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Public Statements

Middle Class Tax Cut--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, the Senator from Washington said Republicans often change the subject. That is exactly what we intend to do. We intend to change the subject from raising taxes to creating jobs.

In terms of taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office report recently released--this is hard to believe. You have to go back and read it again, but 20 percent of Americans who pay individual taxes pay 94 percent of all the taxes. Twenty percent of Americans pay 94 percent of the taxes. The President and his allies are about the only ones in the country right now who are going out across the country and saying: The way to solve this 5 years of recession and the bad economy we have experienced is to raise taxes on the people who create millions of jobs. That is their argument, that the way to deal with the bad economy we are in is to raise taxes on the people who create millions of jobs.

We do not believe that. We are prepared to keep the tax rates where they are while we deal with what we need to deal with, which is the fiscal cliff that the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board talks about, where he says, if we do not deal with it at the end of the year, we will produce, according to the Congressional Budget Office as well, a recession in the first 6 months of 2013, which means more loss of jobs.

So the subject we are here to talk about this morning is how to avoid that. The question we are going ask is, why not bring up the appropriations bills and do our job under the Constitution to limit spending and get a head start on the business of putting the fiscal problems we have behind us. Nothing could create jobs more rapidly than for us to bring Washington into some solvency, create some certainty. People have said: We are not going to invest, we are not going to hire until we can see whether Congress can act.

As far as the appropriations bills, here are the basics: We have 12 of them that we are supposed to pass every year. A bipartisan group of us went to the floor a few months ago and praised the majority leader and the Republican leader for their agreement to try to bring them to the floor and pass them. That has only happened twice in 12 years. So we worked hard to do that. Nine of the 12 appropriations bills are ready for the Senate to consider. In other words, they have been all the way through the committee process. They are ready for the Senate to consider.

Only the majority leader can bring them to the floor. Yet he said 2 weeks ago suddenly: No appropriations bills this year. That is 38 percent of the budget. That is more than $1 trillion. That is our job to do. It is the way we control spending. Yet we are not even going to deal with it. So this morning we are going to talk about the consequences of that and hope the majority leader will change his mind and bring these bills to the floor.

The House is doing its job. The House has acted on eleven of their 12 bills and the House has passed 7. While they may be at a different overall spending level than we are, we have a well-established procedure for dealing with that called the conference, which is the way we normally deal with differences between the two Houses.

So suddenly we are saying, no budget, no appropriations bills. That is why we are on the floor today. I wish to begin by asking the Senator from Georgia, who is a former leader of the Republicans in the Georgia legislature, who has been here for a number of years, and who has been one of the leaders in this body of working across party lines to try to cause the Senate to do its job, whether he can think of a good reason why we should not be dealing with appropriations bills this year.

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Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Senator from Georgia for his clear statement about solving the appropriations problems, solving the fiscal problems, creating an environment in which the private sector in this country is willing to create more jobs, and how failing to do that, in the words of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, would be ``destructive.'' In the estimate of the Congressional Budget Office, it would create a recession in the first 6 months of 2013.

The Senator from Missouri is the former No. 2 leader in the House of Representatives and now he is a part of the Senate Republican leadership, so he has some special knowledge about how the two Houses work together.

The majority leader gave as his reason why he could not bring up the appropriations bill, one, that it did not fit the Budget Control Act. Well, the Budget Control Act, which we passed, I voted for it, set a limit on appropriations, and the Senate is marking up its bills to that number. The House is marking up to a number a little below. The majority leader said: Well, they are at one number, the Senate is at another number, so we will not do anything.

I would ask the Senator from Missouri, I thought it was a pretty normal procedure for the House of Representatives to do what it thought it ought to do, and the Senate to do what it thought it ought to do. There is something called a conference of the Senate and the House to work out the differences.

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Mr. ALEXANDER. Well, I can't imagine how that would be. In fact, this is such a breathtaking assertion by the majority leader, it is hard to grasp it.

Here we are in a fiscal mess. Everybody says that. They will say it is for a different reason on that side than we do, but everybody acknowledges it. Everybody acknowledges as well that while the rest of the world is in trouble, we are just in a little less trouble and we can get out of our trouble more easily than the rest of the world; that the single biggest decision about whether the United States deals with its fiscal crisis and gets the economy moving again is whether the President and the Congress can govern. That is what everyone says, and we know it is true. In other words, this isn't out of our hands. This isn't out of our control. In fact, it is within our hands. All we have to do is come to some agreement about how much money we can spend, reform the taxes, reduce the debt, control entitlement spending, and this country will take off like a rocket.

The retiring head of the World Bank last month told a briefing of about 35 Democratic and Republican Senators--all of whom are concerned about this, all of whom are committed to working on it--that people who are making decisions about whether to hire people or whether to invest more money in the United States have stopped. They have stopped because of the uncertainty. And what are they waiting on? They are waiting to see whether we can function. They are waiting to see whether we can govern. They have stopped to wait and see.

This is not an encouraging indication about whether the United States can govern. We had some encouragement earlier in the year. That is why several of us from both sides of the aisle came to the floor and complimented the majority leader, complimented the Republican leader, and said: We applaud your agreement to do the appropriations bills.

It says right here in the Constitution, Section 9 of Article I, that no money shall be drawn from the Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law. In other words, Article I--this is our job. People say I use the Grand Ole Opry as an analogy too often sometimes, but why would you join the Grand Ole Opry if you didn't want to sing? Appropriating money is what we do.

If the Senator doesn't like the Solyndra loan, then I am supposed to come up here and make that argument if I agree with that. If Senator Blunt has a flood problem out in Missouri, he can make the argument that he made last year: Put some more money in to take care of the flood victims; take some more money out of here to pay for it.

If we want less of this or more of that, the way we do that is by going through the appropriations process, coming to the floor, offering amendments, and representing the people who elected us and sent us here. What are we supposed to say when we go home and they say: We think there should be more money for the Center Hill Dam on the Caney Fork River or more money for the levees down along the Mississippi and there ought to be less money for loans like Solyndra. Are we supposed to say: Well, sorry, we are not in business in the Senate because the one person who can put an appropriations bill on the floor has announced suddenly that he is not going to do it.

It is not because we don't have time to do it. Look, we could be doing it today. I will bet we don't even have a vote today, much less debate something interesting. We have been wasting the entire month. We could have taken up almost every one--most of the nine appropriations bills that are ready to be enacted and put them on the floor to vote.

The Senator from Missouri is a part of the Republican leadership. He has that honor. There is a different way to run the Senate, and maybe that should be a major factor in the election this year. Maybe people would like to see the Senate work on the $1 trillion that is a part of the appropriations bills, bring amendments and bills to the floor in a bipartisan way, let Senators from every State vote on those, and vote them up or down. That would be one way to run the Senate.

And I wonder if that kind of discussion has been going on in the Republican leadership. If we were fortunate enough to have a majority and move a few desks from that side over to this side as a result of the election, how do you think Senator McConnell and the Republican leadership would conduct business in the Senate?

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Mr. ALEXANDER. If the Senator would yield, I have heard Senator McConnell, the Republican leader, speak both in our Republican caucus and in meetings with Democrats in committee and publicly. I believe he has made it absolutely clear that if he were fortunate enough to be the majority leader, that he would bring appropriations bills to the floor, that he would see that a large number of amendments from both sides of the aisle were offered, and that we would be working longer, working later, and getting more done.

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Mr. ALEXANDER. We are all good friends here. People sometimes talk about lack of civility in the Senate. The fact is the Senate is probably the most civil place in the United States. We are excessively nice to each other. We have disagreements, but we are nice to each other. But what is disappointing is that it is not functioning. The Senate is not functioning the way it is supposed to.

It would be as if the President announced: Well, I am not going to the office for a month or two; or if the Supreme Court said: Well, it has gotten to be February, and we think we will stop deciding cases and go home, we will go on vacation. What would the American people say? Well, that is what is happening here. And it is not that we don't have the time. We have it right now. We have it this minute that we could do be doing it.

What makes it especially disappointing is that earlier this year there was what I call an outbreak of good government. We had the majority leader and the Republican leader saying: Let's bring all the appropriations bills to the floor, and people on both sides were applauding them. And then we had some discussions, and lo and behold, suddenly we had bills coming to the floor that made a difference in the lives of Americans: the FAA bill, which is about airline safety, the farm bill, the highway bill, and the Postal Service bill. And thanks to suggestions by the Senator from Michigan, Mr. Levin, and others, we began to adopt an agreement: Let's allow all relevant amendments to the bill be considered. So we began to vote a lot. I think one bill had 73 amendments. And then there were even some amendments that weren't relevant.

It began to look like the time in the 1980s when Senators Byrd and Baker ran the Senate. Senator Byrd or Senator Baker would come to the floor and say: All right, here is a bill that is supported by the Democratic chairman and the ranking Republican, or vice versa. They put it on the floor, and they would ask for amendments. They might get 300, and then they would say: I ask unanimous consent to have no more amendments. And of course they would get it because everybody who wanted an amendment had offered one. Then they would start to vote, and the majority leader would say: OK, we are going to stay here until we finish. And they did. Now, it never was perfect. It is always a little messy. That is the way the Senate is. But they got a lot of work done. That is what makes this so disappointing.

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Mr. ALEXANDER. I would be happy to do that. Actually, Bob Zoellick, the retiring head of the World Bank, reported this story to 35 or 40 of us--both parties--to find out how to do what we are talking about, which is to deal with the fiscal cliff issues coming at the end of the year. He repeated Bob Carr, the new Foreign Minister in Australia, who said in a speech in Washington that the United States is one budget agreement away from reasserting its global preeminence.

All of us believe the United States is the preeminent country in the world. That statement comes from a great friend of the United States who wants us to succeed and who knows we can.

If we want to get our economy moving again and help the world get its economy moving again, the main thing we need to do is make this fiscal agreement, deal with the debt, deal with tax reform, deal with the payroll taxes, deal with the sequester, and deal with the appropriations bills. This is the single most important thing we can do to get our economy moving again instead of heading into a depression. He put it that way to reassert, establish, claim, renew--whatever adjective or verb we want to use. The way to maintain America's global preeminence is to get a budget agreement at the end of the year. We were off to such a promising start this year and now we slid backwards.

I will let the Senator from Missouri make the final remarks in the colloquy. It is my hope the majority leader will decide to use the rest of our time this week and next week to deal with appropriations bills, and then when we come back in September we could deal with more. It doesn't take long. Let's just put them on the Senate floor and get to work. We can agree on a reasonable number of amendments. We showed we could do that before, and the American people would appreciate us doing our job.

Remember, 9 of the 12 are ready to go. It affects 38 percent of the budget. That is more than $1 trillion in spending. That would be one more indication we are capable of governing ourselves, which is the single most important signal that those who invest and create jobs in America need to see and hear from Washington, DC.

I thank the Senator from Missouri for his leadership and for coming to the Senate floor.

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