Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- The President's Speech on the Gulf Oil Spill

Posted on June 16, 2010

   Mr. President, all of us watched the President's remarks last night. It is rare for a President to make a speech from the Oval Office. President Reagan did it with the Challenger tragedy. President George W. Bush, spoke about 9/11. I thought the President was right to focus on what the government is doing to clean up the oil spill, and what we are doing to help those who are hurt. I think he missed an opportunity, though, in terms of looking to the energy future.

    He mentioned the climate bill. Of course that is House passed cap-and-trade bill which doesn’t have enough support to pass the Senate. He mentioned windmills and solar panels, which have nothing to do with reducing our dependence on foreign oil. I thought the missed opportunity was the President could have announced a mini-Manhattan Project to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by electrifying half our cars and trucks, which we could do without building any new powerplants by plugging them in at night. The President is in favor of that. Secretary Chu is a leader in it. In a bipartisan way we support that goal. All 41 Republican Senators support electrifying our cars and trucks. Senator Dorgan, Senator Merkley, and I support legislation for that. He could have talked about that.

    A second part of the clean energy future could have been creating the environment to build 100 new nuclear power plants. The President has taken some impressive steps to create a better environment for nuclear power. All 41 Republican Senators support that. That would be for clean electricity, not for fuel, but it would be a clean energy future.


    Third, the President could have focused on mini-Manhattan Projects for energy research and development, such as reducing the cost of solar power by a factor of 4; recapturing carbon from coal plants; trying to invent a 500-mile battery, which would have made sure that we electrify a significant part of our cars and trucks in America; recycling used nuclear fuel; and biofuels -- all 41 Republican Senators support the goal of doubling energy research and development. So does the President. So those are three steps toward clean energy independence that we agree on.

    He mentioned windmills and solar panels, which have nothing to do with reducing our dependence on foreign oil-- those are for electricity, not fuel. They are puny amounts of electricity, in any event. If he would stick with the things that we and he agree on, he could have used that speech for an important step forward for our country. In that sense, I think it was a missed opportunity.

    This past weekend the President sent a letter to Congress urging us to approve $50 billion in emergency aid to State and local governments.  I want to speak about that today from the vantage point I have as a former Governor and  former U.S. Secretary of Education.  According to the Wall Street Journal on Monday, the letter said budget cuts at State and local levels were leading to massive layoffs of teachers, policemen, and firefighters.

    The two points I want to make are that, No. 1, we here in Washington -- I tried not to, but the majority did --created this financial cliff over which the States are about to run.  And, No. 2, when it comes to the question of $23 billion for teachers, I think we need to ask, where is the money going to go? And from whose schoolchildren are we going to borrow it? Because right now we do not have extra money lying around in Washington, DC.  We have a great big problem with spending and debt.

    Let me start with what I said first, which is that we in Washington have created this financial cliff over which State Governors are running.  As we were debating the health care bill I said, not really in jest, that everybody who votes for it ought to be forced to go home and serve as Governor of their State under the new rules. 

    Take Tennessee, for example.  We were very fortunate that our State was one of the two winners in the Race to The Top education plan.  Give credit to the Governor and teachers in the State.  Tennessee will get a half billion dollars as a result of it.  Yet, according to our Governor, the health care bill will take away more than twice as much during the same period of time by imposing $1.1 billion in new Medicaid costs on the State between 2014 and 2019.  So we are causing problems for the State that caused the layoffs.

    Let me not ask you to take my word for it.  Here is a January op-ed from the Wall Street Journal by the Democratic Lieutenant Governor of New York, Mr. Ravitch, who says the Federal stimulus, which Congress passed at the beginning of 2009:   ...has provided significant budget relief to the states.... 

    He approved of that. 

        but this relief is temporary and makes it harder for States to cut expenditures.  In major areas such as transportation, education and health care, stimulus funds come with strings attached.  These strings prevent States from substituting federal money for state funds, require states to spend minimum amounts of their own funds, and prevent states from tightening eligibility standards for benefits.  

    Lieutenant Governor Ravitch goes on to say:

        Because of these requirements, states, instead of cutting spending in transportation, education and health care, have been forced to keep most of their expenditures at previous levels....

    We did that.  Congress did that.

        ...and use federal funds only as supplements.  The net result is this:  The federal stimulus has led States to increase overall spending in these core areas, which in effect has only raised the height of the cliff from which state spending will fall if stimulus funds evaporate.

    That is the Lieutenant Governor of New York talking about the evaporation of stimulus funds which comes at the end of this year and he is saying we made it harder for States to pay their bills. At the time the stimulus package was passed, everyone said it was one-time funding. All of us knew that Medicaid costs were overwhelming the States. Still, Congress went ahead -- the majority, in any event -- and increased the federal match for Medicaid, and required States not to change eligibility requirements. Thus they created this financial cliff at the end of the year which will cause the States' share for Medicaid spending to increase from an average of 34 percent to 43 percent, a net increase of $39 billion in costs for 2011. We are getting close to the $50 billion we are being asked to bail States out for.

    Let me say a word about teacher salaries.  The first question is, where is the rest of the money going to go?  The request, as it has been talked about, says this will save 100,000, maybe 300,000 teacher jobs.  We are supposed to appropriate $23 billion for that purpose.

    At $100,000 that works out to about $230,000 per teacher job saved.  If we are saving 300,000 teacher jobs with that $23 billion, that works out to $76,667 per teacher job saved.  The average national teacher's salary is $46,752.  Where does the rest of the money go?

    At the beginning of this administration there was a huge increase in education funds; $97 billion over 2 years for elementary and secondary education and $53.6 billion for the State Fiscal Stabilization fund.  We were assured this was one-time funding.  In April 2009, the Department of Education itself said in its guidance to the States on how to spend the money:

        The [funds are] expected to be a one-time infusion of substantial new resources.  These funds should be invested in ways that do not result in unsustainable continuing commitments after the funding expires.

    What we could have said is, we don't have any more money either, States.  We just print it up here.  So don't expect us to send you anymore.

    The U.S. Department of Education helpfully suggested what some of those one-time expenditures might be -- making improvements in teacher effectiveness; establishing pre-K-to-college-and-career data systems; making progress toward rigorous college- and career-ready standards; providing targeted, selective support; and effective interventions for the lowest performing schools.  In other words, the States and schools were told:  Don't spend this money on continuing programs.  Spend it once.

    Our Governor, a Democratic Governor in Tennessee, got the message.  Governor Bredesen said in his State of the Union Address in 2009: 

        Please let me make it clear that no proposed version of the stimulus is any panacea or silver bullet; substantial cuts are still needed under any circumstances. Furthermore, it is vital to remember that this stimulus money is one-time funding.

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore.  The 10 minutes of the Senator has expired. 

    Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Chair.  I see none of my colleagues are here. 

    The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore.  Senator Barrasso from Wyoming is waiting.

    Mr. ALLEXANDER.  I ask for another 60 seconds to conclude my remarks.  I thank the Chair.

    When we think about the funding, we need to remember the best things for us to do. They are to stop imposing health care mandates on States, which make it impossible for them to pay their bills; and to properly support public education, especially public higher education, which is going to take a terrible blow because of the passage of the health care bill. Thanks to the health care bill, tuition payments for students are going to rise.

    Second, we should recognize that the stimulus money passed last year was one-time funding. We created this financial cliff and now we have an unprecedented level of debt in the Federal Government. We do not have $23 billion lying around to send to the States.

    Whether we are sending $230,000 per teaching job, $76,000 per teaching job, or scaling it back and saying we are only going to send the national average, which is $46,000, the question still remains:  From whose grandchildren will we borrow the money?

    We need to reduce the growth of the Federal debt.  We should not be bailing out States with another $50 billion.     


I thank the Senator from Wyoming and I yield the floor.