Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on Two-Year Budget Legislation

Posted on February 14, 2008

Mr. President, I greatly appreciate the courtesy of the Senator from North Dakota. He himself is an expert on appropriations and budget matters, both at the Federal level and at the State level. It would be my hope that as this subject I am about to talk about moves ahead, it would be something that would interest him as well. I can make my point quickly and simply. We have heard a lot this year that the people of this country would like a change in the way we do business in Washington, DC. One way to do that is change how we go about our business. That means I would prefer, and I believe almost all of us would prefer, and I know the people would prefer, that we focus on big issues and we come up with good principled ideas. And then we debate those principles, and then we reach across the aisle, because it takes 60 votes to get anything done here to come to a result. We did that on the economic stimulus, we did that on energy, we did that on terrorism, and it didn't mean we didn't have debates. We had big debates. That is why we are here. But we came to a result and the result had to be bipartisan. I am not so interested in the bipartisanship as I am interested in the result. I heard Rick Warren speak the other day, and he said he wasn't so interested in interfaith dialog as he was interested in good works. I think that is what the people want to see from us. My suggestion for good works and for results is that we adopt a 2-year appropriations budget process, as described by the Senator from Alabama and as advocated by the Senator from New Mexico, Senator Domenici. This is not a Republican idea, this is not a Democrat idea, this is a good idea. It has the support of Senator Feingold from the other side, and it has the support of the independent Senator, Senator Lieberman, so I would hope it has strong support all across the aisle here. Let me give an example or two of why it would make a difference. When we debate the higher education bill in a few weeks, I am going to ask permission to bring on the floor several boxes containing all the rules and regulations that 6,000 higher education institutions in this country must wade through in order to accept students who receive a Federal grant or a loan. The stack of boxes is about that high -- that many rules and regulations. But this new higher education bill that we will likely pass doubles the number of rules and regulations. Maybe some of them are needed, but what we haven't had time to do is go through that stack of boxes as tall as I am to see if we can cut the regulations in half. We don't have time to do that. If we spent every other year drawing up a budget and our appropriations bills, and then, in the odd year, going back through rules, laws, and regulations already on the books, I think we would have a strong force for fewer rules, fewer regulations, and fewer laws. And also more effective, if not less, spending. A second example. The State of Missouri has told the Department of Transportation that with the Federal money we already give the State of Missouri, they can repair every broken bridge they have in 5 years. They can do this as long as we let them do it first under their rules and regulations, without waiting for our appropriations process. In other words, if we let them build the bridges and then we buy the bridges to reimburse them, according to specifications, we don't have to spend any more money to fix all the broken bridges in Missouri. What that should indicate to us is the gross inefficiency of our appropriations and budget processes when it comes to building roads, when it comes to making contracts, when it comes to waging war. Our process wastes billions of dollars a year. No wonder the people of this country are upset with us. Final action on appropriations measures has occurred, on average, 86 days after the start of the fiscal year. And our fiscal year starts when? On October 1. I mean, who else begins their year on October 1? That is not the Chinese calendar, it is not most Americans' calendar, but it is our fiscal calendar. So everybody has to adjust their business to a strange year, and then we never meet it. My hope is that this year we can honor Senator Domenici and ourselves. We can add a Democratic name right up there with his, as prominently, and we can say to the country: We are going to change the way Washington does business. We are going to do it in a bipartisan way. We are going to adopt a 2-year budget for spending. We are going to spend every other year revising and repealing laws and make the Government run efficiently. And we are going to get our appropriations and budgeting done on time. We can save the taxpayers dollars so that States, cities, companies, and countries that deal with the United States of America can do so in a timely and efficient way.