Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander October 14, 2007

“Let’s Change the Way We Do Business in Washington”

Posted on October 14, 2007

When Americans look at Congress, they’re disgusted by what they see: constant partisan sniping and runaway spending. I don’t blame them. That’s why I’ve made it a priority to set a different tone and to work across party lines to solve problems and stop wasteful Washington spending. When I was elected to the Senate in 2002, I told Tennesseans I would represent them with conservative values and an independent attitude. Part of that independent attitude is about trying to change Washington instead of letting it change me. So I’m working with a few like-minded colleagues from both parties to change the way we do business in Washington. Bipartisan Breakfasts One way is to bring senators from different parties together more often. Senators spend most of their time in separate meetings with their own parties trying to figure out how to beat the other side. So I joined with Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) to host weekly bipartisan breakfasts that offer senators from both parties the opportunity discuss the challenges of the day in a private, relaxed setting. The meetings have been attended by as many as 40 senators at one time, which is more than the number of senators who attended any one hearing with General Petraeus. America COMPETES Act Another way is to set an example and pass important bipartisan legislation. Along with Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Congressman Bart Gordon (D-TN), I helped manage the floor debate and passage of the America COMPETES Act – which President Bush signed into law this August – to invest in scientific research and math and science education. This $34 billion legislation will help America keep its brainpower advantage so we don’t wake up 20 years from now and wonder how countries like China and India have passed us by. In Tennessee, it will mean $10,000 scholarships for hundreds of future Tennessee math & science teachers, training for hundreds of Tennessee math and science teachers to teach Advanced Placement (AP) classes or pre-AP classes, and more Tennessee-based research at institutions – like Oak Ridge National Laboratory, UT, and Vanderbilt – that will produce hundreds or even thousands of new high-tech jobs. Bipartisan Iraq Legislation And when it comes to Iraq, changing the way we do business means finding a way to speak with one voice instead of holding partisan votes – that’s what our troops deserve and the enemy needs to hear. So I joined with Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) in advancing legislation to implement the recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which would help get our troops out of the combat business and into the support, training and equipping business as soon as we honorably can without setting an artificial deadline. Stopping Wasteful Spending Going forward, we also must stop wasteful Washington spending. Our national debt currently stands at more than $9 trillion today ? that’s almost $30,000 for every American. It’s not enough just to cut a few programs here and there. We have to fundamentally change the way we do business in Washington when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. That’s why I’m supporting legislation to establish: • A Presidential line item veto to give the President the ability to cut individual pork barrel projects from congressional spending bills. • A two-year budgeting cycle requiring Congress to pass a two-year budget during the first year and use the second year to take a good look at what federal programs are working and what ones are not – and either fix or stop paying for broken programs. • A Bipartisan Task Force for Responsible Fiscal Action that would review all aspects of the government’s long-term financial condition and find solutions to protect critical programs while keeping costs down. The U.S. Senate looks downright ridiculous lecturing places like Baghdad about being in a political stalemate when we can’t get out of one ourselves. Both sides – Republicans and Democrats – deserve an incomplete on their report cards. We can do better.