(WDEF) U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) Thursday voted in favor of legislation that would fund the government for this current year, saying it would set base discretionary spending at a level lower than four years ago and take back Congress’s “constitutional role of overseeing spending and setting priorities.”
“I voted for this bill because it spends less on this part of the budget than the federal government did four years ago,” Alexander said. “And not passing it would mean turning over spending decisions to President Obama or putting the government on a path to another shutdown. Still, there is a crisis looming with the remainder of the federal budget because of runaway mandatory entitlement spending.”
The omnibus legislation sets base discretionary spending at $1.012 trillion for the current 2014 fiscal year. That amount is less than the $1.091 trillion that was enacted four years ago in fiscal year 2010, according to the House Appropriations Committee. Discretionary spending made up about 35 percent of the federal budget in 2013 and includes programs such as national defense, national parks and highways.
Mandatory spending, which is not controlled by appropriations legislation and includes entitlements programs, makes up about 60 percent of overall spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, mandatory spending is projected to increase nearly 80 percent over the next 10 years. Along with Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Alexander has introduced the Fiscal Sustainability Act, which would reduce the growth in entitlement spending by nearly $1 trillion over the next 10 years.
Included in the omnibus appropriations legislation is Energy and Water appropriations legislation that was written by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, of which Alexander is the lead Republican. Alexander cited examples of reductions in spending made under the Energy and Water legislation, as well as Tennessee priorities it would support. Alexander said, “The Energy and Water appropriations bill is a result of intensive oversight by the committee on projects in the budget.”
Alexander said the Energy and Water appropriations legislation provides intensive oversight of spending by:
•Cutting spending on wind – The legislation would provide $65 million less than President Obama requested in his budget for research on conventional wind projects, such as the production of turbines and other materials. Alexander said, “It’s time for the wind industry to begin standing on its own in the marketplace. Former Energy Secretary Stephen Chu testified in 2011 that wind energy is a ‘mature technology.’ ”
•Cutting waste in the Department of Energy – The legislation would cut $24 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s budget by closing its “energy-efficient buildings hub.” Alexander said, “The energy-efficient buildings hub wasn’t performing well and the department didn’t have a clear way to measure success, making the hub a waste of federal taxpayer dollars.”
•Requiring fiscal responsibility – The legislation would provide $16 million less than President Obama requested in his budget for the Uranium Processing Facility at Oak Ridge. The reduction was made by eliminating money for preliminary site preparation since design for the facility is changing. Alexander said, “My goal is to help make sure the Uranium Processing Facility remains on time and under budget.”
Alexander said the Energy and Water appropriations legislation would benefit Tennessee by:
•Supporting replacement of Chickamauga Lock – The legislation would free up $81 million in money that would have gone toward Olmsted Lock in Ohio, but will instead be available for inland navigation projects that could include Chickamauga Lock. The legislation would do so by changing the requirements of the Inland Waterways Trust Fund – which draws on fees that commercial users report and pay themselves – so that Olmsted Lock will only receive 25 percent of its money from the fund, instead of 50 percent.
Alexander said, “This is the first appropriations bill with our better funding formula that could help Chickamauga Lock, which is important for Chattanooga and all of East Tennessee because it affects commerce going up the Tennessee River. Replacing Chickamauga Lock would help ensure that 6.7 million tons of cargo can continue to move through the lock – keeping 100,000 heavy trucks off Interstate 75 and creating good jobs for Tennesseans in a competitive world.”
•Addressing mercury contamination at Oak Ridge – The legislation would provide $4.6 million for continued planning, engineering and construction of a water processing facility to help prevent further mercury contamination at Oak Ridge. Alexander said, “One of the biggest cleanup problems we have from building our nuclear weapons deterrent in the Cold War era is mercury contamination of waterways in Oak Ridge.”
•Improving waterways near Memphis – The legislation would provide $307 million for dredging and flood control-related work on the Mississippi River, including $1.8 million for dredging at Memphis Harbor McKellar Lake. Alexander said, “Keeping cargo moving out of Memphis Harbor is important to jobs in west Tennessee.”