Speeches & Floor Statements

Colloquy of U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, Mike Johanns, John Hoeven, and James Risch -- Balanced Budet Amendment

Posted on July 19, 2011

Thanks, Governor Johanns.  It is terrific to be on the Senate floor with other former Governors.  When we were doing the health care bill last year, I said everyone who voted for it ought to be sentenced to serve as Governor for 8 years and actually try to implement it.  But let me try to answer your question briefly so we can hear from the other Governors. 

I became Governor, Governor Johanns, 30 years ago, in the early 1980s.  Inflation was 20 percent.  It is hard to imagine, in the early days of the Reagan administration, they had driven up interest rates to 12 percent to try to bring inflation down.  We had terrible times.  Of course, we still had to balance our budget.  We had to live within our means.  We had to have the amount of money coming in equal to the amount coming out.

Let me tell one story of the difference that has made in our State and how it could make a difference in the Federal Government.  The other day, in the Environmental and Public Works Committee, the Tennessee chief highway engineer was testifying.  He was there when I was Governor.  He is still there.  One of the Senators, the chairman, suggested perhaps some flexible Federal financing would be a good thing for Tennessee; in other words, loaning some money to the State of Tennessee to build roads.

The State engineer said:  Madam Chairman, with all respect, we don't want to borrow any Federal money.  The State of Tennessee has zero road debt.

That about brought the hearing to a halt because several Senators had not ever heard of such a thing.

He said:  Yes, that is correct.  We have zero road debt.  We use all of our gas tax money to build roads, none of it to pay interest. 

That means, I say to the Senator from Nebraska, when we have a tough time like we did when I became Governor, as when you were Governor, as we do in the country today, if our interest rates are low or we pay no interest, we can use that money to get through tough times.  A lot of the businesses and the families today who have less debt are making their way through these tough times more easily.

On the other hand, the Federal Government, according to the President's budget, by the year 2020, would be spending more money on interest on the Federal debt than it would on our national defense.  Interest on the Federal debt would be $931 billion by 2021. 

What if that money could be put back in our pockets through tax cuts or used to help send kids to college or build roads in the State or energy research to lower the cost of gasoline?  One way, I would say to the Senator from Nebraska, that balancing the budget helps create jobs is if we keep our interest payments down, we keep our taxes down, we can spend our money wisely on things that count.