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Public Statements

Department of Interior, Enviornment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the Senate is embarking on the appropriations process for the year 2006. I think it is important that we start this process by looking at where we are. What concerns me greatly is the fact that we are less than honest with the American people about where we really are today. In fact, if you talk to the General Accounting Office, if you talk to economists worldwide, if you talk to economists here, we are on an unsustainable course in terms of our fiscal discipline.

This chart shows the real numbers for the next few years in terms of what the deficit is. Washington is notorious about fudging the numbers in terms of our obligations. The deficits that are listed coming forward through the next 5 years include the off-budget deficit but also the money we are stealing from Social Security, as well as the money we are stealing from other trust funds, which brings us to a true deficit this year that is going to be about $541 billion. If we divide that $541 billion in deficit by 300 million Americans, and we have less than that, it comes very close to $2,000 per man, woman, and child that we are spending for money we don't have.

The appropriation process, as well as the budget process, becomes important. In 2004, there were 131,000 taxpayers. Our population by next year is supposed to be somewhere around 300 million. The publicly held debt, not privately held, was almost $5 trillion. Based on individuals, the publicly held debt per man, woman, and child, is around $16,000. As we can see the course, by the year 2035, if we don't massively change the way this country operates, the individual publicly held debt will be in excess of $220,000 per man, woman, and child. If you divide that by taxpayers, the people who are paying taxes, it comes up to $470,000 per taxpayer.

This year, as a percent of all the Government is going to spend, 7.5 percent is for interest alone on the national debt. If we look at that portion of the debt that we have some control over, outside of Medicare and Social Security, that percentage of spending is 18.5 percent. In other words, $1 out of every $5 that the Government spends today is to be spent on interest, paying for things that we have spent before that we didn't have the money to pay for. So we are digging a hole deeper than we can imagine.

The first principle has to be honesty about where we are. Honestly, this year we are at $2,000 per man, woman, and child in spending money that we don't have, which means we are going to borrow it, which means we are going to pay interest on that. Then, next year, we are going to have $500 billion and then, sooner, the trend line is down, but it is not down fast enough for us to get out of the hole.

The reason I bring this up is the appropriations process is where we have a chance to do a small amount of good to bring this down faster. This first bill on Interior is a good bill in terms of what it spends compared to last year. But it is important that we bring up some provisions that are in the bill that if, in fact, we are in debt, if you personally find yourself in this kind of debt, 25 percent of the money you are going to spend you don't have and you are going to borrow it, would you be spending money on buying more land, building new reception centers, adding things that are not necessary for us to function?

I praise the authors of the bill in terms of keeping within the budget caps. They have done a good job of that. But I have some questions. For example, we are going to spend $162 million that we don't have to buy land--that is for the cost of the land--another $25 or $30 million to get that done, then another $25 or $30 million on that land every year hence forward to take care of it, let alone the fact that we are taking that land off the public tax rolls. We are diminishing the taxes that will go to the States from that land, and we are absorbing them. If we personalized this, would we be doing these types of things in a budget and financial situation in which we find ourselves borrowing 25 percent of our budget?

More importantly, what is the consequence if we continue to do so? The consequence is that our children and grandchildren end up with a standard of living far below ours. The heritage of our great country has been sacrifice by the generations before to create opportunities and prosperity for the generations that are coming. We are about to become the first generation of Americans to not leave that promise for the next generation.

David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, has written a book everybody ought to read. It is called ``Saving our Nation's Future.'' He outlines the unsustainable course this Nation is on in terms of our spending. Quite frankly, we don't seem to have the discipline, No. 1, to recognize the gravity of the situation in which we find ourselves, the fact that we are going to lay on our children a debt from which they cannot get out.

This is what we can control. This doesn't talk about the unfunded liabilities associated with Social Security, which are rising $700 billion a year, and yet we are not doing anything to fix; the unfunded liability of over $35 trillion with Medicare which we are doing nothing to fix, the $8 to $10 trillion cost of Medicare D, a brand new benefit that we don't have any resources to pay for except by stealing it from the future of our children. We fail to grasp the gravity of the situation and the long-term consequences of our inaction today.

I will be offering several amendments over the next 2 days that the Senate is in session, not from a critical point of view but from a commonsense point of view. We have $92 million sitting in accounts now to buy land. We are going to make a decision to add another $160 million, while we borrow $541 billion and charge to it our children? We are worse than any credit card addict ever was. There are no consequences for us. We pay no consequences. But the children and the grandchildren are going to pay a severe price for our lack of fiscal discipline, our lack of long-term vision about what our actions are today.

If we had to, there is no question, across every appropriations bill we have, we could find 10 or 12 or 15 percent that is not absolutely necessary to be spent. The contrast isn't about whether or not we spend the money. It is about where the money comes from and who is paying for it.

Of all the issues the Senate will discuss--we will talk about all sorts of social issues, and we will talk about the ethics of it and the morals of it--none of them compares to the immorality of putting our children and grandchildren in debtor's prison. That is what we are doing. We need to be talking individually about things that don't have to get done today, that can be deferred for the future, and saving that money today so that we don't compound the debt for our children.

Mr. DORGAN. I wonder if the Senator will yield for a question.

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to yield.

Mr. DORGAN. First of all, the chart the Senator uses about deficits and accumulated debt, he describes something that is very real, that is a threat to this country's long-term economic future. There is no question about that. I have spoken about it with respect to both the fiscal policy of this country and our trade policy. Our trade policy has created the largest debt in the history of the country by far. I wanted to mention that the House of Representatives approved legislation for another $45 billion in an emergency supplemental. That comes on the heels of the $81 billion we approved. The Senate is going to approve the requested emergency supplemental because we are going to restore the funds that the Pentagon says they need to prosecute the war in Iraq.

But it is interesting, for the $81 billion that we just passed, $45 billion which now comes on the heels of that, not a penny of it is paid for. The administration keeps saying--and these are big numbers--we have to pay for that which we are doing, and we need to restore these accounts to the U.S. Army. All of us say, yes, we not going to send soldiers to do a job and not provide the funds necessary. But I ask the Senator: Does he agree with me that it is bizarre, to say the least, to send the soldiers to Iraq and then say: By the way, when we pay for all this, let's not ask anybody to pay taxes to do it. Let's just have these soldiers pay the debt when they come back.

It is unbelievable. There are spending cuts the Senator likely will propose that are meritorious. I think he has pointed out at the start of his presentation correctly, this appropriations bill cuts one-half of a billion dollars below the previous year's expenditure. But the big issue around here is the massive amount of money being requested on an emergency basis so that it doesn't have to be paid for and it adds to the Federal debt. And then the soldiers can come home and help pay that. I believe that is unfair. I ask the Senator from Oklahoma to respond, from his perspective, about that.

Mr. COBURN. First of all, the $81-billion supplemental that this body passed, I had an amendment to cut $19 billion out of that because it is not going to be spent for the next 3 years. So there is no way you can call that an emergency. One amendment on limiting the expenditures on the embassy, we got 44 votes. Fifty-five people thought it was OK. The fact is, we are at war. We seem to forget that. In every war this country has ever had, the Congress trimmed discretionary spending massively to fund the war. We have decided we will not do that. We have decided we can continue. There is no question good work was done to cut a half-billion dollars out of this bill. The question the American people ought to be asking is, is everything that is in this bill necessary now in light of the fact that any money we spend we are going to charge to our grandchildren?

We are going to charge the unpaid interest over the next 30 years because we have no history of paying back our debts. So by the time you compound the interest costs of this $540 billion, now with some $40 billion on top of it $588 billion is the number it will become--what is the real cost?

The real cost is no college education for the generation 2 years from now, no homeownership 2 years from now, decreased investment in capital goods for productivity and scientific advancement, decreased investment in education and competition in the world. That is the cost. That is what will be the cost of our inaction to protect the future for our children by not trimming every absolute penny we need to spend from this bill.

The question should be: Can we cut more? Is it wrong for us not to cut more, in light of the fact that we are having to borrow? Whether we borrow it for this or for the war or we borrow it for interest, the fact is, we are borrowing it.

And 18 cents out of every dollar we are going to spend this year in discretionary is going to pay interest on our lack of fiscal discipline from the past. We ought to be about raising the level--we ought to be honest with the American people. They have no idea. They hear $350 billion, but it is not $350 billion; it is almost double that. Let's be honest about the real cost. Let's be honest about what the real problems are that will come, and they are going to come to our children and our grandchildren.

This body has a history, since it was first formed, of thinking in the long term, thinking about the next generation. Unfortunately, Congress as a whole has changed its direction of thinking too often to think about the next election, rather than the next generation. In every appropriations bill that comes before this body, I am going to be down here talking about the lack of our foresight in thinking about our children and our grandchildren.

Mr. DORGAN. Will the Senator yield?

Mr. COBURN. Yes.

Mr. DORGAN. First, I appreciate his generosity in yielding. It would be interesting for us to have a discussion at some point about the economy and fiscal policy. I think we are wildly off track. Maybe the Senator from Oklahoma and I agree on that point. I will make a couple of observations, if I might. No. 1, the Senator suggested that we have never paid down the debt. In the late 1990s, we had a fiscal policy that generated revenue by which we began to reduce the debt.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we did pay off some Treasury bills. But the way you know when we pay down our debt is to look at our total debt and whether it declined at the time we did that. It did not. The total debt of the country rose every year we were paying that off. We still had a deficit. We were stealing from trust funds such as the inland waterway trust funds--that is publicly held debt. We transferred that.

So the true debt of the country has not declined since 1972. Even though we were in a period of great times, we spent it all; we didn't pay it down. We actually spent it, and the actual debt of the country rose during the time when everybody in Washington said we were in surplus.

Mr. DORGAN. If the Senator will yield further.

Mr. COBURN. Yes.

Mr. DORGAN. Of course, the issue of whether our fiscal policy is different now than then is not at odds or not in question. At that point, I know the Federal Reserve Board and others, including the President, all talked about debt held by the public versus total debt. In fact, our fiscal policy at that point was dramatically different than it is now. We were headed in the right direction.

Let me make this point. It is, in my judgment, a service to the Congress for someone to look at every appropriations bill and say, where can we trim? Where can we get into a position of not spending money we should not be spending? That is a service to the Congress. I think it is important to understand that we cannot look at the mouse in the corner when a lion is at the door. We cut a half billion dollars out of this subcommittee from last year's spending. So those are real cuts. We could do that for 90 years, every single year, and at that point we will just meet the $45 billion that is coming our way in an emergency supplemental, none of which is paid for.

Do you understand what I am saying? This would be over $200 billion now sent to us by the administration, saying we have to increase these expenditures and we ask you to do it, Congress, but we are not going to pay for it. We will add it to the debt.

In addition to that, the highest priority, of course, is to eliminate a tax that doesn't exist--the death tax, the tax on inherited wealth, making the tax cuts permanent, which would benefit upper-income folks. Let's trim everything, but let's especially--and I will work with the Senator from Oklahoma on this--worry about the big ones. The big one that is coming--and I voted with the Senator on the embassy amendment--is the $45 billion. It is headed our way; it is a big deal. Should we be paying for that? Should the President suggest--as most have whenever we have been at war--that perhaps all of America, not just the soldiers, has some responsibility to contribute? But not under this circumstance. This President says no, no, give me an emergency designation so we can spend it and it doesn't count. It counts on the chart of the Senator from Oklahoma. It counts in terms of lost opportunity for our children and grandchildren.

This burden doesn't belong just to one political party. I agree. I am saying that, in my judgment, we are off track. This fiscal policy doesn't add up. And what is being requested of us by the President is to have all our soldiers sacrifice but none of us sacrifice.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, reclaiming my time----

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Chair feels compelled to state that yielding is for the purpose of a question, if the Senators would remember that.

Mr. COBURN. The important thing to remember--and there is some merit in the words of the Senator from North Dakota--is from 2000 to 2004, this body increased discretionary spending by 39 percent. We were not in a war as we did that. We increased discretionary spending across all accounts, in every appropriations bill in that period of time. We entered a recession. Did the spending decrease? No, it continued.

The tax cuts were meant to stimulate the economy. The fact is, there is no discipline. There will not be any great argument on the tax side with me. But there is no discipline within the body of Congress to trim spending. What was the Interior Appropriations bill in the year 2000? It was 35 percent less than it is today. Yet, we are proud that we take 1.7 percent away? It is a good accomplishment. It is almost unheard of in the last 15 years in Congress. But the fact is, it already grew almost 40 percent. So what we are doing is taking away from a much larger pie.

My point is that we do a disservice to this country if we fail to recognize we have an obligation to think long term, and a half billion dollar cut is a great start, but it is not near enough, as the Senator said. We need to cut across the board. Do you think we cannot find 10-percent savings in the Pentagon? We are holding oversight hearings. They spent a billion dollars on a travel system that should have cost $20 million.

There is no oversight with which to go after the waste, fraud, and abuse within the Federal Government. We are more interested in passing the next bill than doing the hard work of oversight to see where the waste, fraud, and abuse is. We are going to do that. We have a Federal financial management committee. We have an ATP program. It is nothing but corporate welfare. We are going to spend $120 million on that and we are going to give $120 million to GE, IBM, and Chrysler to do research they are going to do otherwise. Yet we cannot get anybody to help us cut that out. The House cuts it out, but this body won't cut it out.

The point is, there is a large need for the constituencies in this country to start holding us accountable for the spending increases. If the American public would go through this report language, they would be appalled that in a time of war we think it is fine to build new visitor centers all across this country. Remember, we are going to ask our grandchildren to pay for it--about four times what it actually costs. There has to be the start of some fiscal discipline that says we cannot afford to do that now, period. It is a good idea, but we cannot steal from our children anymore. And throughout this bill are multiple instances like that, which we could wait on. But we don't wait because the next election is more important than the next generation.

With that, I say to the American public we are going to be offering several amendments. I doubt they will pass. But their intent is to start making a beginning in trimming and getting us into line, where we need to be--not for us, not for our political future, but for the future of our children and grandchildren.

I admit to my friend from North Dakota that part of that--the tax policy--is important. But you cannot just look at one side of it. The stimulative policy of tax cuts was important to get this country out of recession. But while we were doing that, this body and the other body increased the discretionary spending in this country by 40 percent. And we cannot afford that. We cannot be proud, even though it is a good start. We should not be proud we cut a half billion dollars from this, when this whole thing was less than $20 billion in 2000. We could go through, if we wanted to care about our children and grandchildren, and cut 10 percent out of every agency. We don't have anybody here with courage who is willing to make the hard decisions to do that, because in the short run it hurts; in the long run, it is healthy.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the question I have for the Senator is, does that request not come from the Appropriations Committee?

Mr. DORGAN. Yes.

Mr. COBURN. Therefore, it comes to the floor, does it not, with the recommendation of the Appropriations Committee? So we are equal partners in asking for that money. It is not just the administration.

Mr. DORGAN. Absolutely. No question about that. And the control of Congress is of the same political party as the White House, and there is no interest in having a discussion about whether we should pay for that which we are spending in Iraq. The administration decided we are going to simply declare it an emergency, add it to the national debt, and let somebody else pay for it.

That doesn't happen in most wars. Usually, the leadership says here is why we have to spend this, and it is a national purpose. But we are going to ask the soldiers to represent the country and let's find a way to do it.

I will make this point. The Senator says we have some mutual responses. No question. On one of the early tranches of appropriations to replenish these accounts, there was a vote on the floor of the Senate to pay for some of it. But the Congress, as he knows, is not of a mind to do that, when the President says he doesn't want to. You can dramatically cut spending or increase some revenue. It would be interesting to see if the administration would be interested in sitting down with the Congress to talk about whether we even should pay for it because the administration thinks we should. It would be interesting if we had a sit-down discussion about how to pay for it.

I happen to think that would be useful for the country. I would like us to do that. I think this country has a fiscal policy that is dramatically off track. I don't diminish the tax side as much as my friend does. About two-thirds of the current deficit comes from reduced revenue. We are at a lower revenue of GDP than we have been for a long time. Most of that came from the tax cut, and most of it didn't benefit people that I represent, by the way. Making the rich richer doesn't benefit everybody. The President says extend all of the tax cuts, which is a substantial amount of money and lost resources, and let's repeal the death tax, which doesn't exist.

We should have a long discussion. I think our country deserves a fiscal policy grounded in fact and good thought about the future. My colleague from Oklahoma does a service by coming to the floor to talk about those red lines on that chart. I feel strongly about them, not just in fiscal policy but also trade policy. I hope at some point all of us could decide this is a crisis. There is an urgency here and we should work together on that basis.

If my colleague wishes me to yield further, I am happy to do that.

Mr. COBURN. Yes. If you took the whole cost of the war today, it is less than half of this. The whole cost of the war is less than half of this, thus far. The fact is, tax policy aside, we could even agree on it--there is no question that $1 out of every $3 is either wasted, inefficient, or defrauded in the Federal Government. That has been said by the Grace Commission and the Comptroller General of the country, in terms of us failing to do the oversight. So we can raise taxes, I believe, as a consequence of that. Would the Senator agree that if in fact we held the spending level--no increase in spending--and worked toward efficiency in the Federal agencies, could we not accomplish a great deal and still stimulate the economy?


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I am trying to think of how to phrase this as a question. First, I think my statement was on discretionary spending, not mandatory spending in terms of my relationship to an increase in spending. I would think the Senator would agree that if, in fact, we froze discretionary spending, we would drive efficiency, innovation, and productivity among all those agencies. I hope that he would agree with that.


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