Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on “Bipartisan Agreement on an Economic Growth Plan”

Posted on February 8, 2008

There is one message we senators hear consistently from our constituents: they would like for us to change the way we do business in Washington. They would like for us to come and focus our attention on big problems that affect everyday Americans – from helping each American have health care insurance, to keeping our jobs from going overseas, to the $3 price of gasoline – and work together in a principled way to solve them. They do not mind our having big debates on big issues. What they do not like is the “playpen” politics, when we bring out the charts and hire the campaign strategists and start acting like we’re in kindergarten or a political campaign. I am pleased to say that passing the economic stimulus package like the Senate did this week in a bipartisan manner was a good way to begin the legislative year. And the President and the House of Representatives deserve great credit for first agreeing quickly on a timely, targeted proposal to help our economy move along. The President and the House made their stimulus plan temporary, to limit its impact on the budget, and they sent it to us in the Senate. I am very proud of the Senate. But I do not think it is such a bad idea, every now and then, to concede that even President Bush and the House of Representatives are not wrong all the time. They actually sent us an excellent package and gave us a good start. What we did in the Senate is essentially accept the House package while improving on it in a couple of important ways. The Senate passed an amendment, which I cosponsored, to improve the House-passed stimulus package by: * Allowing seniors, disabled veterans and widows of disabled veterans to qualify for the rebate checks by counting their benefit payments as income. * Closing a loophole in the House bill that could allow illegal aliens to receive rebate checks. After the Senate gave final approval to this improved stimulus package, the House passed it the same day and sent it to the President for his signature. Thanks to this legislation, more than 130 million households will get tax rebate checks by late spring or early summer. Most taxpayers will get rebate checks of $600 (for individuals) or $1,200 (for married couples filing jointly), with an additional $300 for each child under 17. The economic growth plan also provides tax incentives for small businesses and other employers, to allow them to expand and hire more workers. So this will help taxpayers keep more of their own money, help small businesses create jobs, and help spur consumer spending and business investment that will stimulate our economy. Before reaching this good result, we had a disagreement in the Senate on what should be in the growth package. The Democratic majority wanted to include a number of proposals that many of us felt amounted to an excuse to spend, rather than economic stimulus. So we had a vigorous debate before voting those down and reaching a bipartisan compromise on the final package. A number of us on the Republican side of the aisle had some things we also would have liked to add to any bill to help stimulate the economy, such as giving a tax credit to those who buy foreclosed homes. We also would have liked to include funding for provisions in the America COMPETES Act of 2007, which Democrats and Republicans passed together to preserve our brainpower advantage and keep our jobs from going overseas. But we agreed to set those aside for now, so that Congress could move promptly to give a boost to the economy instead of dragging out partisan bickering on the Senate floor. I commend members of Congress from both parties and both chambers who worked hard on this legislation. Senators should be ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work. There is no excuse for Congress to take the year off just because it is a presidential election year when so many important things remain to be done. This is what the American people expect of us and passing an economic stimulus package like the Senate did this week is a good start. ###