U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., hopes that Congress will avoid another government shutdown as the deadline for a new budget agreement looms in the new year.

Legislators must enact the agreement by Jan. 15 in order to avoid a repeat of the government shutdown that occurred in October.

“I voted not to shut down the government and voted to reopen it, and I have yet to have anybody come up to me and say ‘I sure wish you had let the Great Smoky Mountains National Park stay closed another week.’ We can resolve our differences in other ways than shutting the government down. I hope we’ve learned that lesson.”

Alexander, a Blount County resident, stopped by The Daily Times offices on Tuesday to chat while he was home from Washington, D.C.

“You can still get some things done that are important but, unfortunately, the big things — getting the budget in order and getting spending under control — is not being done,” he said. “We’re going to have to have another election or two to change the leadership enough to do it.”

Getting things done in the Senate needs to start at the top, Alexander said. “We ought to replace the leadership. I think Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has become a major obstacle to the Senate working. He cuts off amendments. He cuts off debate.”

In November, the Democratic majority in the Senate exercised what has been called the “nuclear option” to limit the use of filibusters on executive branch appointments and judicial nomination for courts other than the Supreme Court.

“He (Reid) eliminated the ability of Sen. (Bob) Corker and me, the right of us to ask questions of President Obama’s nominees,” Alexander said. “We don’t need to change the Senate’s rules. If we can replace (Reid) by electing six more Republican senators, we can move the country in a different direction.”

The Senate could work fine if the leadership let it function, Alexander said, adding that the body is supposed to be a place where any senator can offer virtually any amendment and discuss it. He described Reid as “obstructionist-in-chief.”

The challenge for Congress is to find ways to reduce government spending on entitlements, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which is expected to grow by 70 percent or more during the next 10 years, Alexander said.

He and Corker have sponsored legislation that would cut entitlement spending by $1 trillion during the next decade. “Unfortunately, we’re the only two co-sponsors of it. That’s a tough nut to crack.”

Protecting park

The conversation also touched on local successes at preserving property through conservation easements by various property owners.

“We’ve basically got about 10,000 acres as a buffer zone to the Smokies between Chilhowee Mountain (and the park),” Alexander said. “We’ve been working on all that for about 35 years. That whole view of the Smokies as you go into Townsend will be protected.”

Asked what he thought about local efforts to develop ridgetop and hillside development regulations, Alexander said, “I always think it’s worth discussing, but I live by the one- governor-at-a-time rule. I’m not the governor. I’m not the county commission, either. That’s a local issue that Blount County officials ought to decide.”