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Public Statements

Economic Observations by the 43 Member Strong, Fiscally Conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


ECONOMIC OBSERVATIONS BY THE 43 MEMBER STRONG, FISCALLY CONSERVATIVE DEMOCRATIC BLUE DOG COALITION

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Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. Speaker, I am proud today to be joined by my colleagues of the Blue Dog Coalition to speak about our Nation's problems.

Mr. Ross brought up the U.S. national debt now being $8.8 trillion, knocking on the door of $9 trillion. I remember the very first day I came to Congress where the actual figure was $7.54 trillion. Not even 2 1/2 years ago, each American's share of the national debt was $26,000 at that time. What a shame. Over $3,000 more in 2 years.

Well, I am proud to join my fellow Blue Dogs today to talk about accountability in government and the gross negligence for taxpayer dollars in Washington. The Blue Dogs have been fighting for greater accountability in Washington for over 10 years. We have argued for a return to a PAYGO system or a balanced budget. We offered a 12-step reform plan to cure our Nation's addiction to deficit spending. We have argued that all earmarks should require written justification from a Member of Congress before being considered.

I am proud that our current leadership has taken into account what the Blue Dogs are saying. The Blue Dogs advocate accountability. Let's consider the facts. In 2004, the Federal Government spent $25 billion that it cannot account for. In that same year, only 6 of 63 Pentagon departments were able to produce a clean audit. For 2005, the GAO reports that 19 of the 24 Federal agencies can't produce a clean audit or fully explain how they spend taxpayer dollars.

In March of 2005, the Veterans Affairs inspector general issued a report calling for the agency's information systems and securities to be upgraded. No action was taken. And since that time, the personal information of millions of our Nation's veterans has been stolen.

Several of our Federal agencies received serious red-flag disclaimers on their 2005 financial statements, including the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Defense who wrote, ``We are unable to give an opinion on the fiscal year 2005 DOD financial statements because of the limitations on the scope of our work. Thus, the financial statements may be unreliable. Therefore, we are unable to express and we do not express an opinion on the DOD's financial statements.''

Mr. Speaker, the American public deserves the honest truth. The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security wrote, ``Unfortunately, the department made little or no progress to improve its financial reporting during fiscal year 2005. KPMG was unable to provide an opinion on the department's balance sheet.''

The inspector general for NASA in its 2005 financial report in the enclosed report from independent auditors, Ernest & Young, disclaimed an opinion on NASA's financial statement for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2005. The disclaimer resulted from NASA's inability to provide an auditable financial statement and sufficient evidence to support financial statements throughout the fiscal year and at year end.

Federal agencies are treating the taxpayer dollars that fund them like a joke, and the administration is incapable of lifting a finger to manage them effectively.

I believe we need strong enforcement measures in Congress and the Federal Government to make it more accountable for taxpayer dollars. We must ensure that Congress has the tools to hold Federal agencies responsible for their use of taxpayer dollars.

Mr. Speaker, American taxpayers deserve to know how Congress and this administration are spending their money.

I am proud once again to join my Blue Dog colleagues to demand more fiscal accountability in Iraq. The Blue Dogs have a plan for fiscal accountability in Iraq. Our plan calls for transparency on how war funds are being utilized. It creates a commission to investigate how contracts are awarded, and it stops the use of emergency supplementals to fund this war. This is the first administration, Mr. Speaker, that has used emergency supplementals to fund a war year after year after year.

The Blue Dogs also call for American resources to improve Iraq's ability to police themselves. The Blue Dog legislation addresses the glaring lack of oversight and accountability in Iraq. We make sure that taxpayer dollars are accounted for. Government reports have documented waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq. I think it is time to stop that waste. Congressional oversight is desperately needed. The administration must be held accountable for how reconstruction funds are being utilized.

The Blue Dog proposals are commonsense proposals. They ensure transparency and accountability. We have already spent $437 billion in Iraq, according to the Congressional Research Service, and we will spend another $100 billion in Iraq in 2007 alone. That is over $500 billion with virtually no oversight from Congress. We must start showing improvement in Iraq. Accountability leads directly to success, in my opinion. Iraq must begin making progress towards full responsibility by policing their own country. Without progress, it is a waste to continue U.S. investment in troops and financial resources.

We all support our troops. We must support our troops. We will do everything in our power to make sure that they have the equipment that they need. However, we cannot continue to write a blank check to this administration. Until our last troop has returned home, the American people deserve to know how their money is being spent. Accountability is not only patriotic, it often determines success from failure.

The Blue Dog proposal gives us an opportunity to regain that oversight and responsibility. This is the responsibility that we have to all of our men and women in uniform, to their parents, and to the American taxpayer who is footing the bill.

The Congressional Research Service and the Congressional Budget Office have clearly stated that if this continues, our fiscal irresponsibility in Congress, if it continues by the year 2040, every single penny of revenue that the Federal Government receives will go just to fund the interest on our national debt.

Mr. Speaker, we cannot afford to let this happen. We cannot saddle our children with the irresponsibilities of this administration.

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Mr. SALAZAR. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield, I often tell this story of my father. I served during the tail end of Vietnam and my father was a World War II veteran. My son served now during Iraqi Freedom. He just finished his tour last December, but I like to tell this story of my father who was a proud veteran.

At the age of 82, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease; and as was usual on Sunday mornings, I would go over to Mom and Dad's ranch house, and we

would have breakfast with my mom and dad. We had been told by the doctors that my dad had Alzheimer's, and it was one day right around, he must have been around 84 when one Sunday morning we heard him fumbling around in his back bedroom. Shortly thereafter, he came out and in his hand he bore his World War II staff sergeant uniform, and he told us, this is the uniform that I want to be buried in. We thought at the time, well, it sounded a little bit self-serving but doctors tell you not to argue with Alzheimer's patients. So we said, sure, Dad, no problem. We will do that.

Well, the disease continued to progress over the next couple of years, but often, often he would bring up the issue of wanting to be buried in his uniform, and it was at the age of 86 that my father suffered a severe heart attack. My mother called me over. We live about a quarter mile away. When I got there, the ambulance was there, and I remember lifting my father off the floor to put him on the gurney to take him to the hospital. And with the last ounce of strength he had in his body, he lifted his arms up around my neck and he said, I love you, and the last word he ever whispered to me was the word ``uniform.''

My father had forgotten almost everything in life, even how to use his bodily functions; but there are two things he had not forgotten, the love that he had for his family and the love that he had for his country and how proud he was to have served his country.

For many veterans, that is the greatest legacy that they have, and so when we propose an Iraqi war supplemental, we are also proposing funding to make sure that the veterans that have served this country are protected.

I tell this story because it is important that we protect those that have protected us, and I know that we as members of the Blue Dog Coalition are very proud to stand beside our veterans and make sure that they have the things that they need.

The gentleman from Arkansas talks about visiting Walter Reed. I do that on a regular basis, and it is the most disheartening feeling in the world to see our troops without arms and legs. They do not ask for anything. All they ask for is help me get through life. We owe that to our veterans.

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Mr. SALAZAR. I was in the Soviet Union during the fall of communism when Gorbachev was still in power in 1989, when we were out there studying international government with the Colorado Agriculture Leadership Program.

It's true, I couldn't agree with you more, that the

spirit of democracy has to come from within, from within a country. They want to have it. They want to want it. A perfect example of how you win a war, it's with the spirit of sheer military force, but you also have to have a diplomatic surge as well. That is what Blue Dogs are asking for. They are asking to adopt the Iraqi Study Group recommendations. Sure, we can support a group surge, but coupled with a diplomatic surge. That is how you win wars. But they have to want it.

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Mr. SALAZAR. May I ask a question? You have some figures on this chart that show that basically through the Iraqi war supplementals we have actually budgeted $378.5 billion. Could I ask the gentleman, is this really the true cost of the war, or is this just what we budgeted through the supplementals?

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Mr. SALAZAR. But is this the actual, is this an actual true reflection of what the war in Iraq has cost? For example, we see that our troop levels, our military armor, and the equipment that our troops have is not adequate in many cases. So are we actually spending from other sources as well to supplement this?

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Mr. SALAZAR. I want to thank the gentleman for his comments. I think it is clear, with the figures that you have given us, that the $378 billion is not really a true reflection of what the Iraqi war has cost us.

And you are absolutely right, we as Blue Dogs, we as Democrats will stand strong with our troops making sure that they have the equipment that they need, and that is one of the things I wanted to talk about tonight was the Iraq war supplemental that our leadership has proposed includes making sure that we take care of our veterans; it includes money for devastated farmers and ranchers across this country due to weather problems and other issues.

So I believe that this is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do. But I would ask the administration to please look into trying some diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, and hopefully we can move this forward and bring our troops home as quickly and safely as possible. In the meantime, let us not forget the men and women in uniform who serve this country bravely. And I want to thank the gentleman for inviting me today to visit with the American public and tell them the truth about what is going on with America's budget.

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Mr. SALAZAR. I just wanted to thank the gentleman. We see him on the floor every Tuesday trying to get the message out to the American public and trying to make sure that the figures that are being stated here in Congress are the true figures. I think that the American people deserve to know the truth, and I commend the gentleman for his dedication not only to the Blue Dog Coalition but also to the American people. And it is super-important, I believe, that the American people know the truth. Thank you very much. I appreciate your inviting me to speak with you tonight.

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