Weekly Column by Sen. Lamar Alexander: “Serving With Conservative Principles and an Independent Attitude”

Posted on September 23, 2011

“Serving With Conservative Principles and an Independent Attitude”

Weekly column by Senator Alexander

In January, following the annual retreat of Republican senators, I will step down after four years as Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. My colleagues have elected me three times and, in January, I will have completed the equivalent of two two-year terms. 

Stepping down from leadership will liberate me to spend more time working to achieve results on the issues I care the most about, and the issues that matter most to Tennesseans. In fact, I intend to be more, not less, in the thick of resolving serious issues. And I plan to run for re-election in 2014.

That means stopping runaway regulations and spending. But it also means setting priorities—confronting the timidity that allows runaway health care spending to squeeze out research, scholarships, roads and other government functions that make it cheaper and easier to create jobs. I want to do more to make the Senate a more effective institution so that it can deal better with serious issues.

There are different ways to offer leadership within the Senate. After nine years here, this is how I believe I can now make my greatest contribution.

These are serious times. Every American’s job is on the line. People in the rest of the world are figuring out that their brains are no different than ours and they are using their brainpower to create the kind of standard of living that we have.

Some experts predict that within a decade, the United States will not be the world’s largest economy. They say China will be. My goal is to keep the U.S. the world’s strongest economy.

I said to Tennesseans when I first ran for the Senate that I would serve with conservative principles and an independent attitude. I will continue to serve in that same way. I am a very Republican Republican. I grew up and live in a congressional district that hasn’t sent a Democrat to Congress since Abraham Lincoln was President. My great-great grandfather once was asked his politics and he answered, ‘I fought for the union and I vote like I shot.’

If I can pass a 100 percent Republican legislative solution I will.  The United States Senate requires 60 votes to achieve a result on serious issues and 60-vote results simply cannot be found among only Republicans, or only Democrats.

Second, stepping down from leadership will allow me to be more, not less, aggressive on major issues. I look forward to this. The Senate was designed to be the forum for confronting the most difficult issues producing the biggest disagreements. I don’t buy for one minute the notion that such policy disagreements produce an unhealthy lack of civility. Those who believe that debates today are more fractious than before have no sense of American history. They have forgotten what Adams and Jefferson said of one another; that Vice President Burr killed former Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton; that on the streets of Washington, Congressman Sam Houston caned an Ohio Congressman who had opposed President Jackson’s Indian Policy. What of the venomous debates before and during the Civil War, the Army-McCarthy hearings, the Watergate era, and the Vietnam War?  

If you will notice carefully, most of the people you hear shouting at one another on television and radio and the internet have never been elected to anything at all. It would help to produce better results if we senators knew one another better across party lines. But to suggest that we should be more timid in debating the issues is to ignore American history and the purpose of the Senate. In fact, senators do our jobs with excessive civility.

I now look forward to spending more of my time working with all senators to achieve results on the serious issues that will determine the standard of living and security for our next generation.

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