Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Financial Regulatory Reform

Posted on April 26, 2010

            Mr. President, we will be voting at 5 o'clock this afternoon on a motion by the majority leader, and I can almost hear him now saying something about the party of no as we talk about the financial regulation bill.  Well, I would say to my friend the majority leader that he is rapidly becoming the leader of the party of no by offering so many "no" motions because the motion this afternoon is one more of a record number of "no" motions offered by the majority leader to say no to more amendments, no to more debate, no to checks and balances on a runaway government in Washington. 

            What we on the Republican side have been trying to do on the financial regulation bill is to work with the majority party and the President to help fashion a set of rules and regulations that takes us from the financial crisis we had a few years ago, and which continues today in the lives of Americans everywhere, to complete a bill most of us can support so we can say to America and say to the world:  These are our rules and regulations.  We have done our job.  We have set the rules.  Even if Republicans capture control of the Congress in November -- which we hope we do -- these still will be the rules because we did this in a bipartisan way, the kind of way the President talked about when he campaigned for election a couple of years ago.  

            Well, unfortunately, that is not what has been happening.  It has just been one "no" motion after another from the majority leader -- a record number of them.  And he will even bring that up, which I would respectfully say I would not do.   

            Twenty-six times the majority leader has filled the amendment tree. That is a "no" motion that says no more amendments. He has done it nearly as much as the last five majority leaders combined. He has the record in saying no more amendments, no more debates, and no more checks and balances on what the Congress is doing. There have been 141 times the majority leader has filed cloture on the same day a measure came up. That is simply another no motion. It says no to more amendments, no to more debates, no to more checks and balances on the legislation Congress is considering.  

            Someone may say: Well, let's get on with it. Why do we need these checks and balances? We were reminded over the weekend of why we need the checks and balances. All of us remember the health care debate resulting in the health care law which passed this Chamber by a partisan majority. We were here day after day after day with the Democrats meeting in secret. The vote came up in the middle of a snowstorm, 1 a.m. in the morning, had to be done before Christmas, nearly 3,000 pages before it all got through. No check and balance on that bill. We were saying slow down. Wait a minute. This bill is making a fundamental mistake. It is expanding a health care delivery system we all know we can't afford, when instead we should be taking steps together to reduce its costs so more Americans can afford to buy health insurance.

            So over the weekend, a report issued on Thursday by the Chief Actuary of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services -- he is the chief health actuary in the Federal Government; what did he say? Lo and behold, his analysis showed it will increase health care costs instead of lowering them. In other words, we will increase -- we will increase -- spending on a health care delivery system we all know we can't afford today. Yet off we went with our new $1 trillion bill. It will raise premiums on health care. It will threaten seniors' access to health care. It will threaten access for Medicaid patients, creating, in effect, a health care bridge to nowhere for a great number of low-income Americans who will find they can't get a doctor or, in Washington State, that Walgreens will not fill their prescription. This will make that problem worse. To those who are going to be serving as Governor between 2014 and 2019, it is very bad news because it talks about the increased cost of Medicaid, which is the largest government health care program, and how many of those costs are being passed on to States. I know, in our State, our legislature -- Republican -- and our Governor -- a Democrat -- have said we don't see how we can afford this. It is estimated to be roughly $1.1 billion, but potentially could be as high as $1.5 billion. It is going to cause State tax increases, tuition increases at the public universities, and I believe it will seriously damage American public education. Anyone can read this for himself or herself.

           So over the weekend, the Chief Health Actuary of the Federal Government said the health care law does what we Republicans feared it would. But the psychology on the other side of the aisle was: We won the election. We will write the bill. We will pass it even by a partisan majority, unlike civil rights, unlike Medicare, unlike Medicaid, unlike social security. It was a purely partisan bill, with no checks and balances, and the American people see the results. 

            Here we go again, this afternoon at 5 o'clock. This should be a very different situation. It is a very important bill. It is the financial regulation of this country. This country produces 25 percent of all the money in the world every year. Twenty-five percent of the wealth is created by this country, for just 5 percent of us who are privileged to live here. So one would think we would be as careful as we could be in getting this done.  

            For a long time on this bill, many Members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle have been working on it carefully and in a bipartisan way. So why would we bring another one of these record-setting "no" motions up today to vote on? Why would we say -- in the middle of debate and discussion to improve the bill -- let's rush it on through; no, to more amendments; no, to more debate; no, to more checks and balances. 

            There are some pretty big issues to resolve to make sure we have it right. There is general agreement, I think, across both sides of the aisle that we want a situation where we don't have these big banks that are too big to fail. The Senator from Virginia, who is the Presiding Officer today and my colleague, and Senator Corker from Tennessee worked for a year on this. I went to some of their sessions. It is complex stuff, but they were coming up with a bipartisan solution to the problem. One of the advantages of a bipartisan solution is, A, it might be more likely to be right; and, B, it almost certainly is more likely to be accepted. If there is a Corker-Warner or Warner-Corker solution, Republican-Democratic solution on banks that are too big to fail, then the American people might look up here and say: OK, if they both agree on it, maybe they are right. Maybe I will not worry about it, and I will not spend my next 3 years trying to repeal it. Well, the same thing was true on other parts of the issue, and I commend Senator Dodd, the chairman of the committee, for starting out in that direction. He was working with Senator Shelby on this side on consolidating bank regulators and consumer protection. Senator Reed on the Democratic side and Senator Gregg were working on reforming oversight of derivatives. As I said, Senator Warner and Senator Corker were working on systemic risk, the too-big-to-fail issue. Senator Schumer and Senator Crapo were working on securities and exchange issues and corporate governance issues. They weren't coming to an agreement on every single one of these issues -- the last one is especially difficult -- but they are making some real progress. Even yesterday, Senator Shelby, who is the ranking member, and Senator Dodd said on NBC's "Meet the Press" -- Senator Shelby said: "We are closer than we have ever been." Mr. Dodd added: "We will get it together."  

            Well, if we are closer than we have ever been and we will get it together, why are we having this "no" vote today? Why are we saying no to more amendments, no to more debate, no to checks and balances?  

            That is a serious question for the American people. If I were to suppose in my State what the major issue before the people of Tennessee is today, it is that many Independents, almost every Republican, and some Democrats would say: We need some checks and balances on a runaway Washington government. Well, here is an opportunity to have some checks and balances on a runaway Washington government and to get things right. Instead, we seem to have a campaign team at the White House that says, Let's play a little politics and make it look like the Republicans are in bed with the Wall Street bankers. They even said Republicans took contributions from Wall Street bankers, but when the newspapers added it all up, it looks like the Democrats got more contributions from the Wall Street bankers than the Republicans did. So if the race is about politics and if the race is about who took the most money from the Wall Street bankers, the Democrats win. That is not the basis upon which we should be deciding this. I like the way the committee was working on it for the last year: Republican and Democratic teams working to solve big, complex problems for the country that produces 25 percent of all the money in the world and is the acknowledged financial capital of the world. But, instead, we seem to have at least a fraction of the administration that says: We won the election, we will write the bill, and up comes the majority leader with another "no" motion, a historic, record number of "no" motions.  

            I am here simply to say this: This is a piece of legislation that presents President Obama and our Congress with a historic opportunity to do something right. We are coming out, we hope, of a great recession. We need some signals to our country and to the world that things are stabilizing. Every small businessperson or big businessperson I talk with says: A little certainty would help. We are not going to hire another person; we are not going to invest another dollar until we get a little more certainty in the business environment in America, and people are waiting to see how we are going to deal with this too-big-to-fail issue. Are we going to put up rules that will give big banks an advantage over community banks? Are we going to put in regulations that are so cumbersome that they move the financial capital of America from New York City and Chicago to Washington, DC, or even to London and Singapore and Shanghai, along with the jobs and the prestige and the opportunity for an increased standard of living that goes with it? 

            We have, within our grasp, an opportunity to do as Senator Shelby and Senator Dodd said. We are close to getting it together. We think we will get it together. If we were to get it together, if we were to be able to rely upon the work of Senator Warner and Senator Corker and the others I mentioned who worked together over the last year and stand together with the President and let him say: Republicans and Democrats have been working for more than a year on this. We have taken enough time to develop a consensus in the Senate, a consensus between parties, that this is the right thing to do for our country and we want to tell the American people these are the rules for financial regulation and tell the world that the United States of America is capable of governing itself and writing its rules and doing it in a bipartisan way, think of the signal that would send to this country and to the world. It might be a tipping point in the recovery from the great recession, that kind of signal from Washington, DC. I can't think of a better one. Yet the vote today is the opposite. It is another "no" motion. No to debate. No to amendments. No to working together. No to checks and balances. 

            I hope we prevail on this motion and I hope we will say yes to more amendments, yes to more debates and yes to checks and balances and I hope the result is a financial regulation bill affecting this country that all of us can vote for -- or at least most of us can vote for; that we can proudly give each other credit for. That is the way we like to work. That is why we came to the Senate. When the country sees that, they will have more confidence in us, in this government, in the economy and the world may, too, and we will have taken an important step forward; and the President will be able to say: Look, this is the way I wanted to do it all along. This is what I campaigned on, and I am glad we have worked together to get 70 or 80 votes in the Senate to get a consensus on a financial regulation bill to get this country moving again.  

            I yield the floor, and I note the absence of a quorum.