price, we need to get serious about using less oil as well as finding more. I went to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in May and suggested we need a new Manhattan Project for clean energy independence, to put us on a path, over the next 5 years, toward clean energy independence. We would start with doing the things we already know how to do, such as building more nuclear powerplants -- we know how to do that -- offshore drilling, for which 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf is now, by law, off limits. But I mentioned, then, several things we do not know how to do. We ought to have crash programs and do them quickly. One was to make solar energy cost competitive with fossil fuels in 5 years. Another was research in advanced biofuels so we can make alternative fuels from crops we do not eat as well as crops such as corn that we do eat. That is another way to use less oil. Another is to make all new buildings green buildings. We waste a lot of energy, and much of it is in our buildings. Another goal is to make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace. That is another way to use less oil. The Senator from Alabama has been an effective spokesman not only for using and finding more American energy but for using less of it. I heard him on the floor yesterday, and I would ask the Senator, isn't it true that an essential part of the Republican plan -- but let's call it the American plan -- for really dealing with the price of gasoline today is to deal with both supply and demand, and that we are equally interested in the demand part and using less part as we are in the supply part? Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I certainly agree. I say to Senator Alexander, I think you have articulated that so well. I just heard most of the remarks of Senator Carper, our Democratic colleague. He was talking about ways to produce more nuclear power, biofuels. I think -- don't you? -- there is a basis for compromise between our parties that will have conservation plus more production. Both of those together, I am convinced, will help break this cycle of ever-rising prices of fuel. That is the direction we need to go. I do find it odd that the Democratic leader is keeping this negotiation -- really, this discussion that would occur from a real Energy bill debate -- keeping that from occurring and keeping progress from being made. Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I say to the Senator from Alabama, I was just thinking last night, we could have been taking these amendments up since last Friday. The Democratic leader brought up his speculation bill, which is a perfectly appropriate energy bill to bring to the floor, and instead of having the Senator from Delaware come make a speech about nuclear power, he could have offered an amendment about nuclear power. So we could have already spent 1 whole week dealing with issues on the supply side and demand side that would help lower the price of gasoline and other expenses. Mr. SESSIONS. Well, Mr. President, I think that is exactly right. I just want to thank the Senator for his leadership and study. One of our Members said there are few issues in which more Members of this Senate have educated themselves than on energy. I think most of our Members are deeply committed to doing something. If they are listening to their constituents, they are. I calculated out, I say to Senator Alexander, that according to the estimates of the Government, the average family travels 24,000 miles a year. That means in their budgets they will spend this year, based on the increase in gasoline prices, they will spend $1,260 more. That amounts to $105 per month. After they pay their Social Security, after they pay their taxes, after they pay their insurance, after they pay their house loan, and all these fixed expenses all of us have, they have that little remaining money -- that discretionary money -- to do the things they want to do to take care of their family and many critical needs, and they have $100 less per month. I believe we have to do something. I do not believe we should go home without confronting this question. It requires conservation, less utilization, alternatives to this high price of oil, as well as more production. Mr. ALEXANDER. Well, Mr. President, I say to the Senator from Alabama, one of the parts of the Republican proposal is to make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace, which sounds like a startling idea the first time you hear it, the idea that you would just take your car or your truck and plug it into the wall at home and fill it up with electricity instead of gasoline. But the fact is, Nissan announced in Tennessee the other day that it will have a pure electric car out in about 3 years. General Motors, Toyota, Ford -- they are all going to be selling these cars. We are going to have the cars. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which serves the region where we live, says it has plenty of electricity at night which it can sell at low cost. So we have the cars coming. We have the electricity. All we need is the cord. We could use a debate and discussion on the Senate floor to help make this country a place in which plug-in electric cars and trucks would succeed. That is part of our amendment. I ask the Senator from Alabama, don't you think there is widespread support for plug-in cars and trucks on that side and widespread support on this side? Why don't we have some amendments about that? Why aren't we allowed to do it? Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I could not agree more. In fact, Senator Carper, our colleague, just 10 or 15 minutes ago emphasized plug-in hybrids as one of the key solutions. I think you and I agree from our discussions that in the immediate future, a plug-in hybrid automobile may have more potential to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels than almost any other thing that is within our technological capabilities to achieve. Would you agree with that? Is that your -- Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, that is exactly my view. What makes it especially appealing is that the Government is not in charge of it. The car companies are making the cars. The utilities have the electricity. It is estimated that we could electrify half of our cars and trucks in America without building a single new powerplant. Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, I ask Senator Alexander this. I get so frustrated when I say and Members on this side say: Well, we need to produce more oil and gas, we have blocked 85 percent of our offshore lands -- not south of Alabama, we have supported that, but other areas are blocked -- and they say that is because we are for oil companies. But the truth is, this idea you and I are talking about -- a plug-in hybrid -- would take us from oil, would give some competition to the big oil companies, and would have a significant effect, would it not, in, hopefully, reducing the price of oil and their profits in the process? Mr. ALEXANDER. It would. I see the Senator from South Dakota, who has been in many ways the foremost champion of renewable energy here. We often hear him say that in the Dakotas they have more opportunity for wind energy, which, to the extent we use it, would reduce the amount of oil we use if we plug in electric cars and trucks, as an example, or use biofuels that are an alternative fuel. I wonder if the Senator from South Dakota would not agree that using less oil, giving big oil some competition, is not a big part of the Republican proposal? Mr. THUNE. Absolutely, the Senator from Tennessee is correct. I appreciate his leadership on the energy issue. I think putting it in very simple terms -- finding more and using less -- is something the American people understand and something that is seriously missing in this debate. The Democratic leadership, by filling the amendment tree, has prevented the opportunity for Senators on our side or Senators on their side to offer up amendments that would address the very basic issue of finding more and using less. What we have before us on the floor is a very narrow solution that does nothing to address America's dangerous dependence upon foreign sources of energy, does nothing to add to our domestic supply in dealing with the "finding more" side of the equation, and, frankly, does nothing to deal with the "using less" because all the good amendments -- and I have looked at the list of amendments here on our side, at least -- we have 24 "finding more" type of amendments, 14 "using less" type of amendments. We have a number of people who would like to offer amendments with regard to conservation and renewable energy. As you said, I am very much supportive of renewable energy. We are just going over -- South Dakota will eclipse now the 1 billion-gallon level annually in ethanol, biofuels. We think there is a tremendous upside in the potential future in advanced, what we call next-generation biofuels, cellulosic ethanol, which would geographically diversify ethanol production in this country. So, I say to the Senator from Alabama and the Senator from Tennessee, your States might be able to participate in that as well because you would be able to make it from other forms of biomass. I am very much for having a wide-ranging debate that includes opportunities to offer amendments on conservation, on renewable energy, on biofuels, on wind. South Dakota is home -- maybe second to Washington, DC, because there is a lot of hot air in Washington -- but when it comes to wind energy, South Dakota and the upper Midwest, the Great Plains States, probably have more of an abundance of wind than about anywhere in the country. Everybody says: Well, wind is intermittent, and it does not blow all the time. That is true, although you would have an argument from people in South Dakota because it does seem to blow all the time there. But we have very consistent wind which can be converted to energy and help address the "find more" part of the energy solution in this country. But here we are in the Senate, the world's greatest deliberative body, having amendments being blocked that would do anything to address this issue of supply and demand. In fact, as to the Energy bill we voted on in 2005, we adopted 57 amendments and we spent 10 days on the floor debating amendments. As to the Energy bill we passed in 2007 -- late last year -- we spent 15 days of time on the floor of the Senate and adopted 49 amendments. So we have a history on big issues such as this of allowing the Senate to work its will, and here we have probably the most important economic issue affecting America, not only currently but in the future, and the pocketbooks of every single American -- and that is this incredible toll and economic hardship that the high price of fuel is taking on our economy and on Americans' pocketbooks -- and we are being cut off from even offering any debates that would address these issues of conservation. We have some great ideas on conservation, renewable energy, advanced battery technology. The Senator from Tennessee talked about -- and so did the Senator from Alabama -- having these electric hybrids that run for 40 or 60 miles on electricity and then convert over to fuel. I would like to be able to talk about and offer some amendments that would -- once they get to that, where they start kicking in and running on a gasoline engine, making those flex-fuel vehicles because then you could run on any type, whether it is gasoline, whether it is E85. You could use blends that could be used to not only run the cars but also move us away from dependence upon fossil fuels and petroleum and more toward biofuels. But in any event, the point of all this is, we are standing on the floor of the Senate with an opportunity to do something about an issue that is incredibly impacting Americans in this country, and we are being blocked from even having an opportunity to have some of these amendments that would impact the "finding more" side of the equation in additional domestic production and also the "using less" side, which is the conservation component. Mr. ALEXANDER. Well, Mr. President, the Senator who has helped us frame the debate has arrived on the floor, the Republican leader. I have heard him say repeatedly that we want a result. This is not a time for playing games. This is not a time for scoring points. This is a time when Americans -- South Dakotans, Alabamians, Tennesseans -- we are all hurting. I get stories from marines who do not have money for their vacation with their family after 18 months in Iraq, from moms who are losing their job because they cannot afford the commute. We have an opportunity. We could be doing it this day. We could be debating Senator Thune's proposals on wind and renewable energy and biofuels, Senator Sessions' proposals on conservation and plug-in vehicles. Yet we are in this parliamentary procedure to block us from offering anything that has to do with finding more and using less -- except the one proposal. I see the Republican leader in the Chamber. I wonder if he would agree with me that the American people are ready for the Senate to act and get a result on $4 gasoline, and the Republicans are at least as interested in using less oil, giving big oil some competition, as we are in finding more? Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, it strikes me that the public opinion polls are overwhelming. People, frankly, do not care who gets it done, but they know they need both sides to cooperate to get there. I think Senate Republicans this morning spoke almost with one voice, saying: Let's stay on this subject and get it right now. Mr. SESSIONS. Well, Mr. President, I say, Senator Alexander, I have great affection for the Democratic leader, but I just could not agree with his statement that we do not have time. We have a whole month coming up for which we are supposedly going home for recess. Our soldiers are working 7 days a week, with 15-hour days. This Congress cannot stand to stay in session a while and confront this issue and do some things we know will work? I know there are a lot of specific steps everybody in this Chamber would agree would be positive to deal with this problem. We need to take those steps, and on a bipartisan basis; but we can't get there unless we are able to bring up the bill and debate it. Mr. ALEXANDER. We should start today. I wonder if the Senator would agree with me. What I hope I never hear on the Senate floor again is it will take 10 years or it will take 5 years because, I wonder what we are supposed to do, not look ahead for the kind of country we want for our children? What if President Kennedy said: I would like to go to the Moon, but it will take 10 years, so forget it. What if President Roosevelt had said: We need to build an atom bomb to win World War II, but it is going to take 3 years, so we better drop that idea. Or what if Benjamin Franklin had said: I would like to see a republic for these colonies, but it might take 50 years, so let's not do that. Our job is to look down the road a few years and try to create a better environment for people. In addition, the price of gasoline today is based upon the expected supply and expected demand tomorrow. So if this world saw the United States of America take major steps today to change the supply and demand in the world for oil and gas, the price would be affected today, in my view. I wonder if the Senator from South Dakota would agree that the family budget -- The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator has 1 minute remaining. Mr. ALEXANDER. -- that the family budget is more important than the legislative calendar, and that the family budget in America is more important than a legislative vacation, and what we ought to be doing today and over the weekend and next week is figuring out what to do about $4 gasoline by finding more and using less. Mr. THUNE. There is no doubt the folks I represent in South Dakota, as well as the people of Tennessee and the people of Alabama, are speaking loudly and clearly about this. They want this addressed. They think all this finger-pointing and playing the blame game in Washington isn't doing anything to solve their problem, which is the tremendous toll and impact this is having on their pocketbooks. I would hope we would be able to have a wide-ranging debate, be able to vote on amendments, look at a balanced, comprehensive approach that includes more production, that includes conservation, that includes use of renewables. That is not happening in the Senate, and it is not happening because the Democratic leadership has decided they don't want to take votes. They don't want to take votes on additional production, and so they have done what they call in Washington "filling the tree." In simple terms that basically prevents anybody -- including Members on their side but Members on our side as well -- from offering amendments that would actually solve the problem. It is unfortunate where we are, but the Senator is exactly right. The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Republican time has expired. Mr. ALEXANDER. Thank you, Mr. President.