CONTINUING EXTENSION ACT OF 2010


Thomas "Tom" A. Coburn M.D.U.S. Senator
[R] Oklahoma, United States

Length: 27 minutes, 36 seconds


« Previous Clip Next Clip »

View Congressional Record
Watch Full Session

Loading text...

Mr. COBURN. That is my amendment as well. Thank you.

Yesterday we defeated, by a vote of 51 to 46, actually smart financial management that would have paid for all the costs for the next 60 days for the unemployment insurance. What we were doing was utilizing money that we are already paying interest on that is sitting, not being used, by taking a portion of that to pay for this so that we don't go and borrow another $18.2 billion. The wisdom of the Senate said, no, we don't want to do that.

We are going to have today two other opportunities on a way to finance that. This amendment basically takes the agreed-to tax loophole, which we agreed to before we left for the spring work period, and adds to that half as much of the financial management money that I recommended we do yesterday and the amendment was defeated. So we have about $9.5 billion worth of tax loophole closures that we have already agreed to in this amendment and $20 billion, which will save $10 billion in terms of the way CBO scores it--it is ridiculous the way they score it, but in terms of the way they score it, we have to move $20 billion so we can save $10 billion.

The point is that we get an option: we can borrow another $18.2 billion to pay for this or we can take money we are already utilizing very inefficiently and pay for it. We are going to choose not to do it again, and we will probably get another 46 or 47 votes. But we are going to choose to transfer the cost of helping people today to our grandchildren because in my lifetime we are not going to pay back any of this money. We are going to be borrowing and paying interest on this $18.2 billion over the next 30 years. So the cost really isn't $18.2 billion; it is $18.2 billion times 6 percent, times 106, times 106, times 106. It will end up costing our kids $60 billion or $70 billion because we are going to refuse to pay for something we ought to be doing.

What we are also not going to do is make tough choices about priorities, as every family in this country has to do. We are going to refuse to do that. We are going to say we are going to keep the bad habit, the thing that got us $12.85 trillion in debt, the thing that got us $75 trillion in unfunded liabilities. We are going to continue that process. We are going to continue that process until such time that we can no longer borrow the money. That is what it seems like to me. In other words, only until we cannot go to the world markets and finance debt against our children's future are we not going to change the habits in the Senate or in the Congress.

Of every dollar we spend this year, 43 cents will be borrowed. What are the long-term consequences of that? Very plainly speaking, it is a lower standard of living for those who follow us, a marked decrease in opportunity, a loss of freedom, an inhibition in entrepreneurial spirit, and truly an unwinding of what was the gift that was given to us, which was this great opportunity and this great freedom.

We don't often make the connection between freedom and debt as a government, but we do personally because when we are highly in debt as individuals, our choices start to get limited. If you are in a business that has a high degree of debt, your choices are limited by those who loan you the money because they start getting involved in your decisionmaking process.

If you really look at our foreign policy today, that is happening to us with what we are trying to do in terms of sanctions on Iran. What are the two nations that own the most of our debt and are also least likely to agree with us on harsh sanctions for Iran? They are China and Russia. They are the No. 1 and No. 2 holders of our bonds. So we are giving up tremendous flexibility and freedom.

I put forward that if we cannot find $18.2 billion in our Federal Government as we run it today, which will spend over $4 trillion this year, none of us need to be here. We need a whole new 100 Senators if we cannot find $18.2 billion. But the institutional stodginess of always doing it the same old way is inhibiting us from creating a bright future for our children.

I won't detail the exact tax loophole closures we have, but we have agreed they can be utilized for this purpose--Senator Baucus, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, and myself--and they come to a total of $9.756 billion. To properly manage our money instead of having money sitting that has been appropriated but not obligated--and there is almost $900 billion sitting out there this year in the agency that is not utilized--to not utilize that money is foolhardy.

My hope is that my colleagues will consider at some point in the future that we have to start making harder choices.

I understand the bias against it. It eliminates somebody's control of power. But where should the power be in this country? Should it be in the Senate or should it be in the American people? Do the American people want us to pay for this? Absolutely. Five to one think anything we are doing new we ought to be paying for. Yet it is going to skid through here today, and we are going to add another $18.2 billion over the next 60 days that we do not have to, but we are going to choose specifically to do so.

I wish to leave with one last point on this amendment. When we say there is nothing else that we can eliminate in the Federal Government to pay for this legislation, what we are saying is all the waste, all the fraud, all the duplication is more important than helping people with unemployment insurance. If it was less important, we would eliminate it and pay for the unemployment. But by not paying for it, by not making the choice to pay for it, what we have said is we have elevated everything else above this as a priority. We refuse to do what every other business, what every other family, what every other organization, except the Federal Government, has to do; that is, make tough choices.

In my State of Oklahoma, the legislature and the Governor right now are making tough choices. They are going to cut several hundred million dollars from our budget. I promise you, they are going to look at what is least important so they can continue to fund what is most important. We will have none of it. We have demonstrated none of it. We lack the character and courage to do what is best for the future.

AMENDMENT NO. 3727 Now let me talk about amendment No. 3727, which is, again, another opportunity, another way to pay for this good thing we want to do. It also has two components.

The first component utilizes the agreed-to closure of tax loopholes of [Page: S2342] $9.7 billion. But then it gives us a real chance to do some real good things to eliminate spending that is low priority.

There are 14 spending provisions that I propose eliminating in this amendment. Many have been endorsed by President Obama and President Bush and, before him, President Clinton. In the past 3 months, the President has endorsed five of these offsets, the House passed four of them, and the Senate passed one identical to one section in section 203.

What is the first one? According to the Government Accountability Office, we paid out $1.1 billion to dead farmers. That is over the last 7-year period. Forty percent of those payments were people who had been dead more than 3 years. Most people in America would say: Maybe you ought to eliminate that. Maybe farmers who have been dead for more than 3 years should not continue to get payments from the government. It will save us $1.1 billion over 10 years if we hold the Department of Agriculture accountable to not continue to make payments to people who are not deserving of them.

We recently passed a Feingold amendment to the FAA bill that rescinds any DOT earmarks that remain 90 percent or more unobligated after 9 years of being appropriated, with the possibility of holding funds one more year for earmarks the agency head believes will be funded within the following 12 months.

The only difference between what we passed and this amendment is that this section applies to all agencies, not just the Department of Transportation. The Secretary of the Department of Transportation endorsed the Feingold amendment.

If it works for the Department of Transportation, why would we not do that everywhere on earmarks? It is $500 million in savings immediately. We cannot quantify through the CBO what it will be in the future, but it will probably be at least that every year.

Another section is the President's request to eliminate a duplicative bus grant program. This would repeal the Inner-City Bus Security Grant Program. President Obama recommended this $12 million program be eliminated because the grant awards are not based on risk and it is duplicative of the Public Rail Transit Security Grant Program that is already out there and much less important than any other homeland security priorities. It saves us $120 million.

In other words, the President does not want it, the Department of Transportation does not want it, but somebody who is getting that grant somewhere is going to say: No, we cannot do that, even though there is a duplicative program already in place to take care of it.

Section 235 of this amendment would repeal the Resource Conservation Development Program. President Obama recommended this $51 million program be eliminated because it has outlived its need for Federal support. It was first begun in 1962 as a temporary program. It was intended to build community leadership skills through the establishment of RC&D councils that would access Federal, State, and local funding sources. These councils are now up and running--secure funding with continued operation without any money coming from RC&D. It saves $510 million. Why would we continue to spend the money? The President, the leader of our country, agrees with it. It has been voted on several times. But it will be voted against today because somebody somewhere is still sucking off this in a way that is not efficient and is not a priority for the country.

Section 236 would repeal the Brownfields Economic Development Initiative. President Obama recommended this program be eliminated because it is duplicative of a larger, more efficient Federal program, and local governments have access to many other public and private funds that address the same purposes.

This was designed to assist cities with redevelopment of abandoned, idle, and underused industrial and commercial facilities where expansion and redevelopment is burdened by real potential environmental contamination. They eliminated almost all of those, and we have a better program now taking care of it, which goes back to the habits of Congress. We create new programs to address the need of what some may think the present program is not doing rather than change the present program.

Here the administration, as well as the Bush administration, agreed we should eliminate that program. That is $180 million over 10 years.

Section 237: This provision would repeal water and wastewater treatment projects administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. President Obama recommended eliminating these projects. They are duplicative, and they are outside the scope of the Corps of Engineers. That is what private civil engineering firms do. They plan, build, and organize these events. The Corps of Engineers has stated they do not have the expertise to do these projects, which the Environmental Protection Agency normally funds through other grants in the Revolving Fund Loan Program.

Since these programs were first funded in 1992, they have been exclusively funded through earmarks. In other words, somebody put something special in for one city or one place through an earmark. It may not be the highest priority for the country. It may very well just be a priority for the State, but it has been exclusively funded through earmarks, special interests, lobby-generated earmarks. It saves $1.29 billion over 10 years.

Section 238: This provision would repeal the Rail Line Relocation Program. President Obama has twice recommended eliminating this program because it is not merit based--in other words, if you are well connected, you get it, but if you have a real need and somebody else has a lower need, you are not going to get it--and it duplicates other Federal programs that are larger and that are merit based.

The grant program is primarily earmarked, again; 75 percent of it gets earmarked every year. What happens is the administrators of the grants do not get the grants based on need and merit because a Senator has already said it will go here instead of into a pool of the greatest need. Again, duplicating an existing program that is more efficient, that is based on merit. It is a slush pot of money for earmarks.

We will hear lots of complaints about eliminating that program, even though the administration wants to get rid of it as well. Savings: $340 million.

Section 239: Enacting rescissions offered and passed by the House leadership. This would rescind $112 million from a Commerce Department program designed to provide coupons to households to help people buy analog-to-digital converter boxes. This has been used. The program is not going anywhere because everybody has converted. Why should we continue to put money out to a program that nobody is going to utilize? That money was used for an offset for a summer job youth program already this year but did not come here. Estimated savings: $115 million.

Section 241: Enacting the USDA nutrition rescissions amendments offered and passed by the House leadership. This would rescind almost $362 million of unobligated reserved stimulus funds for the WIC Program. This offset was selected because it was identified by the House appropriators and they unanimously voted to use these funds to offset another program.

It is obviously a low priority. It is a reserve fund. It has not been utilized. It is sitting there, and we need to eliminate it rather than borrow the money.

There are three or four other sections. There is a next-to-final section on Federal real property disposal. We have 21,000 buildings we own that we do not use, but yet we do not have a clear way to allow government agencies to dispose of property.

Last year, on these 21,000 buildings that we cannot get rid of because we have created a block to do so, we spent $8 billion maintaining them, even though we are not using them. We could sell those, we could give them to the States, we could do a lot of things that would immediately save us $8 billion. But if we sold them and we saved $8 billion a year, over the next 10 years that is $80 billion, not counting anything we might get for selling them. We might have some costs associated with razing some of them.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, 46,745 buildings that are underutilized with a total value of the ones we should be selling are worth $83 billion. We are going to hear people [Page: S2343] say: You can't do that; you can't sell those buildings. Why? Why would we borrow money when we could sell buildings we are not using for $83 billion? Almost enough in properties that we do not need and are having to maintain to pay for this entire bill. The estimated savings this year alone from starting this would be $4 billion--just from starting it--that process would save us at least $4 billion this year.

Section 244: What we know is, at least 28 Federal programs, totaling over $9 billion, support job training and employment. Eighteen of these programs fall under the Labor Department's jurisdiction, and the agency spends $130 million administering its training and employment programs. We have 18 programs rather than 1. We are spending $130 million just to manage them--this is just inside the Department of Labor--rather than have one job training program with one set of administrators and not duplicating that administrative cost all the way across the board. Savings is probably $100 million to $130 million annually.

There is well in excess of $22 billion to $24 billion in this second amendment--No. 3727.

So the question becomes this, if we continue down this road: Fair to our kids, fair to us because the Senate refuses to act responsibly? Oh, I have heard the harsh rhetoric: You don't care about people who are unemployed because you think we ought to pay for it. You know, I think there are two sets of people we ought to be caring for. I think we should be caring for the unemployed, making sure they have sustenance and their needs fulfilled, as long as they qualify. But I think we should care about those who are going to follow us, those who are going to have to pay back this $18.2 billion. Are they not both important, especially when we know we waste, through fraud and duplication, $300 billion a year in the Federal Government? I have just come up with $20 billion of it.

We have enough fraud, waste, and duplication in the Federal Government to pay for this the whole rest of the year, to pay for the war supplemental that is getting ready to come, without borrowing another penny against the backs and future opportunities and freedom of our children.

I am pretty cynical about whether we are ever going to do that. I think the American people will have to change who is here before we will ever get to the point where we are going to make the hard choices that families have to make. But I think that is a fight worth having to protect our future. I think it is a fight worth having for my grandkids and everybody else's grandkids.

I was born in 1948, right after the end of the war, and we had the highest debt ratio we have ever had in this country. But because we had a limited government, what happened was we moved greatly and expanded both growth opportunity, innovation, and wealth through the hard work and great character and spirit of the American people, and we handled that. We can do that again. But we can't do it if we don't have the leadership that is necessary to do it. We have to start sometime to start paying for what we are doing. We have to start making choices. That is a rare occasion in Washington, but it is one I sense the American people are going to start demanding.

I have been working at this for 5 1/2 years, or almost 5 1/2 years. I have not made much progress other than to make sure the American people are informed of the absolutely atrocious amount of stupidity, waste, and duplication that goes on here. It is time we act. And since the majority controls the outcome, and they will let a few Senators vote for these amendments, we will get a high number of them, but not enough to make a difference.

So the question we ought to be asking is, What is so wrong with trying to pay for what we are doing? Well, we have always done it as an emergency. We have always charged it to our kids. Well, we haven't always been $12.8 trillion in debt. We haven't always been to the point that in 2010 we are going to have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 percent, which means we are going to have about $20 trillion in debt, and that is going to suppress and depress our economy by 2 percentage points in terms of growth.

We have never been here before in terms of the risk to our economy.

I see the chairman of the Finance Committee here, and I will close by saying we are going to start doing this. The question is when. The question is, Should we be doing it when we are in control or when the bankers outside of America are in control--the sovereign nations outside who will tell us how we do it and what we can't do, just like what is happening in Greece today. The leadership in Greece is making decisions not because they want to but because they have to. They are not necessarily nice choices for the people of Greece. That can and will happen to us if we don't change.

I yield the floor.

Loading...