TRANSPORTATION, TREASURY, THE JUDICIARY, HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2006
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Mr. COBURN. First of all, let me align my words with the words from the Senator from Missouri on the war on terror. He is absolutely right. This is a war for our survival. It is focused in three or four areas in the world today, but if we don't win, it will be in many more areas throughout the rest of the world.
The sacrifices are great for our men and women who are serving our country and those in ancillary roles, but that is what our country has been made of--of sacrifice to preserve freedom.
I wish to speak first before I offer some amendments to this bill about something that has been troubling me and the people from Oklahoma and many of the people across this country for a long time. The question is, Why should we be troubled? Because all change starts with a distant rumble, a rumble at the grassroots level, and if you stop and listen today, you will hear such a rumble right now. That rumble is the sound of hard-working Americans who are getting increasingly angry with out-of-control Government spending, waste, fraud, and abuse. It is the sound of growing disillusionment and frustration of the American people. It is the sense of increasing disgust about blatant overspending and our ability to make the tough choices people on budgets have to make each and every day, our inability to make priorities the No. 1 priority rather than spending our children and grandchildren's future. That is a rumble of frustration that is getting louder. In fact, I hear it right now. That is because I am listening for it. We should all listen for it. If we don't, the voters will decide the changes that will come. And I can't say that I blame them.
Politicians have been trying to buy reelection by sanctioning more and more spending for years. Since 2000, discretionary spending in this country outside of defense and outside of homeland security has grown by 33 percent, and that does not include any of the $400 billion in emergency designations that have been passed by the Congress and signed by this President. We have the very great prospect that the spending over the last 5 years and the next 3 years will be the greatest growth in Federal spending ever in our history in terms of percentage increase and speed and velocity of spending increases. And we will have made it possible when we should have been fighting it every step of the way.
I am not here to remind us about the Alaska bridge to nowhere, although I will have an amendment on that later, or the countless earmarks and pork projects that sail through this Chamber every year. Everybody knows about that. Many of them are great projects, they are needed, they are necessary. They just may not be in the best priority for our Nation at this time.
That is what I am hearing. What I am here to tell you is that the rumble against spending is getting louder. People are fed up. All across the country, Americans are rising up against Government overspending. They are tired of hearing about perpetual budget crises when tax revenues keep rising faster and faster. They are tired of the dishonesty of the budget process where we say we have a $320 billion deficit, and yet the debt to our children and grandchildren rises by $600 billion because everything is done in an emergency and does not follow the appropriations and budget process.
They know that for every dollar of increasing tax revenues, we have, both Republicans and Democrats, found a way to spend another $1.25. That is the crisis. It is a spending crisis. It is a lack of oversight crisis. It is a crisis of our will. Do we have the willpower to stop overspending, to make the hard choices about priorities that the American people expect of us? If we don't, the people certainly do. That is why there is a rumble building across this country. The people are tired of waiting for us to do the right thing. They know it will not happen, so they are working at the grassroots level to get the job done themselves.
People are working to change the rules in States all across this country. A group called Americans for Limited Government is one of the groups leading that charge. In my home State, they are working with the local group called Oklahomans in Action to put the stop overspending initiative on the ballot. There are similar efforts in the works in Nebraska, Nevada, Maine, Michigan, and dozens of other States. And committees full of outraged citizens are forming as we speak because of our inability to control the ever-growing appetite of the Federal Government and the State governments. The stop overspending initiative is simple but powerful. It puts a cap on how fast governments can grow. It holds the elected representatives accountable to the same budgeting standards that work in the real world, the standards that families, businesses, and individuals have to live by every day. And most importantly, the stop overspending initiative is a tool for American citizens to regain control of their State governments. I personally applaud this initiative.
In the coming year, millions of people in a dozen States will be using these initiatives to change the rules of their State government and to show their State representatives and State senators and assembly men and women who is really in charge. These groups are getting an incredible response, and the reason why is simple: The American people are absolutely furious at the waste, fraud, abuse, and out-of-control spending they see every day, not just here in Washington but in their own State government.
We need to wake up. I say let us change first. Let us find our will. No more low-priority projects in the face of half-trillion-dollar deficits, no more exorbitant bridges to nowhere. Speaking of bridges, that is where this Congress will be, on a bridge to nowhere if we do not gain control of ourselves. And if the voters finally rise up and reject us as the Congress that spends too much, we will have gotten what we deserve. You don't need to take my word for it. Just take a minute and listen to the voices of the people we represent. They are ready to rumble. They are getting louder. Are we listening?
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, this amendment has been voted on twice in the Senate. It has been accepted by two other subcommittee chairmen. It is a very simple amendment that the American people want. It says we ought to know what we are voting on. When a bill comes from the House, it has certain earmarks and special things in it. The Senate produces a bill based on that bill that goes to conference, and earmarks and additional things are placed in that bill as well as the House original earmarks.
It comes back out in a conference report for us to vote on, but there is no clarity to list in that conference report where the earmarks, the actual items that have been directed by Members of Congress, are going.They are in there. Can you dig them out? It takes about 4 days to dig them out.
This is a very simple amendment. All it says is we ought to know what we are voting on. It is not to say the earmarks are bad or good, it is to say they ought to be out there so we can discuss them. If somebody has an earmark, that Senator ought to be proud enough to stand up and defend it if there is criticism of it. It is about good government, about shining a light on government so we know in fact what we are voting on when we vote on a conference report on an appropriations bill.
I have been told by the chairman that this is probably acceptable. I await his response. At the last vote on this amendment it passed by 55 to 39 on the Agriculture appropriations bill. It was accepted by unanimous consent to the Military Construction bill, as well as the Department of Defense appropriations bill. This amendment has been endorsed by several outside groups, and it is included in ratings of Congress by the American Taxpayers Union.
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Mr. COBURN. I call up amendment No. 2087 and ask the pending amendment be set aside.
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SEC. 321. LIMITATION ON FUNDING FOR CONFERENCES.
Of the funds made available for the Department of Housing and Development under the heading ``Management and Administration, Salaries and Expenses'' in this title, not to exceed $3,000,000 shall be available for expenses related to conferences, including for conference programs, staff time, travel costs, and related expenses.
Mr. COBURN. Madam President, this is a very simple amendment. In the history of HUD, in 2001 they spent $3 million on conferencing. Last year they spent $13.9 million on conferences around the country.
I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the RECORD a table showing the dollar amounts spent on HUD conferences from 2002-2006.
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Mr. COBURN. I also note, with the advent of modern technology and video conferencing, 90 percent of these conferences could have occurred without travel costs, without hotel costs, without face-to-face meetings. In fact, we didn't use the technology available. We spent tons of money traveling around the country holding conferences, not necessarily that were bad in their content or their intent but which were wasteful in the way they were arranged. Also, I suggest that a 400-percent increase in conferences in one area, one agency of the Federal Government, shows that either they were doing a very poor job in 2001, or it is out of control.
This is a very simple, straightforward amendment. Before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck, 737,000 Americans were identified as being homeless as reported by HUD. Earlier this month, the Acting Director of FEMA told the Senate committee that between 400,000 and 600,000 displaced households in Louisiana and Mississippi alone will need long-term housing.
With the problems before us today, certainly we can use the latest technology and trim back the excessive growth in conferencing that is used by the Housing and Urban Development Department.
I urge the adoption of the amendment by unanimous consent.
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, in our country today we face the largest natural disaster we have ever seen. We have already allocated $62 billion for that--which we did not pay for. It is totally going to be paid for by our children and our grandchildren. We will not pay a penny of that.
We have a war going on for which we are going to have to provide additional supplemental spending, of which we will pay for none in terms of the supplemental, which debt we will transfer to our children.
This is probably a very worthwhile project, but this is about priorities. I think it is probably a great project. In the State of Washington alone there are 17,590 homeless people, and we are going to take money from Housing and Urban Development and we are going to build a sculpture park. I think that is not the right priority. It may be a good idea, but the priority is certainly out of line with what the fiscal needs are, and certainly out of line with the expectations of the American people on how we are spending their money.
A little background: The Seattle Art Museum just received a $300,000 grant from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. It is a well-established museum, well-funded, with good assets. The question is not whether we should be building a sculpture park. The question is, Is the time to do it today? In a time of war, in a time of deep, true budget crisis, $600 billion--that is what our real increase in Federal debt was ending September 30. It increased $600 billion--should we spend half a million dollars on a sculpture park? I think not. I think most Americans would say not. I think some people who are very closely aligned with this museum, the Seattle Art Museum, would agree with that, but I think the vast number of Americans would say now is not the time to do that.
I also remind our fellow Members that if you read the Constitution, there are great difficulties--regardless of what our history has been--justifying, looking at the Constitution and saying this is a role for the Federal Government. That rumble I spoke about--these are the types of things the American people see that we do not need to spend money on, when we are asking them and their children and their grandchildren to have a lower standard of living in the future because we are not responsible today.
It is probably a great project, but not now, not at this time, and not with Federal money. When we have so many people hurting in Mississippi, so many people hurting in Louisiana, so many people hurting in Alabama, we are going to take funds from them? That is where it is going to come from. It is going to come from them because we are going to spend more to pay for those problems that we are encountering in those three States from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and we are going to take it away and say we are going to charge it to our grandchildren.
We have a credit card going right now. We need to stand up and say certain things we cannot do right now. They are not bad ideas. It is just that now is not the time.
I ask unanimous consent this amendment be agreed to. If not, I ask for a vote on this amendment at the proper time.
One other thing I would like to say. Seattle, WA, is ranked No. 2 in the Nation for food insecurity. What is more important, feeding people and housing people, or building a sculpture park? It is hard to figure out how in the world we can say that is a more important priority and take a half million dollars out of HUD and spend it on something that is such a low priority.
With that, I yield the floor.
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I ask the Senator from Missouri a couple of questions.
Has he or any of his staff ever received requests from me for any earmark or any project whatsoever?
Mr. BOND. No.
Mr. COBURN. Has any other appropriations chairman ever received an appropriations request or earmark from me from any other area?
Mr. BOND. I have no knowledge.
Mr. COBURN. The answer to that is no.
The Senator said earlier to me privately that this is a battle about philosophy. I agree; it is. The oath we take has no mention of our State. The oath we take is to defend the Constitution and do what is in the best interests of the country as a whole. It is a philosophical difference.
I am somewhat hurt by the inference that I don't listen and I don't travel. I traveled 4,500 miles, I have done 67 townhall meetings, and the biggest criticism anybody ever has of me is that I work too much--not too little. I listen to the people of Oklahoma. The campaign promise I made to the people of Oklahoma who sent me here by a 12-point advantage was that I will bring nothing home to Oklahoma until the budget is balanced. That is the philosophy the American people are looking for. There is no priority if we continue to steal the future of our children.
I had no idea the Ponca City Indian Museum was in there. You will get an amendment quickly to get that out. I had no knowledge it was there. My senior Senator must have put that in there. I have no problems with the same standard being applied to Oklahoma as it is to everyone else.
This isn't a water treatment program. This is a sculpture park. All I am saying is it may be a good idea. There are hundreds of other things I would love to take the time to discuss on the Senate floor--and I will if you all insist on having a debate about every earmark in the appropriations bill. I will be happy to afford the Senator that courtesy, and we will spend a lot more time on appropriations bills. But what we need to talk about is the priorities in this country of how we get out of the financial mess we are in.
Mr. BOND. Will the Senator yield?
Mr. COBURN. I will be happy to yield in a moment.
I understand the importance of Senators directing the bureaucracy. The problem is the bureaucracy is too big. Instead of us doing the oversight we need to be doing to control the bureaucracy so they have a priority, we supersede it because we don't want to do the hard work of oversight, of holding them accountable. We need to be doing oversight. We need to be looking at every individual.
I will match my service as Senator, both for my constituency and my service in terms of my field representatives and the work they do. I will match my service in terms of traveling and listening in Oklahoma. I have been in every area of Oklahoma the first 9 months of this year--every area. I have missed four counties.
The implication that I don't listen, the implication that I don't work in my Senate position I take offense to. I will tell that to the Senator from Missouri. Nobody will outwork me in my job; nobody. I will do what is necessary to do what I believe the people of Oklahoma sent me here to do, which is to help turn around the ship that is going to drown our grandchildren financially.
We can try to relate the sculpture park to a water treatment plant, but everybody in the country knows there is no connection between those two. There are necessities of life, there are priorities, and actually the debate is about priorities. It is not about whether a Senator should be directing things. I haven't said don't direct anything. I said there are earmarks that should not be in this bill because they are not proper at a time when we have such financial difficulties. If we were in surplus, I wouldn't be here mentioning even one of these projects, not one. But we are not in surplus.
We can deny the fact that the true add to the debt was $.6 trillion--$600 billion. That is $2,000 per man, woman, and child this year that we added to their debt; $2,000 for every little baby I might deliver, or every grandmother I might care for.
To correct the Senator, I am an obstetrician but I am also an old-time GP. I care for Medicare, I care for little kids, I care for old people, nursing home people, and I listen. I tell you that when I practice medicine on Monday mornings before I come up here, I get an earful. What I am hearing is, shape up, start doing the priorities we want you to do. Make the tough decisions.
It is easy for me to earmark something in Oklahoma, isn't it? If I come to the Senator--maybe not after this discussion this morning, but normally--this may have something to do with the St. Louis Cardinals last night. I don't know. My condolences. They are the best team in baseball. I give my condolences to the Senator. I am sorry the Cardinals aren't there.
I hope that will impact his collegiality today as we go through all these amendments.
However, the American people expect Congress to start doing a better job about priorities. I didn't say anything about cutting out all community development block grants. I haven't said anything about that.
The amendments I will have today are very specific amendments. I try to run from the press. I am not trying to get in the press. What I am trying to do is start down a road that says if we want to be here and govern, we ought to start listening to the overall trend of the American people and our oath of office. What is that oath? That oath is to follow the Constitution and follow that Constitution to represent this country in its best long-term--not short-term, not for me to get reelected, but what is in the best long-term interest of our country.
How can anyone say today, with $600 billion added to our grandchildren in terms of debt, with a war going on, with Katrina going on, with a hurricane coming to Florida, that we ought to spend half a million building a sculpture park in Washington State? I can't see that anybody would agree to that. It is a wonderful idea, but not now. There are other ways to build this--contributions, State funds. There is a potential that this will still get built even if we do not send money, but that ought to be a priority the people of Washington State make, not that we make, to take the Federal taxpayer dollars from the rest of the country and say we are going to do that.
I yield to the Senator from Missouri.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I agree with the Senator that we ought to be involved in where the money is spent.
As a matter of fact, we ought to be so involved that we ought to write the bills much more specifically, all the way down to the job and the title. One of the things we do not do--we leave too much open to bureaucrats.
In contrast for a minute, I agree this will not reduce the spending. But $500,000 that is going to go for a sculpture park means $500,000 that will not go for a water treatment plant or will not go for housing for somebody who has a need for housing. It will not accomplish the positive benefits the HUD bill is designed to accomplish in the first place.
I thank the Senator from Missouri for his debate. I again request a vote on this amendment. I am willing to allow the Senator from Washington to debate this with me as well, and after that, I will suggest the absence of a quorum so we can discuss the other amendments.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, what we heard was a cultural difference. What we heard is: If you vote for this amendment, anything that you have in this bill may not be preserved in conference. Now think about that. I want the American people to hear that. If we tend to think that a sculpture park is not as high a priority as housing people who are homeless, and we vote to take that out, the threat has now been made that if you vote that way, then you will not be able to do something that may be a higher or lower priority.
I have the greatest respect for the Senator from Washington. I know she travels hard. I know she works well into the night to represent the constituency of the State of Washington.
This is a start to forcing us to make priorities. I am happy she is here to defend this. She believes it is more important than housing. I think that is fine. She does not believe the guidelines of the CDBG are appropriate to give the State of Washington what it needs.
But I believe it is important we start putting in front of the American people what we are doing. I believe, with a $600 billion addition to the debt for this last year alone--being passed on to our grandchildren--which is $2,000 per man, woman, and child, it is time we changed. There is nothing personal about it. There is nothing about anything intended toward the Senator from Washington. It is about a real assessment the American people need to know. Is this more important than housing the 17,590 people who are homeless in the State of Washington? That is the kind of priority I think we need to make.
The other thing I would say is, if we have a problem with the bureaucracy, we have all the power in the world to change that. We have the power right here to change that. So we can either change the bureaucracy so it reflects the views of the people of this country or we can go about it the wrong way and have to control it by taking a very small percentage of the budget. We get two bad results from that. We get poor priorities. And, No. 2, we are not doing our job in controlling the bureaucracy.
So I am prepared to ask that this amendment be set aside and continue with another amendment in a moment. But at this time, I suggest the absence of a quorum.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I call up amendment No. 2093 and ask that it be considered and read.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, again, this is not an amendment about this being a bad idea. I am sure this is a parking lot that is needed. The purpose of this amendment is to talk about priorities.
The number of homeless people in Nebraska is 3,268. This is an amendment that spends, I believe, $950,000 to build assets for a private museum that was started in 1931. Again, no doubt this is needed. In this time of $600 billion that we added this last year to our grandchildren's debt, in this time of war, in this time of hurricanes times two in the gulf and one coming to Florida again, the fact that we would spend close to $1 million on a parking facility instead of putting that to the area where we meet more human needs, to me, seems to be the wrong priority.
Fiscal year 2004 reports by the Joslyn Art Museum showed they had a net surplus that year alone of $1,998,000. They have assets of $66 million and working capital of $6.5 million.
The question I am raising with this amendment is, Is this the right priority at this time? It is not whether this is a legitimate effort on the part of those who are associated with the Joslyn Art Museum master plan in Omaha, NE, to expand. They spent $3.5 million purchasing an additional football field so they would have additional expansion. But at a time when we are at war, at a time when we have the greatest natural catastrophe that has ever hit this country, and at a time when we have fiscal deficits that are as far as we can see, and an oil crisis, an energy crisis affecting us, the question is whether this is the right place to spend our money.
I understand if this money is not spent on this, it will be spent on something else. And I know this does not cut the money from the overall appropriations bill. But there is a grant process for this. We control the grant process. We control the requirements for the grant process. We can, as a legislative body, direct that the grant process is open, competitive, and fair.
I reserve the remainder of my time.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have the greatest respect for my colleague from Nebraska. As a matter of fact, I am worried about his football team hurting the Oklahoma football team this year. But I will say, we view priorities differently. What about the priority of our grandchildren? I will say it again. This last year, through our leadership, $2,000 per man, woman, and child was added to the debt of this country. That is a loadstone around a 2-year-old child. Last year we added $1,700.
The reason for these amendments is to get us to start thinking about choosing priorities. The Senator from Nebraska was not here when I gave my opening statement. I am not trying to pick on Nebraska. I am trying to pick on our process. The fact is we can change every aspect of how the grant-writing process goes if we want to and we can make it work.
The reason we do not trust bureaucrats is we do not hold them accountable because we do not do the work we need to do to create the change in the bureaucracy. So first I would offer no personal offense to my friend from Nebraska. He does have my respect. But when a private institution is worth $66 million, has a cash working capital of $6.5 million and has $1.998 million in the bank, we are going to take a priority that says this money we are going to spend here rather than on something that has a better priority. That is all I am saying. I am not saying this is bad. I am saying there should be a better priority for our spending.
My hope is by going through this process we will all start looking. I believe this is a sincere effort on the part of the Senator from Nebraska to do what he thinks is great for Nebraska. My feeling is--and there is lots I would like to challenge in the spending that goes through our earmarks--and I have said before the Senator came on the floor, if we were in surplus I would not be talking about any of these. I think the difference is we are not. So when we direct programs for institutions that have the assets to pay for it themselves, our grandchildren do not get great value. That is my only point.
I yield back the remainder of my time.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to modify my EDI amendment to include the three projects, Washington, Nebraska, and Rhode Island.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
The amendment (No. 2093), as modified, is as follows:
At the appropriate place insert the following:
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will spend a few moments talking about the last of these three that are going to be considered. This is another project where we are spending $200,000 for the construction of an animal shelter when we cannot even shelter the people properly in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.
Now, $200,000 could go a long way to provide temporary housing right now for the people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. This is $200,000 toward a $2.2 million facility to house 120 cats and 45 dogs, with a dog obedience school and classroom settings for youth.
If one looks at HUD's Web site, the mission is to increase homeownership, support community development, and increase access to affordable housing free from discrimination. It does not say anything about animals in it and, at best, it is a satirical exaggeration of the goal.
This funding has been proposed for this organization despite the fact that this is a 501(c)(3) organization that has already received $900,000 in charitable contributions.
I remind the Senate there are 7,814 people in Rhode Island who do not have homes at this time.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have offered a second-degree amendment that deals with a subject that has been on everyone's mind. It has been in every newspaper in the country. It is about almost $500 million for bridges in the State of Alaska that, although they may be needed, are priorities, as we have discussed today, that are very low on the totem pole in terms of the needs of the country.
I would also state, as I have earlier today, that we find ourselves in a significant difficulty as a nation. We had the worst natural disaster to hit our country we have ever experienced. We are in a war. We added $600 billion to our national debt this last year. That is not our national debt. That is our children's and our grandchildren's national debt. That is over $2,000 per man, woman, and child. In this country this year we added to what they are going to have to pay back, compounded at 6 percent over the next 30 years, $30,000 to $40,000.
I think it is important for us to look back at history a little bit to help us get redirected in terms of our priorities. There was a President who faced tremendous difficulties in our Nation. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He made a lot of great decisions for our country--enabled us to win World War II through his leadership. But less well known is FDR's decision to slash nondefense spending by over 40 percent between 1942 and 1944. Among the programs that were eliminated entirely were FDR's own prized creations. By 1944, such pillars of the New Deal as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration, and the Work Projects Administration had been abolished. In 1939, those three programs had represented one-eighth of the Federal budget. Roosevelt and the Congress of his day knew what to do in an emergency. Indeed, he chose to begin the reordering of budget priorities long before Pearl Harbor.
In October 1939, 1 month after Hitler invaded Poland, Roosevelt wrote Harold Smith, his budget director, ordering him to hold budgets for all Government programs at the present level and below if at all possible. The next month he told him the administration would not undertake any new projects, even laudable ones. He told reporters that the next year his policy would be to cut nonmilitary programs to the bone. He kept his word. Between 1939 and 1942 spending for nondefense programs was cut by 22 percent. Everyone realized that no matter how popular or deeply entrenched the program, the Nation's priorities had to change.
I believe we find ourselves as a nation at that point in time again. With the catastrophe we have seen to our gulf coast, with the war in Iraq, with the energy crisis, and with the budget deficit, it is time for us to change our priorities.
The second-degree amendment does not save the amount of money I wanted it to save, but it does save $75 million, and it takes that $75 million and sends it to the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge. It eliminates two bridges that should be very low priority in terms of the infrastructure of this country. All the money that is not taken from those bridges can be reprogrammed, portions of it can be reprogrammed to the State of Alaska for things they and their elected representatives would deem might be more important.
I think it is important also to know what the people of Alaska think. I ask unanimous consent to submit for the RECORD quotes from letters to the editor and editorial opinions from the major newspaper in Alaska on the status of these two bridges.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
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Mr. COBURN. I will quote a few of those, if I might. The first is from Dave Person, Ketchikan, the very place where 50 people live and a $230 million-plus bridge is going to go to service them. So you can get perspective on this, $230 million for 50 people, where there is a ferry service already running every 15 to 20 minutes that takes 7 minutes to cross, is enough money to buy each one of them a Learjet. Think about that for a minute--a bridge longer than the Golden Gate for 50 people to a small area in Alaska. That is enough money to buy every one of the inhabitants a speedboat to cross any time they wanted. They could cross and leave the speedboat for somebody else to pick up and buy a new one the very next day and still not spend this much money.
So the fact is, it is the priorities we have in our country that are askew today. The priority of spending almost one-half billion dollars on bridges to a very small section of the population needs to be addressed.
What this amendment does is prohibit and directs no money to be spent on these bridges. That does not mean Alaska will not get the same amount of money. It will get the same amount of money less $75 million, and it directs $75 million to go to the twin span bridges of I-10 that were knocked out during Hurricane Katrina.
My hope was that I could move all the money, but under the technical ways we run bills and under the formula of the Transportation Department, that is not possible. I believe the American people would like to see all of that. But let me quote Dave Person from Ketchikan: Thinking about the immense disaster in the Gulf States, it occurred to me the most effective thing we can do as residents of our island would be to return the money earmarked for our Gravina Bridge.
This is the people of Alaska, with compassion. They know what is right. They know what we should be doing.
Here is another citizen from Alaska: I am embarrassed to see the town of Ketchikan become synonymous with a $300 million bridge. If there were an election right now on using the money for the bridge or building up the New Orleans levees or repairing a bridge in New Orleans, almost everyone in town would say no to the bridge. Anchorage Daily News.
And: The decent--that is, the American thing--for Alaskans and our congressional delegation to do would be to send these one-half billion dollars south to the real needs of millions, rather than spending them here in Alaska on legacy projects that benefit a few.
Anchorage Daily News, September 13, 2005:
This money, a gift from the people of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a symbol for our beleaguered democracy .....
I would assume that most Ketchikan residents would agree that thousands of suffering fellow citizens and billions of dollars of destroyed economic and social infrastructure are of higher priority than our ability to drive to the airport.
The I-10 twin span bridge in Louisiana is a 5.4-mile stretch of Interstate 10 over Lake Pontchartrain. It connects New Orleans with the city of Slidell. The twin span serves as the major route into New Orleans for interstate commerce, resident mobility, and working commuters. Storm surge from Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage to both spans of the bridge, knocking 435 concrete segments out of alignment. Each segment weighs 309 tons. The eastbound span was repaired with several undamaged segments from the westbound span and was just opened to two-way traffic. The westbound span is not scheduled to be open until at least January. The Louisiana Department of Transportation plans to solicit bids on replacement of the twin-spin bridge in the spring of 2006. Each three-lane span will be elevated to a height to avoid the type of damage that Katrina caused. The preliminary estimate of construction cost is $500 million and it will take 3 years to build. The recently enacted Transportation bill included the $223 million for the Ketchikan Bridge and to Gravina Island, a total of $229 million, or $452 million for two bridges. The merits of both these projects have been questioned, wildly questioned, including by citizens of Alaska. The Ketchikan Bridge has been called the bridge to nowhere--$4,460,000 per resident to build a bridge that already has an adequate, safe, effective, and efficient ferry service. This bridge will be nearly as long as the Golden Gate Bridge and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge. The Gravina Bridge would replace the 7-minute ferry, as I have mentioned.
The second Alaska bridge, the Knik Arm Bridge, is designed as a 2-mile toll bridge across the Knik Arm Waterway in Anchorage to Fort McKenzie, and the Matanuska Valley.
No more than a few dozen individuals live in the area the bridge will serve. According to the Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, the project will cost $400 to $600 million. Using the estimates from a decade ago, the project would cost $1.5 billion when adjusted for inflation.
Before it is said and done, this bridge will probably require another $1 billion of taxpayer money--well within the massive transportation bills we will be passing over the next years. But the question I ask is if repairing a vital interstate bridge in Louisiana, used by thousands and thousands and thousands of drivers every year, hundreds of thousands of drivers, should be a higher priority than constructing two massive bridges of dubious value and little merit. We are now at $8 trillion in debt as a nation, and $600 billion of that came this last year. It is time we think about priorities.
It is my understanding this amendment is going to be vigorously opposed by the home State Senators. This has nothing to do with my respect for them but has everything to do with my respect for our country and our desire to change the way we put our priorities on spending. If you think about the unfunded liabilities that are coming, $37 trillion on Medicaid and Medicare, another $8 or $9 trillion on Social Security, a debt that is soon to reach, by 2009, 2010, $12 trillion, how much more can we give to our kids, our grandchildren?
Is it not a time when we at this point, in consideration of everything that is in front of us, the problems, the magnitude of the problems, the structural deficit we have, make the hard choices about picking winners and losers that affect the most people? But more importantly, isn't it about time we change the whole attitude about how we operate in terms of cutting spending? The American people want to help the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. There is no question. They also want to help the people of Alaska, but the Alaskan people have already said they are willing to help with this. We ought to do this. It is only $75 million that will go toward the cost, but that is $75 million that won't get transferred in emergency spending for our children and our grandchildren. It is something that is the right thing to do. It is something that is the timely thing to do. And it is something we ought to do not for right now but for our children and our grandchildren.
I also would note that this still gives tons of flexibility to the State of Alaska. There are two types of money in the highway bill, discretionary money and program money. This only takes away discretionary money and limits the program money on these two bridges, for anything that comes out of discretionary will be than more than paid for by this elimination.
With that, I will yield the floor.
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AMENDMENT NO. 2165, AS MODIFIED
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the purpose of my amendment does not have that much to do with Alaska as it does with priorities in our country. We put forward $600 billion of debt to our children last year ending September 30. We have a war going on. We have the largest natural catastrophe we have ever seen in our history. We have a hurricane coming on Florida. We are at war. It is time we reassess the priorities we utilize in this body as we think about our obligations at home.
The purpose of my amendment is to move $125 million out of above-the-line money--not program money, not formula money--to be used for this. I understand there is going to be another amendment. My hope is the American public will see how we are spending money and encourage us to spend it in a way that is more frugal and consistent with the heritage we have in the country, and that is making sacrifices today for the future of our country and for the next generation.
I reserve the remainder of my time.
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Mr. COBURN. I would say to my friend, whom I love dearly as a friend and a brother, this amendment is about changing the priorities in this country. We can reject that or we can accept it. I gave a speech this morning about the rumble that is out there in this country. We need to listen to that rumble. The rumble is the American people want us to start doing a better job of prioritizing how we spend money. I respect his position on this. I have no ill feelings that he will oppose me on this amendment.
This is an amendment that is good for the country.
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