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Departments of Commerce and Justice and Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008 -- Continued

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


DEPARTMENTS OF COMMERCE AND JUSTICE AND SCIENCE, AND RELATED AGENCIES APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - October 04, 2007)

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank the Senators for the cooperative way in which they have worked with us. I also wish to comment on Senator Landrieu's amendment that was accepted, which eliminated a copay for a matching portion for the COPS Program in areas that don't have the money to match. It is a smart thing that we are doing. It is right. It will come to an end at some time, but until they get back on their feet, we ought to do it.

I wished to spend a few minutes talking about the bill overall. I think even though the chairwoman and ranking member have done a great job with the bill in terms of priorities, I am concerned at the overall spending level, and I think the administration probably will be too. Inflation, last year, was less than 3 percent. In title I, the Commerce portion of the bill, it grows by 13.88 percent, which is 4 1/2 times the rate of inflation. In title II, the Justice portion, it grows 6.1 percent, which is over two times the rate of inflation. In title III of the bill, in the Science portion, it grows by 8.1 percent over last year's actual appropriation, which is almost three times what the rate of inflation was.

That probably would not be a problem if we didn't borrow $454 billion from our kids last year. It would not be a problem if everybody else had an 18-percent or 13-percent or a 10-percent increase. But the fact that this bill has grown this much says we are going to go down the road again of borrowing additional money.

This is a rationalization, and I admit it. What we are doing is funding this increase this year on the backs of our grandchildren, because if it goes through this way and coming out of conference, and if the President signs it, the increase in spending for the Commerce, Justice, and State Departments will come on the back of future payments of debt for our kids.

The contrast I wish to show is that the average family's income rose less than 4 percent last year. Their taxes aren't going to rise much more than 4 percent, but the taxes on their grandkids are going to rise disproportionately more than that, probably 12 or 13 percent, because we cannot get hold of this Government. That is no reflection on the leaders of this committee. They are given a number, and they have requests out the kazoo from individual members. They have programs that need to be funded, which is very different than the administration. I didn't compare it to the administration's request. I compared it to what we approved last year.

I think it behooves us to look at the overall growth in this bill, and if you applied it to the rest of Government, we grew the Government by about $700 billion this year. We cannot do that. We cannot do it. So I have asked for a recorded vote on the bill because I want to be recorded as voting against this appropriations bill--not because it is not important to fund these items but because we cannot continue to have these kinds of increases in funding when we have grown the Government by 62 percent over the last 7 1/2 years. That does not count Medicare and Medicaid spending. So I wanted to make that point.

I have a couple of amendments, again, which are directed at directed spending--what we call earmarks. The programs are not bad programs--the very things I am going to outline that I think we ought to transfer money from to something else. But I think people will have a tough time justifying spending on these programs, these directed earmarks, when we should not be spending as much as we are and could be spending it on something that would give us better value for the dollars we spend.

I ask unanimous consent to bring up amendment No. 3243 and make it pending.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment is straightforward. There is a bill in the Senate that I am presently blocking from a unanimous consent request, which means I am not necessarily opposed to it; but I don't think the bill ought to come to the floor without being voted on or amended. It is the Emmett Till civil rights bill. This bill is designed to increase the emphasis on unsolved civil rights cases.

A year and a half ago, the Department of Justice initiated a new program for that exact purpose. They put staff on it, funded it, and have since gotten 100 referrals from 42 different offices on unsolved civil rights cases that are 50 years old and older. It is something we should be doing and the Justice Department is doing. I don't think we need another piece of legislation and another law to make us do that. The Justice Department has actually shown they didn't need a law. They were actually doing it.

What this amendment does is transfers from six directed spending items--earmarks--to the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division $1.680 million to augment that process. What it will do is allow them to hire additional people to further define and further investigate these older civil rights cases.

This bill has 600 earmarks in it. This relates to only six earmarks. The total for the earmarks is $458 million. Many of the earmarks in this bill don't do anything to advance the priorities or the mission statements of the three agencies we are funding. What are they? A maritime museum in Mobile, AL; Eye on the Sky Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in St. Johnsbury, VT; Adler Planetarium in Chicago, IL; U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. I have been there; it is a tremendous place. Lastly, the installation of buoys marking the John Smith National Water Trail on the Chesapeake; undersea vehicle for the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Connecticut.

Let's start with the first one. There is $500,000 in this to construct a maritime museum in Mobile, AL. It is probably a great idea, although there are two other maritime museums right now in Mobile. Should we spend $500,000 now, when we are borrowing the kind of money that we are borrowing from our grandchildren, when we are fighting a war we are not paying for and charging to our grandchildren? Should we spend that money now or should we spend the money upholding the law and going after people who violated other people's civil rights? Which is a better value? Which is a better purpose? Which is a better core principle?

I will not go into the details, although I am prepared to do it in rebuttal. There are now 35 maritime museums in the gulf coast region, including two in Mobile. There are funds for this earmark through the competitive grant system. So it is not that this may not even get funded, because it might have to compete with the rest of the museums in the country. Instead, we have directed it.

Earmark offset 2 is for the Fairbanks Museum and Planetarium in Vermont for the Eye on the Sky Program. It is a $300,000 earmark. It is probably a great idea. But is it a priority when we are borrowing money from our grandchildren? Again, this is another program. There is grant money out there for museums. You would have to compete based on the priorities. There is oversight on the grants. On these earmarks, there is no oversight. It can still be funded, on a competitive basis, without an earmark.

The Adler Planetarium in Chicago has net assets right now in excess of $34 million, and we are going to send them $300,000. They have revenues every year in excess of $11 million. There is no reason for us to send that money there now if we are borrowing it from our grandkids. I will limit my debate on that.

One of the things I will tell you--and I will put up a chart. Here is what the Administrator of NASA said about directed spending for earmarks:

The growth of these Congressional directives is eroding NASA's ability to carry out its mission of space exploration and peer-reviewed scientific discovery.

We are taking away the core mission of one of our premier scientific inquiries in this country when we send money. The redirections as a result of congressional earmarks included half of NASA's education budget, one-twentieth of the exploration budget, and one-twenty-fourth of their science budget.

So it is not a small amount with which we are impacting NASA.

The fourth earmark: Spies and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL. We should know that the State of Alabama is going to have in excess of a $2 billion surplus this year. Let me say that again. The State of Alabama is going to have in excess of a $2 billion surplus this year. They had a $1.7 billion surplus last year. I would think that maybe they ought to fund this instead of our grandchildren.

This is a $500,000 earmark for the Space and Rocket Museum. I have been there. It is a great thing. You ought to go see it. It is well worth your time. But it is something I believe should not be in the priority when we are borrowing the money.

There is $500,000 for an interpretive buoy system. It is a great idea with great historical significance but probably not right now. Should we be spending this money if we are borrowing it against our grandkids? Should we be spending this money when we are growing the budget, this appropriations bill by 11 percent? I don't think so.

Finally, $450,000 for an undersea vehicle in Mystic, CT. This is part of the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT. They could apply for a competitive grant with all the rest of the States and probably get it. It is not a bad idea. It is probably a good idea. It probably promotes tourism, probably enhances the experience at that museum. But, again, is it a priority when we are not funding the war and we are not paying for our excesses and, in fact, probably the greatest moral issue of our day is stealing the future from our grandkids? It is not any of the other social issues. They wane in comparison to taking opportunities from our next generation.

I also advise that the State of Connecticut, according to Connecticut's Comptroller, Nancy Wyman, has a $350 million surplus. So they are not running a deficit; they have a surplus. They could easily grant $500,000 for this museum.

The point of this amendment is let's put dollars where they ought to go and let's stop spending money on lower priorities. It is about priorities. It is not about what is a good program and what is a bad program. It is about what is the greatest priority.

The greatest priority is to ensure people of their civil rights. It has to be greater than these. There cannot be a greater priority than securing the future for the next generations, except we are not going to do that with this bill.

I reserve the remainder of the time I have under the agreement.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, first of all, I would concede the value of what Dr. Ballard has done. But the question isn't whether this should get funded; the question is, Who should fund it?

National Geographic made $15 million last year. They are a nonprofit organization. They had revenues of over $1 billion. The State of Connecticut is going to have over a $300 million surplus. I don't doubt that this is a very worthy cause. The question is and what the American people are asking this body to do is to start making priorities out of priorities.

I think this is a very valid project. He is one of 11 resident scholars for National Geographic. I have studied the issue. It is not about whether it is a priority for them. The question is, Who ought to be paying for it? In a time when we don't have any money, when the dollar is sinking, when we are spending more and we are already funding a war and charging the war to our kids, what we are setting up is we are going to continue to do things that don't have to be done by us when somebody else could do it. Consequently, we are going to borrow the money.

There is half a billion dollars worth of earmarks in here, I would say to my friend from Connecticut, and all of them have some merit. The question is, Who should be paying for some of these? There are competitive grants on museums that are run well by this Government. They are very competitive. They can get the $450,000 through a competitive grant. They can apply for that. There is oversight on that. There is a competition among priorities when we do that and run it. When we put it in directly, we, No. 1, consign our kids to paying for it, and No. 2, we don't put the responsibility on anybody else.

Now, if this is really necessary, National Geographic will stand up and put the $450,000 into it, or if it is important to the education and instruction in the State of Connecticut, with a $300 million surplus, they can put in the $450,000. But our choice here today is, we are just going to charge it to our grandkids.

We don't have this money. This bill has grown by almost 10 percent over what we funded last year. If you took all the directed earmarks out of it, we would be growing by about 4 1/2 percent. So it is important for the American public to see the impact when we direct spending.

The purpose of this exercise--and I will continue to do this as long as I am in the Senate--is to try to force us into making the hard choices we really don't want to have to make. I believe this committee did a good job of setting the parameters and trying, but there is a new standard, and the standard has to be, would you put in your own money? That is the standard we ought to go by because what we are really doing is transferring the cost of all these things to two generations, and it goes completely opposite of the heritage of this country.

D-day starts January 1, 2008. You know what D-day is? It is the first year of the baby boomers. It is the first year we start going down the tubes on Medicare and Social Security. And we can't even bring a bill to the floor that constrains spending to 4 percent or 5 percent--1 1/2 times inflation. The American public doesn't have that option with their budgets because they do not have an unlimited credit card. We just increased the debt limit on this country by $950 billion. Five times since 1997 have we done that. When a child is born today, not counting that debt, which is $30,000 per man, woman, and child, there is $400,000 worth of unfunded liabilities lying on each of those children.

My point is, and I will quit talking about it--and I am not going to offer the second amendment--we need to wake up and see that we can't do everything we would like to do. We ought to be doing what is absolutely necessary and we ought to be paying for this war. We ought to be making the hard choices and paying for the war.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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