Alexander: Senate Dems block bill that would have aided economy

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 8 — Setting what U.S. Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.) called a “dangerous precedent” for the Senate, Senate Democrats on Oct. 8 blocked debate on the bipartisan Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill.

On the floor Thursday he said, “You don’t start the process at the beginning and not even let the whole Senate go through the process. This is a very bad precedent and it really insults the Senate. … That’s not the way we are supposed to do our jobs. We are sent here to work on behalf of the people. I would say to my friends on the other side, if you want to have a say about nuclear waste, about national defense, about national laboratories, about flood control, about waterways, about locks, about dams, then vote ‘yes,’ because that will give each of you a say, and you will be doing your job.”

He continued, “To vote ‘no’ sets a dangerous precedent for the Senate that says we are not interested in doing what taxpayers elected us to do.”

Senate Democrats’ filibuster prevented the Senate from beginning debate on the bill, which Alexander said effectively blocked 70 senators who aren’t on the 30-member appropriations committee from having any say on federal spending.

The bill is among the most bipartisan of the 12 funding bills. It was approved by the Energy and Water Development subcommittee, which Alexander leads, and reported out of the full Appropriations Committee with a 26-4 vote.

Funding in the bill totals $35.4 billion, which is $1.2 billion above the FY2015 enacted level and $668 million below President Obama’s budget request.

Affected funding

The bill provides funding for the following programs and projects:

  • The Army Corps of Engineers’s restart on construction of Chickamauga Lock in fiscal year 2016. Funding of $29 million would be available because of the lock’s high position on the priority list of essential American waterways to be rebuilt.
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Science, which supports basic energy research and is the nation’s largest supporter of research in the physical sciences.It is funded at $5.144 billion, a record high.
  • Advanced computing, which supports the new Summit supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It is funded at $620.9 million within the Office of Science. A total of $1.24 billion is provided for advanced computing, including both the Office of Science and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
  • Exascale computing, which Alexander said is essential to national security and competitiveness in science and technology. It is funded at $222 million.
  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), which the America COMPETES Act created to invest in high-impact energy technologies. It is funded at $291 million.
  • Consolidated storage of nuclear waste. The legislation authorizes and funds a pilot program and also includes language that allows the Department of Energy to store nuclear waste at private facilities, such as those proposed in Texas and New Mexico.
  • Nuclear infrastructure at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, including hot cells and isotope production facilities. Many of the isotopes produced at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are not available anywhere else in the world, and are necessary to support medical treatments, oil and gas exploration, and deep-space satellites, among other priorities.
  • The Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex. (It is funded at $430 million, which will continue to keep this project on time and on budget.
  • Continued development of Small Modular Reactors, which Alexander said will give utilities and the military the ability to generate clean energy in new ways. The bill provides $62.5 million in funding.
  • A new mercury treatment facility in Oak Ridge, as well as cleanup of nuclear facilities that are no longer in service.

Funding cuts

The bill also cuts funding for several wasteful programs at the Depart-ment of Energy, including eliminating $150 million for the International Thermonuclear Experi-mental Reactor in France, as well as reducing funding for wind programs by more than $100 million compared to President Obama’s budget request.

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) may be reached via his website’s contact page at