SECURE FENCE ACT OF 2006--Resumed -- (Senate - September 28, 2006)
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Alaska for all his hard work and dedication on defense in this country and the hard work he put forward. This bill undoubtedly will pass this body, and probably unanimously. I will note that there were several things I have a criticism of in the bill and things I would like to have seen in it, but they are not there. But I also note that we are having trouble maintaining Abrams fighting vehicles, maintaining tanks.
As we look at this bill, the $70 billion we are going to have for the war, that is an emergency and it is appropriate, there is no question about it. What is not appropriate in this bill--and this body passed 96 to 1--is the fact that we agreed in this body that whatever the earmarks were in the bill, there ought to be a scorecard on them, on whether the earmarks met the mission of the Defense Department.
There are going to be a lot of earmarks that are good, but a lot of them are stinky. There are 2,000 earmarks in the bill directed by Members of Congress--somewhere around $8 billion--and a large portion of those don't have anything to do with the mission of the Defense Department, and they have everything to do with us failing to do the things we should do in terms of prioritizing and making the hard decisions in this country.
I am going to vote for the bill because of its importance for our country. But in this bill, you don't know who did the earmarks. They are very cleverly written. You cannot find out exactly what contractor they are going to. You don't know who is responsible. They are not listed. That is OK if we want to do things that way, but it is not OK if you are going to do that and not at least assess the effect of the earmarks.
We passed in this Chamber, 96 to 1, that we would, in fact, ask the Defense Department to assist in how effective the earmarks are in accomplishing their mission. My disappointment is, that is not in the bill. If out of that $5 billion to $8 billion worth of earmarks, $2 billion or $3 billion is waste, think what we could have done for the defense of this country. Think what we could have done for those who are depending on us and we cannot fully supply their needs, whether it is early childhood education, Head Start, or the AIDS drug assistance program, just to name a few.
We will try again next year. We will try to get the earmarks published, out in the open, and into the sunlight, so the American people can see what we are directing, to whom we are directing it, and who is doing the directing. I will be back on every bill until we come clean with the American people on the political games we are playing with earmarks. We either need to have the agencies say what they are doing with them and whether they meet their mission or we need to be upfront on who is doing what, why, and what for.
I appreciate the hard work of the chairman and Senator Inouye in terms of bringing this bill to the floor. More importantly, I appreciate those who dedicate their lives to this country by becoming a part of our Armed Services and setting an example we could very well learn from in this body when it comes to earmarks just by following their example of service, courage, and integrity.
With that, I yield the floor.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, it really strikes me strange, when we are talking about protecting money from States that already have full treatment programs, and people are dying across this country because there is inequity in the funding for those States. If that is the basis for an objection, that is an obscene objection.
We are talking about people dying who have no access to medicines, who have no access to treatment, while we have--let me get to the specifics--while we have in New York alone, last year--the city of New York spent $9 million on hotel rooms averaging $329 a night to house people. They spent money, $2.2 million, on people who were dead, paying for rented rooms they weren't even in. And we are talking about objecting to fair treatment and access to care for people who have none now because we don't want to see the fluff associated with other programs decline.
The President has asked us to pass this bill. On October 1, lots of changes take place. They are going to impact lots of people in lots of States.
I find it unconscionable that somebody would have somebody object for them rather than to come down and defend their objection. If you object to making sure African-American women across this country have access to lifesaving drugs, you ought to come to the floor and say you object to that because that is what an objection means for this bill starting October 1. There is already a lack. There are people dying in three States right now because they have waiting lists for drugs for HIV for people who have no other resources to take care of themselves.
Last year I offered an amendment on this floor, fully paid for and offset, for $60 million for additional ADAP funds that would have taken care of the very people who are going to suffer from this bill, and the very same Senators who are blocking this bill voted against those funds for those people who have no treatment today. There is something very wrong in the Senate when the leaders of the charge for this bill, with the exception of Senator Kennedy who has done miraculous work with Senator Enzi--the leaders in the charge for getting this bill and making sure everybody has equal access to care for HIV in this country are four conservative Senators.
We ought to ask a question about that. Why are we down here fighting for this? We believe in equal treatment. We believe in equal access. Where are the people who claim all the time to defend that? Why aren't they here on the floor of the Senate?
I want to make a couple of other points. The Labor-HHS bill that we are going to be voting on this fall has $1 billion in earmarks in it; $1 billion in earmarks. Most of it has zero, in comparison to saving somebody's life, like ADAP drugs and access to treatment if you are infected with HIV and you don't have any access to care whatsoever. We don't see anybody volunteering to give up their earmarks.
Here is a stack of earmarks for New York State alone, last year in excess of $1.5 billion--over 600 earmarks. Nobody volunteered to give up the earmarks, the special projects that politicians get benefits from that sometimes do good and sometimes don't do good--nobody offered to give those up to pay for this loss. We want to continue to do what we are doing, having the privileges and prerogatives of a Senator or a Congressman to grease the skids of our own reelection with an earmark, but we will not give some of that up to make sure somebody in a State that is not having access, who is going to die in the next 3 months, has access to lifesaving drugs.
That is an incrimination on this process. It is an incrimination on this body. Shame on us if we allow this to continue to be held up.
New York State carried over $27 million. The Department of HHS--here is another. This past weekend, HHS spent $400,000 sending people--78 employees--to Hollywood, FL, of which 2 out of the 3 days didn't have anything to do with the conference. It was a party. As a matter of fact, as a quote from the New York Times states, at the last AIDS conference in Toronto, 78 HHS employees went, and as the New York Times said, this was a star-studied rock concert, a circus-like atmosphere that made it seem more like a convention and social gathering than a scientific meeting. For these and other reasons a number of leading scientists have stopped attending and some supporters claimed the quality of the presentations have declined at recent conferences.
We can find more money. We can find money from earmarks. We can find money from conferences. We can find money from waste, fraud, and abuse. What we cannot find is the integrity to treat everybody equally in this country because we want to protect the parochial interests of our city or our State. That is wrong.
It is wrong that they are not down here defending that immoral position. I challenge them to come down and defend it.
I yield the floor.