COURT SECURITY IMPROVEMENT ACT OF 2007--MOTION TO PROCEED--Resumed -- (Senate - April 18, 2007)
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank the chairman of the Judiciary Committee for stating that the debate we are having on this bill isn't really about the bill. The debate is about the process.
We had an election in November, and one of the things outlined by that was that Americans are concerned with excessive spending. There are some big facts that face us. Our judiciary is not nearly as at risk as our children and grandchildren are from the lack of cogent and disciplined spending by this body.
The reason we are at the place we are today is because I believe, and the vast majority of Americans agree with me, that we have to have priorities in how we spend our money. For us to be good stewards of the American taxpayers' dollars, we ought to establish priorities. This bill is a priority. I support the concepts behind the bill, and I will go through them in a minute. But what should be a greater priority for us is that we offer our children and grandchildren the same opportunities, the same freedoms, and the same liberties we enjoy.
The way the Senate works is something I believe needs to be changed, and I am willing to stand out here on every bill that comes to this floor to do exactly the same thing as I am going to do today. Here is the little problem that nobody--or very few in the Senate--wants to address. We react and create a good piece of legislation. This is a good piece of legislation. But we don't do the other half of our job, and the other half of our job is to get rid of the things that aren't working well.
Assume for a minute that every bill we authorize every year is done in a manner that says everything else in the Federal Government is working well. First of all, you ask the average citizen, and they would say: No, that isn't quite right. You go down, and everybody has a different complaint. But the fact is, we continue to authorize, we continue to authorize, and we continue to authorize, but we never go back and look at what isn't working and deauthorize.
My complaint with this bill isn't with the Senator from Pennsylvania. He was very cooperative in trying to address my desires for us to deauthorize certain things that either have excess monies or programs that aren't efficient or aren't working as they were intended to. However, when approaching the chairman of the committee, he refused to even consider the idea that
we ought to deauthorize something that isn't working in order to create this thing we all know is needed. It is a good piece of legislation, and we ought to pass it, and we will pass it. But the point that needs to be made to the American people, a point they agree with, is that authorizing a new piece of legislation is only half of our job. As a matter of fact, it shouldn't even be half. We ought to spend three-quarters of our time looking at what we are doing already that is authorized and making sure it is working efficiently. I don't think anybody in their right mind would disagree with that.
We, in my subcommittee in the 109th Congress, along with Tom Carper, held 49 oversight hearings on the Federal Government. What we found is that of the discretionary budget, the non-Medicare, non-Social Security, non-Medicaid budget, $1 in every $5 we spend is either wasted, abused, defrauded, or duplicated. It hardly seems fair to a middle-income taxpayer out there, who only yesterday paid their taxes and got hit with an extra $1,500 or $2,000 under the AMT, that they would have to pay that extra money at a time when we are allowing $1 out of every $5 to be wastefully spent, misspent, abused, or defrauded.
So the idea behind what I sent to all of my fellow Senators at the beginning of the year--and the Senator from Vermont knows very well why I objected to coming to the floor without a motion to proceed, without a cloture on that; it is because he represents what I think has to be changed--that we have to be responsible stewards of the American taxpayers' dollars, and we are not.
The idea is to change the culture of how we work. How do we do that? Well, we don't do it by continuing to pass new authorizations without ever looking at what could be deauthorized to pay for what we are authorizing anew. What we do is we fail the test of being good stewards to the very people we represent. As I said, Senator Specter, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, was very cooperative in trying to find those offsets. I think he basically agrees with my contention that we ought to be about doing good things, but we also ought to be about getting rid of the things that aren't working.
It saddens me to think that all through this 110th Congress, I am going to be doing this on every new authorization that comes out here if my colleagues don't believe we ought to be changing the way we work. It is a simple request. It is easy to find the offsets. As the Senator from Pennsylvania knows, we had offsets for this bill in terms of deauthorizations. They weren't acceptable to the chairman because he disagrees with the underlying fundamental premise of what I believe is an absolute obligation for us in terms of being good stewards.
At the beginning of this Congress, I sent a letter to every Member of this body, and I outlined some principles under which I was going to work in this Congress. I am dedicated to those principles, and it doesn't have anything to do with me or anything to do with the parties. I don't care who is in the majority or who is in the minority.
It has to do with our future. That is what this is about. This is about fighting for our future and having a long- range vision rather than a short-term vision of putting out a fire somewhere.
The principles I outlined said that I would put a hold--and, by the way, the chairman this morning said there was an anonymous hold. That is not true. I very eloquently and directly communicated my hold on this bill. And the letter I sent to everybody in the Senate at the beginning of this Congress directed that I would be the one holding the bills. I said this:
If a bill creates or authorizes a new Federal program or activity, it must not duplicate an existing program or activity without deauthorizing the existing program. That is No. 1. And several bills I had last year were duplications.
No. 2 is, if a bill authorizes new spending, it must be offset by reductions in real authorized spending elsewhere. How are we ever going to control our deficit? And we do not have, as the administration said, a $170 billion deficit. Our real deficit, what we actually added to the debt last year, what we actually added to our children's debt, was about $340 billion. So when we are adding $340 billion every year to our kids' and grandkids' debt, isn't it incumbent upon us to do the necessary things to make sure that doesn't happen in the future? Well, one of the ways to do that is to look at programs which aren't working and are not effective and which do not need authorization.
What happens in the Senate is that the appropriators decide what will get spent and what won't get spent. But the authorizing committee, the committee that is charged with that area, never deauthorizes anything. So we have this continuing mounting of authorization, with limited dollars to go for it, which never forces real priorities or a debate over the priorities by the authorizing committees.
The third point I made is that if a program or activity currently receives funding from sources other than the Federal Government--i.e., a match--then we shouldn't increase the role of the Federal Government in terms of increasing the percentage the Federal Government pays. Take our $340 billion deficit. Every State, save one, has a surplus. They did last year, and they will this year. So if States have surpluses and we have a deficit, we shouldn't increase our role. We shouldn't be doing that.
Finally, if we create a new museum or some new cultural program, then we ought to endow it rather than set it up for its continuing cost. We should use the power of compound interest to help us save money in the future. If we really think something is important enough to invest in, we should endow that and use the power of compound interest with the idea that the endowment will earn enough money to take care of that program in the future rather than passing that new program off to our kids.
Four very simple things that I ask.
I also stated in that letter that if I thought something was unconstitutional, then I would object to it, also. However, that doesn't apply in this instance. There is a legitimate role for us here. This is a good piece of legislation. But it does lack one of the criteria under which I stated I would try to hold bills up. I have no intention of filibustering this bill. I have no intention of making it difficult to pass the bill. I have every intention to make it an issue with the American people that we are not doing our job and that we are better than that. We are better than that. The people in this body care. The question is, Do we care enough to put the elbow grease into doing what is necessary to preserve the future? I believe we do care. I believe we can, and I believe, with persistence--and the chairman and the ranking member know that if there is anything I am about, it is about being persistent--if it requires this type of structure in terms of bringing bills to the floor, then I am happy to oblige the Senate in that to continue to make the point.
Almost 2 years ago, maybe more than 2 years ago, the infamous bridge to nowhere was brought to light, which bought about the changes we are seeing in earmarks. It was one example, which really wasn't a fair example to the Senator who had that, but nevertheless it characterized and became the caricature for the bad habits we have in Congress.
My hope is that the American people will look at the commonsense approach I am trying to propose for us as we authorize new programs and say: That makes sense. Why would you continue funding things that don't work? Why would you continue authorizations for programs that aren't effective? Why would you continue authorizations for programs that are duplicative? Where one works good and one not so good, why shouldn't we put money into something that works good rather than not quite so good?
So the question is not whether we should have court security. Of course we should. The question is not whether this bill should pass. It should. The question is, How do we address this fact?
Every child who is born in this country today, every one of them, has a birth tax on them.
It is now at $453,000 a child.
People say: How do you get that?
You take the $70 trillion in unfunded liabilities that we are going to transfer to this next 200 million children, and you can see what they are liable for.
Take 10 percent interest. If you took a 10-percent interest rate on $453,000, simple interest, to pay the interest on the debt, to cover what we are leaving to our children and grandchildren, is $45,300 a year.
The greatest moral question in our country today is not the war in Iraq, it is not who marries whom, it is not abortion, it is not child abuse, it is stealing the opportunity and the heritage this country has given us and taking that away from our children and grandchildren.
I know the Senator from Vermont is not happy with me for doing this. He believes it is fruitless. But it is the very real difference between he and I. I believe there is plenty in the Federal Government that is not working right that we ought to be about fixing, and one of the ways we do that is by forcing ourselves, before we do a new program, to look at the old programs and see what is wrong with them and clean them up. You can debate that. You can object to it. But the fact is, the vast majority of Americans agree with that.
We are going to be going through this multiple times this year until we get to the fact that we are doing what our oath tells us to do. That oath is to the Constitution. We cannot fulfill that oath if we continue to waste money on ineffective programs and authorize programs that are not accomplishing their goals. It is an oath that we violate, an oath to the Constitution but, more important, it is an oath we violate to the very people who sent us here.
Every dollar we waste today is a dollar that is not going to reduce that $453,000 for our children and grandchildren. One of the greatest joys I have in life today is that I have four grandchildren, each one of them unique, and the great pleasure of seeing your children through your grandchildren and reliving memories. That is always couched in the idea of what can I do to make sure the future is fair and a great opportunity is made available to them and all their peers throughout this country, no matter where they come from, what family they come from. Shouldn't they all have the same opportunities?
If you read what David Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, has to say--and all you have to do is go on the Web site of the Government Accountability Office--what you find is we are on an unsustainable course. It is not what TOM COBURN says, it is what the head of the Government Accountability Office says. Things have to change. Every day we wait to change them costs us money and makes it more painful when we get around to changing them.
I plan, in a moment, on offering to proceed to the bill. We are out here today because the vision that was created for us, and the heritage that was created for us, is at risk. It is at risk because we do not want to change our culture. We don't want to be responsible. We want to pass but not oversee. We want to do the easy but not the hard. The hard is the thing that is going to secure the future for our children and our grandchildren.
It is easy for us to pass a port security bill. It is bipartisan. It is hard for us to do the very real work of making sure every penny, of the American taxpayers' dollars is spent in an efficient way, that it is not wasted.
Mr. President, if you think $1 in $5 of the discretionary budget of this country should not be wasted, if you think the Congress ought to be about looking at everything and saying, is it working, ought to be about getting rid of the $200 billion of waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication that is in our Federal Government today, then there is no way you could disagree with the principles I outlined to all the Senators in this body. Yet we find ourselves here at this point in time because the chairman of the Judiciary Committee refuses to agree with the premise that we owe it to our children and grandchildren. That is basically it because I am not about to do that. We do not believe that is necessary.
Something has to change if we are going to give our children and our grandchildren the benefits and the opportunity we have all experienced. I think that is worth taking some time on the floor, pushing the envelope to raise the awareness of the American people. I know I can't change this body through persuasion, through words. But what does change this body is the American people. The American people are the ones who send us here. If they will act, if they will put pressure on, then we will do what we are supposed to do. It is a shame we have to work it that way, but this last election proved that. It proved when we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing, the American people awaken, and they change who has the power, who has the representation.
What I am calling for is let's do that for the American people. Let's do it ahead of time. Let's not make them force a change, let's do what we were sent up to do.
With that I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.