Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Addressing the High Cost of Gasoline

Posted on August 3, 2008

Over the last week, the Democratic majority tried seven separate times to take the Senate off of the most important issue facing our country: how do we deal with the high cost of energy that is hurting family budgets across the country? All seven times, I voted to keep the Senate on the energy debate – and then I voted against adjourning the Senate because I thought Congress should stay in session until we worked out a bipartisan compromise to find more oil and use less oil. For the last several weeks, I have received e-mails and letters from Tennesseans who have been hurt by the high price of gasoline. For example, Jason from Friendsville, TN, is a firefighter with the Blount County Fire Department who says that currently five of their stations have only one person in them. They rely on volunteers for the rest of their support, but since gasoline is so high, response from volunteers has been very small, and they have to allow other jurisdictions to respond. He is not sure how he is going to be able to keep driving across town to help other people when he can barely help himself. And there’s Gina, from Elizabethton, who is a single mother spending about $65 each week to drive to and from work. She can barely afford groceries because everything is so expensive. She says they have been living on ramen noodles to get by. She is very concerned that Congress and the President are doing a lot of talking but not doing anything about the problem, and she says, “This country is in such a mess.” William of Riceville is on disability and his wife is unable to work due to health problems. Rising gas prices have made them choose between driving to the doctor or paying for their medicine. Tina from Nashville is a single mother struggling to support her daughter. They can't even afford to go out to the movies on the weekend, she says, because gas and food prices have risen so much. She says that right now she is spending about $200 each month on gas and prices keep going up, but her paycheck isn't going up at all. Judy from Joelton is a 61-year-old grandmother struggling to support her daughter and granddaughter who live with her. The gas to take her granddaughter to kindergarten is costing $115 each month, and they are struggling to keep her in school. Judy says she is scared for her family. She has never seen it this difficult to get by. To help these Tennesseans and other American struggling with high gas prices, the Senate could have and should have taken up the Gas Price Reduction Act, legislation that I joined in introducing in June based on these four words: “find more, use less.” Instead, the Democratic leader refused to allow a full and fair debate on energy that would look at both supply and demand. The Senate could have spent two weeks debating amendments from Republicans and Democrats, but instead the Democratic leader forced a series of votes in a failed attempt to change the topic away from energy. And the result is that Congress was sent home before having a chance to get the job done. Most members of the Senate are prepared to stay and do what it takes to find a solution to the high gas problem. We already have a lot of good ideas based upon the law of supply and demand: finding more and using less. We can find more by expanding our drilling and oil shale and we can use less by encouraging the use of plug-in cars and trucks. If we start drilling for more oil and develop oil shale, we will increase our supply, and if we encourage the use of alternative sources of energy and plug-in cars, we will decrease our demand. Those two together will decrease the cost of energy today. There is no lack of ideas in the Senate. There is a lack of ability to work together. The problem is that Republicans can't persuade our friends on the other side of the aisle to find more because when we say offshore drilling, they say: No, we can't. If we say oil shale, they say: No, we can't. Even if we say nuclear power for plugging in our cars and trucks with clean energy, they say: Sorry, not a proponent of that. So instead of coming together and finding a solution to the biggest problem facing our nation, the Democratic leader has sent the Senate home without allowing us to finish our work for the American people. Unless we include new American sources of energy, our electric prices are going up, gasoline prices are going up, and our jobs are going overseas. We need both – to find more and use less - and we need to do it now. The $4 gasoline price we are suffering from today is the first recognition that in addition to using less we have to use more new American energy. We need to work across party lines to find more American energy and use less so that we can bring down prices today. This month, I’ll be traveling across Tennessee to talk to people back home about this issue, and I hope the Democratic leader will finally allow the Senate to do its job and pass legislation when Congress comes back into session in September.