NATIONAL HERITAGE AREAS ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - September 29, 2006)
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, hopefully, I will not take all that time. I think the American people need to pay attention to what we have just done. The Energy bill, which was actually 41 bills wrapped into one, that we agreed to through unanimous consent, is going to cost the American taxpayer $1.5 billion.
The real question is, in light of where we find ourselves--fighting the war, trying to help the people in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and running in excess of a $300 billion real deficit this year--should we be spending money on these priorities? A real problem in Washington is getting Congress to make tough decisions about what is a priority.
I will spend a few minutes outlining what is in the bill because the American people have no idea what was in the bill. The first thing is $500,000 to study lighthouses in Michigan for tourism. Tourism is already a $16 billion industry in Michigan. There is nothing in the Constitution that would say that is a Federal responsibility. We will do it anyway.
Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, $1.2 million to establish a building, construct a theater and a bookstore. Is that a priority right now when we are spending our grandkids' money? We are going to build a bookstore and create a visitor center now when we cannot even pay for the war that we are fighting and we are charging that to our children?
There are new national heritage designations. We have a backlog of over $4 billion in repairs to the National Parks we have today. We cannot even take care of the parks we have today, and we are going to create 10 new national heritage centers, spending over $100 million to do so.
This bothers me on several fronts. Most important, it isn't a priority. It isn't something we ought to be spending money on right now. We are getting ready to do it. We already have 30 national heritage centers. We are going to delete the resources that are going to those by adding 10 more.
Finally, the problem with national heritage areas is they undermine property rights because the money is used to change zoning laws to back the people who have property rights around the national heritages. We are using Federal dollars to create national heritage areas that will undermine individual property rights. That is wrong.
The other thing that is in this bill is a study to assess creating four more national heritages.
The process is broken under which we bring bills such as this to the Senate, at a time when we cannot afford to pay what we are doing today. We spent a ton of our time on appropriations. After what I was told through all this process, after having written a letter raising objections, meeting with the committee, meeting with our leadership, we had a leadership meeting this week which basically said: If you don't let all of these packages of spending of low priority and no priority go through, the Senate will come to a standstill and we will see everything else blocked by the minority.
I believe we ought to be making choices about the right priorities for our country. It is not that heritage areas are wrong. It is that we cannot afford them. We are going to spend money on things we cannot afford and borrow the money from our children and our grandchildren to pay for things that we have to do.
It is cheating our children and our grandchildren. It also is beneath the dignity of this Senate.
This process has to be fixed. We cannot continue to authorize, authorize, and authorize more spending without doing the hard work, looking at what we have authorized that is not working, is inefficient, or is duplicated. But we continue to do it, and I will continue to stand up for the next 4 years and raise this issue every time.
This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. This is an American issue that this Senate does not want to address. We seem to be blinded by the fact that we can just spend and authorize all the money we want and to have no impact. We do not authorize unless we expect it to get spent.
With this bill, through the chairman working with us, he agreed to deauthorize over $150 million. That is a start. But other bills that come to the Senate that have new spending in the future ought to meet a test; that is, have we looked at everything else in that area? Is it working well? Are we spending the money wisely? Are we spending it efficiently? Are there programs that are not working that we ought to deauthorize so we can afford to authorize this as a better priority?
We are not doing that in this country. That is something the American people deserve to have done rather than to hang our children and grandchildren out to dry with debt.
This year, 8 percent of our budget is for interest. In 2035, 29 years from now, 25 percent of our budget is going to be interest. That is $1 trillion. We spent $200 billion this year on interest because we will not be frugal with the American taxpayers' money. There is over $200 billion worth of fraud, waste, and abuse in the Government programs we have today, and we will not go and fix it. Instead, we will spend another $1.5 million because that is easy to do. It sounds good at home, but we will not do what is necessary to secure the financial future of this country.
The notice I am placing today is there is a precedent established with this bill. If you want to authorize new programs and you want this Senator not to object or to debate them on the floor, there better be deauthorizations of programs of that committee's jurisdiction before they can expect my vote on a unanimous consent agreement to spend into the future and to undermine the future of the next generation of Americans.
I yield the floor.