published Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Political Notebook: Lamar Alexander says Congress must tackle Social Security, and more...

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., thinks it's time for Congress to take on one of the toughest political challenges -- paring the cost of Social Security.

With a new Congressional Budget Office analysis showing that Social Security is beginning to cost more than it collects in tax revenues, Alexander said it and other entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and many veterans and federal employee pension programs must be reformed to be more fiscally sustainable.

"It's very significant that this year, Social Security has more money going out than coming in," Alexander said. "And it's very significant that in the next 10 years, Social Security will add a half-trillion dollars to the deficit. Social Security would be a good place to start when dealing with these mandatory entitlement programs that are 57 percent of our budget."

TVA LABORERS GET PAY HIKE DESPITE FEDERAL FREEZE

The Tennessee Valley Authority announced in December it would join the federal employees' pay freeze recommended last year by President Barack Obama and approved by Congress in one of its final acts of 2010.

But TVA's willingness to join the three-year freeze didn't block implementation last month of negotiated pay adjustments for annual trades and labor employees ranging from 1.8 percent and 2.8 percent, effective Jan. 3, 2011. TVA spokesman Scott Brooks said giving the raises this year to the 4,500 employees represented by TVA Trades and Labor Council unions will cost the utility an extra $8.75 million.

TVA's fiscal 2011 budget included money for such raises, Brooks said.

"These adjustments were negotiated before the president announced the freeze on pay adjustments for federal civilian employees," he said.

Fleischmann says people want less government

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleisch-mann, R-Tenn., said in 12 days of meeting with constituents in Tennessee's 3rd Congressional District, he got a strong message:

"Please get the federal government out of our lives," Fleischmann said in a speech this week on the House floor.

The self-described conservative said "government regulations are putting a stranglehold on businesses" and need to be curtailed.

"We're destroying the respect for law and losing the respect and trust of those who sent us to this job," said Fleischmann, a member of the House Small Business Committee.

He co-sponsored a measure to repeal a piece of the health care reform law requiring businesses to issue IRS 1099 Forms to all vendors from which they buy $600 or more in goods or services in a year. The provision is scheduled to take effect next year.

TVA sells 10-year bonds at record low interest

For all the concern about the size of the federal debt, the biggest government utility sold $1.5 billion of bonds last week at the lowest rate ever for their type.

The Tennessee Valley Authority sold 10-year global power bonds at an interest rate of 3.875 percent. That's the lowest-ever rate for a TVA 10-year "bullet maturity" institutional bond offering.

Chief Financial Officer John Thomas said TVA took advantage of a low supply of high-quality bonds and the historically low interest-rate environment. Bonds were sold to insurance companies, money managers and others in the United States, Canada and Europe.

"This type of low-cost financing gives TVA the opportunity to provide more economical service to our customers," Thomas said.

The so-called "power" bonds -- a marketing name -- are rated AAA by all three credit-rating agencies, in part, because of the implied backing of the federal government in the utility's debt.

In September, TVA issued $1 billion worth of 50-year bonds at 4.625 percent, according to data provider Dealogic.

-- Compiled by Dave Flessner and Andy Sher. Contact Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6340 or Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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