Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Seantor Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on the Stimulus Bill

Posted on February 13, 2009

Mr. President, here is what we know of the so-called stimulus bill. This bill will give American workers $8 a week in their paychecks in exchange for passing along a $1 trillion debt to our grandchildren. The entire New Deal, in today's dollars, cost only half of what this bill costs. We know that if we were to spend $1 million a day, every day since Jesus Christ was born, we would still spend less money than the cost of this bill. We know that if you were to add the cost of this bill to the national debt that we already have, it would cost each American household more than $100,000 to pay off our country's debt. We know that in the bill there is $50 million that could be used to save red-bellied harvest mice in the San Francisco area, something that Speaker Pelosi has supported. We know that in the bill there is $8 billion for a levitating train from Disneyland to Las Vegas that the majority leader is very interested in. We also know that people are hurting. That we need to do something to help the economy. And that something includes a real stimulus bill. But we know this is not the right approach. Mostly, this is spending, not stimulus. Most of the spending in the bill does not come soon enough to help create jobs quickly. Most of the tax cuts in the bill – such as the $8 per week for working families - are welcome but not stimulative. We know this is a lot of money. An example of how much money is that it took us until about 1980, from the beginning of our Republic, to accumulate a debt that equals the amount of this bill. Or to look at it another way: The entire annual Federal budget in the early 1980s was about the amount we are spending in this bill. We know this is not temporary. Even though stimulus bills, as defined by Speaker Pelosi, are to be timely, temporary, and targeted, this is not. We know that because of the mandatory spending it adds to the long-term budget. We know that because the Senate rejected Senator McCain's amendment which said that after two consecutive quarters of economic growth above 2 percent, the new spending would stop. So this bill is not temporary. We know we are bailing out States with much more money than they need. In my State of Tennessee, it had a $900 million dollar shortfall. That is a lot of money for our State. But our legislature and Governor are handling that, with some pain. Yet we are giving Tennessee almost $4 billion, as if we had the money to spend. We know we are not seriously thinking about how much spending is too much spending in Washington, and how much debt is too much debt. We know that we establish policies in this bill -- huge policies in education, energy, and health -- in 2 weeks, without careful consideration that deserve enormous consideration. I used to be Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Its budget today is about $68 billion. We are adding $40 billion a year to that Department for the next 2 years. Does that mean we are completely satisfied with what is happening in kindergarten through the 12th grade? If we are to add $40 billion a year, should we not be asking what can we do differently to reward outstanding teachers, to add charter schools, to offer parents more choices for afterschool programs for their children? Surely, we can have a debate about education, or energy, or health care if we are going to spend that much new money. We know there has been a lack of bipartisanship. The refrain seems to be: We won the election; we’ll write the bill. That was not the tone of the election. That was not what we looked forward to on the Republican side of the aisle. We know what we should have done instead. We know we shouldn't have spent the whole piggy bank on a spending bill that doesn't include much stimulus. We know that we should have reserved as many of those scarce dollars as we could to focus on fixing housing first and making sure that we don't underestimate the difficulty we have in getting toxic assets out of the financial institutions in this country so they can start lending again and on Main Street we can start doing business again. We know those are the things we should have done instead. This bill doesn't pass muster with truth in labeling. It claims not to have earmarks, although that levitating train from Las Vegas to Disneyland looks a lot like an earmark. We know that the two provisions in the bill that seemed to do the most to help were cut by the conference report in substantial ways. I am speaking of Senator Isakson's $15,000 tax credit for home buyers who would buy homes in the next year, which was gutted. And Senator Mikulski’s and Senator Brownback's effort to give encouragement to automobile and truck buyers all over America to revive the automobile industry. We know that if we are to add $87 billion over 2 years to Medicaid for the States that we may be making the program so rich that we will never be able to decide what to do about it when we have our national health care debate. We are preempting that discussion without very much debate. I know what bipartisanship is. I have participated in it. When I was Governor of Tennessee, I worked with a Democratic legislature. We became the first State to pay teachers more for teaching well. I said what I thought we ought to do and the Democratic speaker said what he thought we ought to do. We sat down together. We took some of Speaker McWherter's ideas and some of my ideas. We came to a conclusion and we together announced the result. President Bush and the Congress did the same thing with No Child Left Behind when President Bush working with Senator Kennedy and Representative Miller. Senator Bingaman and Senator Domenici gave us a good example with the energy bill. Seventy of us cosponsored the America Competes Act. And the Gang of 14 helped keep the Senate functioning and produced good Supreme Court nominees. I am disappointed that we have not risen to the occasion. This bill should have been easy to do in a bipartisan way. I hope that this is not a symbol of what is to come with more difficult pieces of legislation, like health care, climate change, and entitlements. I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.