By Owen Daugherty, NASFAA Staff Reporter
Outgoing Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) used his farewell speech on the Senate floor Wednesday to speak to the importance of the chamber and its role in crafting and passing legislation, a practice he says has unfortunately diminished over recent years.
Alexander, a three-term senator and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee, touted his own bipartisan work on a variety of issues, including a few related to higher education.
"Our country needs a United States Senate to work across party lines to force broad agreements on hard issues, creating laws that most of us have voted for and that a diverse country will accept,” Alexander said.
Alexander said throughout his time in the Senate he has done his best to “leave footprints that I hope were good for the country,” citing his work to tie student loan interest rates to market rates, and working with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the committee, in updating No Child Left Behind, among other issues he worked on.
He praised both his Republican and Democratic colleagues and spoke fondly of his bipartisan efforts to simplify the FAFSA, including the bipartisan FAFSA Simplification Act — which NASFAA supports — and his work to secure permanent funding for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) through the Fostering Undergraduate Talent by Unlocking Resources for Education (FUTURE) Act.
But he also used the address to defend the filibuster and critique some of his colleagues, comparing the Senate to a singer joining the Grand Ole Opry and not being allowed to sing, lamenting the “waste of talent” taking place in the chamber.
Underscoring his career of bipartisan work was praise from both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who became visibly emotional when introducing Alexander, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who said “he's someone who has been always willing and insistent on reaching across the aisle."
Alexander is “leaving this body and those of us in it, and the nation it exists to serve, stronger and better because you were here,” McConnell said.
His career as a college president and governor of Tennessee before joining the Senate afforded Alexander the ability to tackle complex issues related to education and pass several major pieces of legislation.
In a moment rarely seen on the Senate floor these days, Alexander’s remarks were met with a standing ovation from both sides of the aisle.
Publication Date: 12/3/2020