Tennessee’s U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — have won top posts overseeing influential legislative committees. Alexander will lead the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and Corker the Foreign Relations Committee.
Both the Republican senators — who will travel with President Barack Obama aboard Air Force One to the Knoxville area Friday — will be working closer with an executive branch they’ve had a mixed relationship with.
Senate Republican leaders, including Corker, have indicated a willingness to compromise with the president if he, in their view, meets them in the middle. Alexander recently told the Knoxville News Sentinel his relationship with Obama was “cordial, courteous, proper and infrequent,” but he criticized the White House for seeming to “have no capacity for crafting a consensus.”
The 114th United State Congress convened Tuesday with the GOP firmly in control of both chambers after Senate Republicans gained nine seats in the November elections. Alexander and Corker both had seniority among the Republican members of their respective committees, and were heavily favored to be elected chairmen.
“Whether we are fixing No Child Left Behind, or reducing federal paperwork to make it easier for students to attend college, or making it simpler for medical treatments and cures to make their way through the Food and Drug Administration to patients who need the help,” no other Senate Committee impacts “the daily lives of more Americans” more than the HELP Committee, Alexander said in a press release.
This past fall, Alexander’s campaign indicated that should the Maryville Republican take over the committee, he intended to initially focus on “repairing the damage done by Obamacare, fixing the No Child Left Behind law — which has been overdue for reauthorization since 2008 — and reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.”
The former Volunteer State governor has already announced he’ll co-sponsor bipartisan legislation with the intent of changing the definition of “full time” employment from 30 hours per week—as it was established under Obamacare—to 40 hours per week, according to a press release.
Alexander indicated he intends to hold the “first committee hearing on health and labor this Congress to look at how this provision has made it harder for so many Americans to make a living.”
However, while Alexander has routinely characterized President Barack Obama’s signature law as harmful and has indicated his intention to fix the damage it’s caused, neither the senator nor his spokespeople have indicated how those intentions relate to the individual mandate — one of the law’s most controversial provisions, initially conceived of in the late 1980s by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
The individual mandate was held to be constitutional in a 5-4 ruling by the United State’s Supreme Court in 2012.
Alexander, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under George H.W. Bush, has also announced legislation to reduce the federal student aid form from 108 questions to two, as well as a push to overhaul the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind law.
Corker this week also issued a statement that shared his excitement at leading his committee “at a time when pragmatic U.S. leadership around the world matters more than ever to our nation’s security and prosperity”
Because of “limited resources” Congress would have to work hard to ensure American tax dollars are “used efficiently in advancing U.S. interests,” Corker said. To that end, he vowed the committee would “begin conducting immediately a thorough review of all State Department programs and practices, with the goal of passing a responsible reauthorization of the department,” which hadn’t been done by Congress in 13 years.
“We must also do a better job of explaining how strategic U.S. engagement overseas improves our economy and makes us safer here at home,” he added.
In December, Obama’s signed legislation co-sponsored by Corker to authorize more sanctions on Russia and military aid to Ukraine in the Eurasian conflict that flared up last spring, a decision the Tennessee senator praised.
Corker announced last week on “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans in Congress are willing to work with the president on many issues — including changes to the Iranian nuclear program deal and sending ground troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS — but Obama first has to present them with some credible plans. To that end, Corker has begun to meet with military and executive branch officials to discuss the wording of an authorization for military force in Iraq.
The new Foreign Relations chairman also acknowledged this week that the 53-year-old embargo of Cuba had not “yielded the result we had hoped it would yield,” and there would be “some robust hearings” on the matter. Obama recently announced his decision to normalize relations with the Communist-led Caribbean nation.
However, the former Chattanooga mayor was more critical of the Obama administration’s recent decision to “reduce annual insurance premiums for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration,” which he called “bad news for taxpayers.”
Additionally, Corker has said he is working on legislation that would give Congress some say before the president can finalize any agreement with Iran over their nuclear program,
In late October, Corker visited Tennessee with Alexander for a series of roundtable discussions on Ebola preparedness, where Tennessee’s junior senator indicated he felt the U.S. military was “the entity in our country that best responds to things like” the Ebola crisis.