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U. S. Troops Readiness, Veterans' Health, and Iraq Accountability Act, 2007

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

U.S. TROOP READINESS, VETERANS' HEALTH, AND IRAQ ACCOUNTABILITY ACT, 2007 -- (Senate - March 28, 2007)

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, under the previous order, I believe I have several amendments pending. I rise to discuss those with my colleagues. I will call up several of them as I go along.

It is important for the American public to know what is going on. If we go back to 2003, what we can see is a major growth in emergency spending. Why is that important? It is important because emergency spending is totally outside the budget parameters on which the Senate works. Emergency spending doesn't count against any total cap on what our spending will be. It doesn't count against the budget deficit, and it doesn't count against the budget rules. We merely spend the money outside of any rules of control, and we charge it. We take a credit card and we say: Kaching, grandchildren, you are up.

As my colleagues can see from this chart, from 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, to 2007, as the bill before us today, we see an average of over $100 billion a year, about $110 to $115 billion a year outside of a $3 trillion budget. So no taxpayer dollars presently are going to go to pay for any of this. What we are going to do is ask the Treasury to issue bonds and notes. Guess who will be redeeming those notes. Our grandchildren. Who is at fault in all this? Partly the administration because part of this funding has been for a war that should have been budgeted through the Defense appropriations bill. That will happen next year. But the fact is, we can take $80 billion out of this across the year and apply it to the war.

What about the other $30 billion every year on average that doesn't have anything to do with the war and doesn't have anything to do with an emergency? Remember, this is supposedly emergency spending. How long have we been in this war? Four years. There is nothing emergency about it. We know the spending. It should go through the regular process. Our budget rules define ``emergency'' as something unforeseen, unexpected. We have to question the intellectual honesty of our body when the $18.7 billion that is added on to the defense request in this bill is deemed an emergency.

The first amendment I will talk about is $100 million that is an emergency to fund increased security at the conventions, both in Minneapolis-St. Paul and in Denver. We have known we were going to have conventions every 4 years for a long time. Never before have we funded the security required for these conventions out of an emergency bill. So in essence, what we are going to do is we are going to have two big parties and we are going to send the bill for those parties to our grandkids.

The first amendment I have actually eliminates that $100 million. We have plenty of time under the regular appropriations process with which to supply the money within the budget guidelines. Every billion we spend outside of the budget guidelines means that is another billion which is going to be spent inside, which means we are actually doubling the spending. Something that should have been inside, now we are going to spend outside of the budget. We are going to charge it to our children, and then we are going to spend more money.

How did we get where we are? The important thing to look at as to how we got where we are is to look at what has happened to Defense appropriations every year. There is a requirement that is asked for from the Pentagon in the budget. It is within our budget numbers. What happens when it comes out of here? What happens is, it gets underfunded intentionally. Why does it get underfunded intentionally? So that we can create, in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, additional spending inside the budget, and then we come back and get the actual defense needs in an emergency. It is a shell game that is being played on the American public that says: We are going to underfund what we know we need in defense. Then we know there is going to be an emergency supplemental, and we will make up for that when the emergency supplemental comes. But because we underfunded defense, we can therefore spend the money somewhere else outside of the budget. It is a game that we continue to play that is unfair to the American public.

AMENDMENT NO. 648

I call up amendment 648.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The amendment is pending.

Mr. COBURN. Amendment No. 648 removes $100 million. This is not about
being against security for people who are going to attend the conventions. It is ironic that the decisions which are made at the conventions will have already been made probably in February or March. But we are going to charge the American taxpayers $100 million for security outside of the budget. Who are we really charging? We are charging our grandkids. This has never before happened. Always before, if we funded money for convention sites, we have done it within the budget. So it isn't an emergency, and it is markedly unethical to take money that should be inside our budget and place it outside and ask our grandchildren to pay for us to all have a party in August and September.

H.R. 4613, the fiscal year Department of Defense appropriations bill, provided $50 million for discretionary grants for this same purpose associated with the 2004 nominating conventions. We did that in the 2005 bill. We did it within the budget. We have done it before.

Let's talk about the criteria of what is an emergency: necessary, essential, and vital, plus sudden, quickly coming into being, not building up over time, an urgent, pressing, compelling need requiring immediate action, subject to unforeseen, totally unpredictable and unanticipated, not permanent and temporary nature. There is no question the funding for the conventions for the Democratic and Republican parties does not meet any of those criteria. Yet here it is in the bill. Why do we find it in this bill? So we don't have to spend the money inside the budget limitations that are placed on Congress. Here is $100 million outside of that budget limitation that we are then going to spend, another $100 million, because we have not paid for this one, and we should have paid for it within the budget.

This isn't sudden. It is not urgent. It is not pressing. It does not require immediate action, is not unforeseen, not unpredictable, and it was not unanticipated. There have been nominating conventions since 1832. The year 2008 will be the second Presidential election since the 9/11 terrorist attack. There is no question that increased security is required. But this is the first time we have said it is an emergency. It is like saying we don't know the census is coming in 2010. We will have an emergency supplemental for the census. As a matter of fact, we have done that before. The war on terror is an emergency. Having a party for politicians and their political parties doesn't qualify.

We are going to have a vote on this amendment. I expect to lose the vote. But I also expect the American people will ask: Why in the world would we be doing this? Why would we violate their good will by playing games for the political parties? Why would we do that? It comes back to the point of where we are in the Senate, why are we addressing this legislation? Why is there $18.7 billion worth of additional items added to this bill other than to fund the Defense Department?

We will hear all sorts of answers: We need it. We didn't do it. We have emergency agricultural appropriations in this bill.

Actually, I believe there is an emergency in farm country, and we ought to be doing something about it. But we ought to be paying for it. I haven't yet talked to a farmer from Oklahoma who thinks his grandchildren ought to be paying for us to do an emergency supplemental in terms of agriculture. They believe we ought to find it within.

The fact is, Senator Carper and I held 49 hearings in the last Congress and discovered over $200 billion of waste, fraud, abuse, or duplication within the discretionary budget. That is within $1 trillion, 20 percent. Most Americans probably believe that. The problem is, most politicians don't have the nerve to challenge where that spending is because there is an interest group that wants it spent. There is an interest group, and it is us. It is self-serving that we are going to spend $100 million on increased security for the conventions and not pay for it and spend that money inside the budget on something else. Probably the greatest moral question is, Are we going to have a party on our unborn next generation?

They are going to be the ones who pay back this $100 million. It is not going to be $100 million when they pay it back; it will probably be $500 million or $600 million by the time we get to paying it back with the compound interest.

What would this $100 million do if we were not spending it on security at party conventions? It would buy 31,797 sets of body armor. It would uparmor 658 humvees. It would uparmor 529 ambulances, medic carriers for the guys who are helping our guys in the field.

Instead, we are going to use a bill, intended to cover the cost of winning the war, to protect our national security, fight the war on terrorism, to add $100 million to our national debt that already exceeds $8.7 trillion. We added $1,000 to that debt last year for every man, woman, and child. We added $1,000. If you pass this bill--``emergency''--what we are going to do is add another $400 for every man, woman, and child in this country--the debt just for this bill. So it ought to be about real emergencies.

Federal funding also is already planned for the conventions. The Department of Justice did not request this $100 million. The administration budgeted $15 million for the Secret Service to provide the security at these conventions. Each convention has been designated as a national security, special security event, making security personnel eligible for other Federal tax dollars through grants to cover the expenses. Why are we doing it? There has not even been a security plan for which we are throwing $100 million at formalized for the conventions.

I believe if you are a young person in this country today, what we are doing on this bill, especially with this item, has to be heartbreaking. April 15 is coming up pretty soon. We all look at our pay stubs and see what we are paying in Federal taxes. What you do not see when you get that pay stub is how much additional you are going to owe at the end of the year because we were not responsible. We were not responsible with the taxpayers' money. Yet we play all these shell games of hiding money, underfunding defense so we can bring it back in a supplemental, so we can spend money elsewhere rather than making the tough choices.

Let's read about what was in the news after the last conventions. It is pretty interesting to know. One hundred million dollars of your money for the following: USA Today reported the convention featured more than 200 parties by corporations, lobbyists, trade groups, and other organizations. These were in addition to the high-dollar donor meals, golf tournaments, sporting events held during the convention week. Top sponsorship at these events can cost up to $250,000--golf tournaments, breakfast at Tiffany's, Yankee Stadium fundraisers, champagne and cigar celebration, baseball games.

We are going to spend $100 million of our grandkids' money to protect politicians while they have a party. To me, it is unconscionable. It is even more unconscionable to do it in this bill. There is nothing about this that is an emergency. There is nothing about this that was not foreseen. There is nothing about this that was not anticipated. This is a game.

The last election reminded us--my party--you cannot say one thing and do another, except that is what we are seeing with this bill.

AMENDMENT NO. 649

Mr. President, I wish also to spend some time on amendment No. 649. Over the last 5 years, the University of Vermont has received $400 million in earmarks for things for that university. In this bill is an earmark for $2 million. The first thing we said is we are not going to have earmarks that are not published: who put them in, who sponsored them, and what they are for. This is an emergency bill. There is no question we ought to honor former Senator Jeffords. There is no question we ought to do that. But in an emergency bill that is unpaid for, that does not have anything to do with fighting the war on terror, we are going to send another $2 million to a university that has gotten $400 million over the last 5 years? This is not a place for it. It is not the time for it. It is not the way to do it. Supposedly, we are free of earmarks, and yet here is an earmark for which we do not have the money. We are not going to be able to pay for it, even though the claim is this is offset. It is offset with student loan management money. That is how they have offset it to say it does not cost any money. Which is more important? More students getting loans and effective management so more people get student loans or giving another $2 million to a university that has already gotten $400 million of the taxpayers' money? I do not think there is any question in the average American's mind in regard to that.

Let me read what the University of Vermont has gotten: year 2000, $54 million for 201 different programs; year 2001, $60 million; year 2002, $69 million; year 2003, $76 million for 249 different programs; year 2004, $70 million; year 2005, $68 million. There is a lot of money that has already gone up there, a lot of it borrowed.

At the present time, the University of Vermont has an endowment of $282,594,000. Now, the interest on that, at 6 percent, gives you about, oh, close to $15 million a year--just the interest off that endowment. I believe they have plenty of money to fund this chair to honor Senator Jeffords.

The endowment grew 16 percent last year. Its growth last year was 20 times the amount of this earmark. Again, it is not unanticipated, certainly not an emergency, certainly it is not something we have to do now.

Again, is it necessary? Essential? Is it not merely useful or beneficial? It is useful. It will be beneficial. Did the demand for this quickly come into being? No. It was part of an earmark in the Labor-HHS bill that was not included in last year's appropriations. Is it urgent, pressing, and compelling, requiring immediate action? No. Was it unforeseen or unpredictable or unanticipated? Is it temporary in nature? No. It is not temporary. It is the start of many years of giving $2 million a year on the same thing.

This project violates the Appropriations Committee's own earmark moratorium. On December 11, Chairman Byrd and Congressman Obey announced there would be no more congressional earmarks until the new rules were put in place to make the process more transparent and more accountable. Those rules are not in place. The transparency and accountability is not there. Yet we see an earmark.

Here is what the joint statement said:

We will place a moratorium on all earmarks until a reform process is put in place. Earmarks included in this year's House and Senate bills will be eligible for consideration in the 2008 process subject to new standards for transparency and accountability. We will work to restore an accountable, above-board, transparent process for funding decisions and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress.

More of the same. There is no end in sight. This earmark was previously included in the report language--not the law, in the report language--for the fiscal year 2007 Labor-HHS appropriations bill. That was on page 251 of that report. It is the first of the earmarks to be resurrected from last year.

I might say as an aside, the Congressional Research Service has refused to honor a request from myself and Senator DeMint to give us a list of the earmarks in the 2007 appropriations bills--a flat-out refusal. There is a lot of speculation as to why they do not want the American people to know what the earmarks were last year. Come 2008, we are going to get to find out them all under the Transparency and Accountability Act that myself and Senator Obama and several others cosponsored, which became law last year.

When we questioned the University of Vermont about this earmark, we asked: What were the estimated costs of the project long term? They could not give us an answer. Who was going to finance it after the program was established? They could not give us an answer. How will the Federal funding be expended? They could not tell us that. Did the university request the funding? We do not know the answer to that either. None of these questions have been answered by the University of Vermont.

This $2 million could be spent for our troops. It would buy 2,857 carbine rifles the National Guard presently does not have so they could conduct training. It would buy 4 mine-protected vehicles or 13 uparmored humvees.

Mr. President, I wish at this time, without giving up my right to the floor, to yield time to the Senator from Virginia.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

AMENDMENT NO. 657

Mr. COBURN. I would like to continue, since my time is going to be limited by what I will be allowed to discuss on my amendments in terms of total time, I wish to spend a minute talking about amendment 657. There is no question we have some critical needs among many of our agricultural suppliers in this country--needs that were unforeseen, needs that were unanticipated, needs that we should have addressed last year but didn't; needs that we should have addressed in the CR, but we were precluded from offering an amendment to offer a way to supply those needs. What this amendment does is it provides farm relief to both our production agriculture individuals, as well as our cattle, in a fiscally responsible manner.

I wish to give some quotes, before I go into the details, from last year's debate with Senator Conrad and Senator Dorgan. Here are the following quotes:

I am very much in sympathy with Senator Coburn on the notion of paying for this. I appreciate very much--as the Senator knows, I wish to pay for this all as well. We have a way to do a pay-for, but I am precluded from doing so by the rules. On the question of paying for it, I have complete agreement with the Senator from Oklahoma. I wish the rules permitted us to offer an amendment for pay-for. I don't have disagreements about the issues of paying for it. I suggest we do a unanimous consent. I would do a unanimous consent to pay for it. These things ought to be paid for. We have hundreds of billions of dollars come through here with hardly a blink, none of it paid for. That ought to change. I am with the Senator from Oklahoma. Let's try to change that.

The fact is this does not have a pay-for, not because Senator Conrad doesn't want it there or I don't want it there; it ought to be there.

Well, here is the chance to put those words into action. What this amendment does is strike all nonessential items in the farm title so the scarce resources we have can be maximized for crop and livestock disaster assistance. The language in this amendment leaves verbatim that language in the underlying bill. It requires, though, the underlying funding for the emergency in this bill to be paid for within existing funds at the Department of Agriculture. You are going to hear all this screaming: They can't do it. You know what. They have $8 billion in the bank right now unspent, unobligated; money that is sitting there from this last year and this year that they haven't spent. This total will come to $4.15 billion, $4.15 billion to take care of the real needs of the consumer, the production agriculture in this country that has had 3 years of drought, has had 3 years of floods, has had 3 years where they didn't produce a crop. Those who actually bought crop insurance are going under anyway. What it would not do is add the other $1 billion to the outside of that for special interests that aren't the heart of agriculture in this country and when we do that, we are going to pay for it.

How dare you take money from the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture is, if you compared it on size and budget, the sixth biggest business in the United States. There isn't a big business out there that if they had to scrimp, couldn't save 4 or 5 percent on their business. As a matter of fact, they do it every day. As soon as their stocks start getting low, they start trimming, becoming more efficient, better ideas, better efficiency, and they cut their costs. We can do that at the Department of Agriculture.

This body isn't about to vote for this amendment because they don't want to have that fight. They don't want to have the hard work of making the Department of Agriculture efficient and not allowing the waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication that goes on in the Department of Agriculture. The $1.6 billion of food stamp payments that are paid out to people who are ineligible every year, who are ineligible, who have plenty of money, yet they are getting food stamps. All the other programs that have waste, fraud, and abuse in them, we are not going to take the step and say: Department of Agriculture, take the money that you have now--you have almost $8 billion in the bank--work real hard, trim yourself about 2 or 3 percent, save the money and go out and do what is going to make a difference to the production of agriculture in this country. No, we are going to do what is easy when this amendment goes down.

What we are going to do is we are going to say: Grandkids, we didn't have the courage to do what was right in 2007. We didn't have the courage to look at the programs that weren't efficient. We didn't have the courage to challenge somebody when they were being wasteful. We didn't have the courage to find it within ourselves to not lessen your standard of living because we wanted our standard of living taken care of.

So what they are going to see is an extra $5 billion or $6 billion coming out of their pockets 20 and 30 years from now when we attempt to try to pay back this money, and they are going to wonder: What did we do? What were the standards under which we operated? What was the character trait in us, as a body, that allowed us to not demand efficiency from an agency of the Federal Government and yet go the easy way and demand it out of the livelihood and opportunity of our grandchildren? That is what they are going to ask. What is the character flaw in that? Is it laziness? The Members of this body obviously care about this country. What is it? What is it that would not make them do the hard work of challenging the inefficiency that we all know is out there in the Federal Government and we all know is within the Department of Agriculture? Not that the Department of Agriculture employees aren't great. They are. They work hard. They are dedicated. But there is still enough money in the sixth largest corporation in America, the Department of Agriculture, to find $4.15 billion and bail out the guys and gals who need to be bailed out right now, just like we have tried to bail out Louisiana.

What is the character flaw? Is it self-centeredness? Is it laziness? Is it not willing to fight to make things better? Or is it so easy to put the credit card into the machine and say: I am not going to worry about tomorrow. I am going to think about the short run right now. Long term doesn't have any consequence to it. I am not going to consider that.

Now, what does this amendment get rid of? What it keeps is $2.09 billion in crop assistance and $1.64 billion in livestock assistance. What does it get rid of? It gets rid of individual earmarks for individual Senators. It gets rid of $40 million for the tree assistance program which includes Christmas trees, shrubs, nursery bushes. It gets rid of $30 million in administration for hiring additional Farm Service Agency personnel and computer upgrades. You tell me we can't find $30 million in the sixth largest corporation in this country to finally fix the computers? Sure we can. It will be hard, but we can do it. But it will never happen unless Congress asks for it to happen--demands that it happen. Once you start asking one agency to do that, it will be easy to ask the next agency to do that. Pretty soon, before you know it, Americans are starting to get good value for their money.

If, in fact--it is not ``if, in fact,'' it is actually a fact. Eighteen to twenty percent of all the discretionary funds spent by the U.S. Government are either waste, fraud, abuse or duplicative. Think about that. That means 20 cents out of every taxpayer dollar you pay in the discretionary side of the budget, one-third of the budget--the rest of it is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security--is not efficiently managed, spent or directed for the purposes it was intended. So why would we not force this? We are going to hear it is impossible. You can't ask them to find it. I will guarantee, if they were a public company and their stock was tanking and they weren't doing well, they would hire a new CEO and, before you knew it, that would happen.

The $4 billion would be made up through efficiency, innovation, and programmatic changes that directed the programs to the most needy at the best time, at the best efficiency, with the least cost and the greatest skill.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the amendment we are considering says the agriculture supplemental we put forward is going to be paid for. The Agriculture Department is the sixth largest corporation in the United States, when you look at it. What it says is we ought to be able to use some of the $8 billion they have sitting in the pot now and we ought to be able to find a way to make them 3 percent more efficient so we can actually pay $4.1 billion to help in the agricultural emergency we have in this country.

It does not add it. We do not charge it to our grandchildren. We say we are going to be responsible, and we are going to take it out of the money that is in there now that is easily findable. We will actually pay for helping our farmers who need our help today.

It is the exact same language the appropriations bill has for both cattle producers and grain producers. It just says: Find it within the agency, pay for it, and we will do it.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. This is simple. It is not an emergency. Eighteen months from now we are going to have the Presidential nominating conventions. In Atlanta, during the Olympics, for a month the entire security was $10 million. If we triple that amount for a month, you have $30 million. This bill allows $100 million for conventions and for decisions that are already going to be made prior to that so that the political parties can have a good time. Yet we are going to ask our children to pay for it. You are going to vote to ask your grandchildren to pay for a party you aren't having now, when the President already has $15 million in his budget for Secret Service for both of these conventions, which they feel is adequate at this time.

The question is not whether we should do it. If we are going to do it, we should do it inside the confines of the budget. Two, it is not an emergency. We have 18 months. We have plenty of appropriations bills to pay for this.


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