Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) - Time to Focus on the Economy

Posted on March 19, 2009

Mr. President, we have an impressive new President of the United States. He has proven without a shadow of a doubt that he is capable of doing many things at once. I was privileged to go to one of the summits he had. That one was on health care. He had another one on entitlements. He has been to a wind turbine factory. He was in California yesterday. He has overruled some of President Bush's environmental decisions. And yesterday he did what many Americans are doing: he picked his bracket in the NCAA basketball tournament, and he picked North Carolina, which predictably caused their rival, the coach of Duke, Coach "K", to say the following: Somebody said we're not in President Obama's final four, and as much as I respect what he is doing, really, the economy is something that he should focus on, probably more than the brackets. That was our U.S. Olympic coach yesterday. There is some truth to that. The President is very impressive and is capable of doing many things at once. But, we don't need a lot of things done at once right now. We have one big issue - it’s the economy, Mr. President. While all of us have our role to play in this -- Senators, businesspeople, all of us across the country -- there is only one person who can do what the President of the United States can do. He is the agenda setter. He is the mobilizer. If the President of the United States focuses on one single big issue and throws everything he has into it for as long as he can, he will wear everybody else out and he will solve the problem, if it can be solved. I am confident in this country the problem can be solved. He has been there for 4 1/2 months now. We still have a big economic problem. It was going on before he came in, correct. Some people say Americans don't pay attention to history, but I am not so sure about that. In October of 1952, General Eisenhower was running for President and said: I shall go to Korea. He was elected. The Korean war was a big problem then. On November 29, he went to Korea, and said he would concentrate his attention on the job of ending the Korean war until it is honorably ended. There were a lot of other things going on in 1952 and 1953 that needed to be solved. But President Eisenhower focused on the Korean war, ended it, and the country was grateful. It is time for President Obama to focus on fixing the banks and getting the economy moving again. He can do that. The country needs for him to do that, and the country would be grateful if he did. There are other issues, but we only have one President; we have one big issue. Mr. President, it's the economy. That is where the focus needs to be. We are currently debating the President's budget, and we have some differences of opinion. As the Senator from Wyoming said, we believe on the Republican side it spends too much, it taxes too much, and it borrows too much. It is a blueprint for a different kind of country. It is an honest blueprint, in my opinion. It is a 10-year picture of where America would go under the President’s proposed budget. It will bring much more Government, add much more debt, and it will be turning over to our children a country that they will have a hard time affording and in which they will have fewer choices. It is not the kind of country I want to see. The new higher tax rates would raise taxes by $1.4 trillion over 10 years. It is the largest tax increase in history. Going back to history a little bit, we can learn lessons from history. President Hoover in 1932, as we were entering a recession, raised taxes. He raised taxes on the wealthy people. The top tax rate rose from 25 percent to 63 percent. What were the effects of the 1932 tax increase? Tax revenue decreased, the Federal deficit increased, and the Great Depression continued for a number of years. The middle of a deep recession is no time to be raising taxes on anyone. I know the President is saying: Well, this only goes into effect later. But everybody makes plans today based on what happens tomorrow. We also know that if they say we are only going to tax the rich people, we have heard that said before. In 1969, everybody became concerned because there were 155 people in America who didn't pay any taxes. So we had what was called the millionaire's tax to catch them. We put in a new tax rate 40 years ago. If Congress had not acted, that tax rate that was set to capture 155 people who didn't pay taxes 40 years ago would have captured 28 million Americans this year. In this country, you rise. You make more money and you rise into the higher tax rates. So if you put a high tax rate to capture 155 people, what we find 40 years later is that you capture 28 million Americans who are paying higher taxes, and many of those individuals are making incomes of $60,000, $70,000, and $80,000 a year. President Kennedy and President Reagan both lowered taxes when they became President and were in economic slowdowns. When President Reagan came in, we had a serious economic slowdown. I was Governor of Tennessee at the time, and unemployment was higher then than it is today. Inflation was a lot more then than it is today. Interest rates were terrifically high then. President Kennedy and President Reagan decided to lower taxes during the economic slowdowns. President Obama is proposing the largest tax increase in history, and the tax especially goes on the engine that creates the most new jobs. In America, all businesses are important for creating jobs. In my home State, we have Federal Express. It employs almost 300,000 people around the world. On the Republican side of things, we would like to have immediate expensing of all the big airplanes Federal Express buys, or the software Microsoft buys -- which is not based in my State. Because if these companies can deduct those expenses in the first year, they will make more money, they will hire more people, and Tennessee will do better. Jobs are what we are talking about. But most of the new businesses come from small businesses. Secretary Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, says this tax they want to impose only affects the rich people, and only 2 or 3 percent of the small businesses are affected. Well, I checked into that a little bit. If you work for a company with 20 or more employees – up to 500 employees is a small business -- chances are 50-50 that you are working for somebody whose taxes are going to be raised by this proposed tax increase in the President’s budget. If those taxes go up in the half of the small businesses that create most of the new jobs, then there is no money to buy new equipment, there is no money to hire a new person, there is no money to raise salaries, there is no money to pay health care benefits and there might not be enough money to pay employees and jobs may be at risk. Raising taxes on owners of small businesses in the middle of a recession is not the way to create new jobs. Then there is the national sales tax on electric bills and energy. Clean air and climate change is an important issue with me, especially clean air. I live at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains, where we have unhealthy air that’s polluted with nitrogen, sulfur, and other pollutants. I have introduced legislation to have higher clean air standards. I have also, every Congress since I have been here, introduced legislation to have caps on carbon that comes out of the coal-fired powerplants. Not caps on the whole economy, just the powerplants, which produce about 40 percent of the carbon. Some other Senators would like to have what is called a cap-and-trade tax on the entire American economy. Mr. President, the recession is no time to impose a $600-plus billion tax on everybody's electric bill. This is not the time to do that, if the time is ever right to do that. MIT suggests a bill such as the one the President has proposed would cost each American family $3,100 a year. In the middle of a recession, that is not a good idea. In conclusion, I think Coach K's advice to our impressive new President is good advice. We know he can have summits, make trips, and deal with a lot of different things. He has smart people dealing with him. But we have a tough economic problem, and it is the economy, Mr. President. We need the President to focus on the economy and concentrate on it, until the banks are fixed and the credit is flowing. We need a budget that doesn't spend so much, tax so much, and raise debt so much. Otherwise, we will deliver a country to our children and grandchildren that they can't afford. I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.