Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander for the week of September 18-22

Posted on September 18, 2006

Last week, the United States Senate took another important step toward making our country more secure. The SAFE Port Act, which passed the Senate unanimously, increases the number of customs and border patrol agents, improves rail security and aviation security, and sets out a plan for screening cargo entering U.S. seaports – including Memphis, which is the nation's fourth largest inland port. In the time we have left in the 109th Congress, I hope we’re able to find consensus and get more work done on the issues Tennesseans care about – like securing our borders, providing affordable health insurance for small business men and women, and increasing our domestic supply of energy so we’re less dependent on foreign oil. Because as many as 10,000 illegal aliens cross the U.S. border every day, it is unacceptable for Congress to go home for the year without enacting legislation to uphold the rule of law and secure our borders. Upholding the rule of law on our border is as important as defending our freedom in Iraq. A nation that loses control of its own borders is a nation that is not likely to exist for long. Congress also needs to provide some long overdue help for small business men and women who have really been struggling to afford health insurance for themselves, their employees, and their families. Ninety-seven percent of the businesses in Tennessee are small businesses. Whether I go to Mountain City or Sevierville or Lexington or Memphis – wherever I go in Tennessee, a small business man or woman says to me: “We cannot afford health care costs, and we need some help.” Senator Mike Enzi offered some help with the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act, but couldn’t get it out of the Senate. In May, Democrats blocked the bill, which would allow business and trade associations to band their members together and offer group health coverage on a national or regional basis in response to increased costs that are driving employers and families from comprehensive coverage. This legislation would reduce health care costs for small businesses across the country and reduce the number of Americans who are uninsured because their employers cannot afford to offer them healthcare insurance. I hope it is brought back up and passes before the end of the 109th Congress, so we can help small businesses men and women in Tennessee and across the country find affordable health insurance. Finally, before Congress adjourns, we need to pass and the president needs to sign into law legislation to increase our domestic energy supply and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which passed the Senate by a vote of 75 to 21 in August, is a good start. The bill directs the Department of Interior to begin exploratory oil and gas drilling in 8.3 million acres of an area of the Gulf of Mexico called “Lease Sale 181.” The natural gas supply made available by this agreement is enough to heat and cool nearly six million homes for 15 years. It is more oil than we import from Saudi Arabia, our principal supplier of overseas oil. I’d be delighted to return home at the end of this session and report back to folks in Tennessee that the 109th Congress passed legislation to make our borders – and therefore our country –more secure, to provide some real help to small business men and women who are struggling to afford health insurance, and to open up new supplies of energy here at home. I think those are the kind of results Tennesseans expect and deserve. ###