Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for February 3, 2008

Reaction to the State of the Union

Posted on February 1, 2008

Last week, the president spoke to the nation in the State of the Union address. A great deal of what President Bush said last week was important to our role in the world, but we have work to do at home and we need to roll up our sleeves and get busy. There's no excuse for taking a year off because of presidential politics given the number of serious issues facing our country. Let me mention a few that the president discussed last week. The Economy The president acknowledged that as strong as our economy is, with 52 months in a row of growing jobs, it's taken a downward turn. We need to take appropriate action to help it continue to produce more jobs. That means steps that are temporary, targeted, and that grow the economy and not the government. The president has agreed with the Speaker of the House and the Republican leader of the House on a simple package that is aimed to do just that – with rebates for individuals, most of whom pay taxes, and incentives to small businesses to create new jobs. It's a simple idea. I don't believe we can afford to let this economic growth package become a Christmas tree in the Senate for everyone's favorite idea for spending taxpayer dollars. Instead, we should recognize that the American people would like to see us act promptly and act decisively. It is important for our government, particularly at this moment, to send a strong message that we will take the action appropriate to keep the economy strong. And that we are capable of functioning as a government and working in bipartisan ways to deal with real issues. Healthcare The president said that we should get to work this year to make sure that every American can have access to health care insurance. The president talked about his plan, which he also talked about last year, to redo our tax code so that dollars would be available to American families to buy at least a basic health care policy that they wouldn't lose coverage when they change jobs. Republican senators believe that every American should be insured and are ready to go to work this year to help make that possible. Entitlement Spending Entitlement spending is an issue that is beginning to get the country's attention, and it should have the country's attention. It certainly has mine. Approximately 40% of the budget is Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and another 14% goes for other entitlement programs. That part of the budget goes up automatically every year. Together, entitlement spending and interest on the debt make up more than 60% of every dollar we spend here. Another 20% is defense, the war, and other necessary actions to defend ourselves, and 19% is everything else. According to leaders on the Senate Budget Committee, pretty soon we’re going to be faced with an absolutely impossible situation that will require massive cuts in benefits and massive tax increases that the net worth of this great country will not be able to pay – and that every year we wait, we risk another problem. The president challenged us to change this and I’ve joined with a few senators on a proposal to do that, which we should act on this year. Education President Bush mentioned something in his speech that is close to my heart. He called it the “Pell Grants for Kids,” an idea I have been working on for years. The idea is very simple. We take this brilliant plan Congress invented over the last 50 years of giving money directly to college students, which they can spend at any accredited institution of their choice – including both public and private schools. I have proposed a version of the Pell Grant for Kids that would give every child in low- and middle-income families $500 for after-school programs or other programs. The president has advanced the idea by including in his speech to the nation. President Bush has painted a strong agenda for America this year. He has challenged us to go to work, we're ready to go to work, and we're ready to get results – which means working across the aisle in a bipartisan way.