Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Working Together in the Senate

Posted on September 19, 2008

The American people want to see the Senate focusing more on the biggest issues facing our country and working across party lines to get a result. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone in Congress. I’ve been hearing a lot of what I call kindergarten politics on the floor of the Senate. At times it has looked as if somebody had been down in a War Room with crayons and paper coming up with ways to score political points by using the country’s financial crisis, instead of saying: “What can we do, working together, to reassure the American people we are going to take every step possible to make certain we restore the vibrancy of our economy?” I came to the Senate, not as a Senator but as a staff member, more than 40 years ago, and what has been going through my mind is the way Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen would have worked when Everett Dirksen was the Republican leader and Lyndon Johnson was the President. When it was important, they worked together, and they let the American people know that. So did President Kennedy and Senator Dirksen. So did Senator Mansfield, from the Democratic side of the aisle, and President Nixon, a Republican. Now we have a serious financial crisis facing our country, and what do we get from some of the Members of the other side of the aisle but a lot of kindergarten partisan politics, which should be left in the trash can somewhere. We should put all this bickering aside, and we say to each other: “We have a serious financial crisis facing our country. What can we do, working together, to reassure the American people we are going to take any step we can to ensure the security of their savings accounts, the values of their homes, the security of their money markets, of their accounts?” There is one other thing that we could do together and I would like to briefly outline it today. The United States launched the Manhattan Project during World War II to create the atom bomb before Germany did, because we were afraid that if Germany beat us in that, it would blackmail us in the same way many oil-producing countries are blackmailing us today. We succeeded in that. But we did it because we put a clear focus on it; we put an objective; we dedicated the money; we drafted companies; we assembled the best scientists in the world; and we won that race. We could do the same with energy. What I suggested in May at Oak Ridge National Laboratory was that we adopt seven grand challenges as part of a new Manhattan Project for clean energy independence. First, of course, we ought to do what we already know how to do, which is to drill offshore and create more nuclear power. But then there are some things we don't know how to do, and most of the legislation the Senate is considering does not do much for energy research and development. Energy research and development would be, for example: To make, within the next 5 years, electric cars and trucks commonplace – which would mean research on advanced batteries; and to make solar energy competitive within the next 5 years with fossil fuels. Among the other challenges, I suggested carbon capture and sequestration. We need to be able to use our coal plants and we need other ways of capturing carbon than taking it and putting it into the ground. We need it within 5 years as well. There are many things we can do to help us gain clean energy independence, but we have to come to a consensus to make it realistic. The Senate needs to come together to solve these problems and not go back and forth over party lines. I would like to see more collaboration rather than the finger-pointing and blame calling, and one of the areas in which I hope we will work is a dramatic new Federal investment in energy research and development. ###