BLUE DOG COALITION -- (House of Representatives - October 30, 2007)
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COOPER. I thank my colleague from Arkansas.
Mr. Speaker, I'm pleased to join this Blue Dog Special Order hour tonight. I would like to discuss not only the Wartime Spending Accountability Act but also another measure that most of the Blue Dog leadership has been kind enough to cosponsor having to do with reform of all of our entitlement programs.
But first on wartime spending, there is absolutely no question that there's been an astonishing amount of waste, fraud and abuse in this conflict in Iraq. I personally was on the tarmac at the Baghdad Airport when a C-130 plane flew in, and the Air Force did not want us to see that plane land and unload its cargo. Well, why was that? Here are a group of U.S. Congressman standing on the runway and they did not want us to see a U.S. plane land because of its cargo. Well, what was in that plane that was so secret? Well, the plane landed and they got the forklift out and they unloaded six pallets, very well wrapped up, absolutely full, very heavy. And what was in those pallets? $1.2 billion of U.S. cold hard cash, $100 bills. I've never seen that much money in my life. I'm not sure if any bank in the country keeps that much cash on hand. But that much U.S. currency was flown into Baghdad. Why? We were told it was to go to replenish the Baghdad or Iraqi Central Bank. It certainly had the most elaborate convoy I've ever seen protecting that cash, because if it had been robbed, it would have been the greatest robbery in the history of the world. Now, the tragedy is we don't know how much of that money disappeared once it got to the bank and was in proper hands, because it is widely known that there is massive corruption in that country.
Another incident that most people know about is the fact that U.S. contractors, who are supposed to be handling taxpayer money wisely, have been seen playing touch football with what, a football? No. With small bales of $100 bills. They've been so loose with our money, and they have so much on hand, not in single dollar form, but in bales of $100 bills, that they've been seen playing touch football with that.
Another episode we were recently made aware of is due to the Iraqi Government's inability to pass an oil revenue sharing law. There's been a lot of upset by the Sunnis in al-Anbar province in particular because they're worried they won't get their fair share of Iraq's oil wealth.
Well, recently a shipment was made of millions and millions of U.S. dollars to basically dump this money in a town square in al-Anbar province just to make sure the Sunnis felt better about themselves. That is not a wise use of U.S. taxpayer dollars.
So the Inspector General in Iraq is doing an outstanding job of ferreting out this misuse of U.S. taxpayer money. We have tried here in the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis to strengthen inspectors general. They are a wonderful mechanism for ferreting out waste, fraud and abuse. We passed a bill to strengthen inspectors general in this House by a vote of 404-11, an overwhelming bipartisan majority. And guess what the administration response was? They threatened to veto that bill. Veto a bill that enjoyed the support of 404 House Members, overwhelming bipartisan support.
I think we need to keep on strengthening inspectors general because they are finding problems with U.S. taxpayer dollars, and we need to root out all this waste, fraud and abuse.
The other topic I wanted to focus on tonight is a different measure. And as important as the war in Iraq is, as important as it is to find misspent U.S. dollars, this topic is even bigger. This has to do with overall U.S. entitlement spending. And the proposal is H.R. 3654. We call it the SAFE Act. What it would do, and my bipartisan cosponsor is Frank Wolf of Virginia. David Broder actually commented on this bill in his national column today in the newspaper. What it would do is set up a bipartisan commission to study the problem of entitlements for 1 year, then by the time the next President is sworn in, give that new President a commission recommendation that's completely bipartisan, a 50/50 commission. All issues are on the table, so there's no favoritism, no exclusion of certain hot-button issues. And Congress would be required to vote up or down on the finding of that commission as well as on any proposal that the new President or this Congress would like to make.
But the key is, this commission would have teeth. Congress would have to act. Reforms would have to take place, because if you look at our overall entitlement spending, there are severe problems.
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Medicare alone, which is one of the most important programs in America, Medicare alone is $32 trillion in the hole. $32 trillion. That's many times larger of course than even $32 billion. This is $32 trillion. And their estimate is, if we knew how to measure it, that Medicaid would be in a similar bind. That's probably more than this Congress can handle in terms of problem solving this late in the session, so that's why we think that a bipartisan commission will do the best job and the fairest job and the most bipartisan job of coming up with a solution that we can all support to solve these fundamental fiscal problems.
So I would encourage my colleagues to look at H.R. 3654, the SAFE Act, to try to remedy the entitlement crisis that we face in this country. A wide group of folks from all sides of the political spectrum have supported this measure: the Bipartisan Concord Coalition, for example, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Heritage Foundation on the right and the Brookings Foundation, which is more of a nonpartisan organization. So we have wide bipartisan support from the think tanks. We have wide bipartisan support in this body, with some 25 Members from each side of the aisle cosponsoring the measure already. So I hope most of my colleagues can see their way clear to going ahead and cosponsoring H.R. 3654.
But I want to thank my colleague from Arkansas, as my friend from Florida has said earlier, you've taken the lead on many weeks now to bring the message of the Blue Dogs to the American people, that message of fiscal conservatism, that message of centrism, that message of common sense and trying to do what's right for our country.
We're fortunate in the Blue Dogs to have members from all corners of the country, from California to Maine, from Florida to Washington, it's a wide and diverse group, and we're proud of that. But the most important thing is the common sense we try to bring to these debates, because these shouldn't be highly partisan debates. Most Americans can agree when they get around the kitchen table or meet at the Rotary Club back home on what the right thing to do is for the country. We should show a similar amount of common sense here in Washington. So I thank my colleague from Arkansas, Mr. Ross, for holding this important Special Order.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COOPER. Well, we probably should mention the meeting that you and I had with all the other Blue Dogs with three remarkably distinguished Americans this afternoon because they, too, gave us some insight in our current fiscal situation in this country. I don't think you've mentioned this before earlier in the hour, but former Secretary of Treasury Bob Rubin came to meet with us, as well as former Secretary of Treasury Larry Summers, as well as former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Roger Altman. One of our group called them actually the dream team of treasury management in recent American history, because under Secretary Rubin, Summers and Altman, we had 8 of the greatest years of growth in all of American history, certainly the longest sustained period since World War II. It was an amazing performance, an amazing feat, one that I hope that future treasury secretaries can try to live up to.
But the key was sound fiscal management. Secretary Rubin in particular set the tone by making sure that the markets in this country were strong, making sure that growth was strong, making sure that prosperity was strong. So it was an amazing thing to hear these three gentlemen.
And they're very concerned today because, unlike the surpluses that were being accumulated in the Clinton administration, especially in the last 3 years, now, of course we've sunk into terrible deficits. And they basically told us today that our number one problem is a lack of savings in this country, a lack of personal savings, because the average American is having trouble paying their bills, doesn't put anything away for a rainy day, too tempted by credit cards, have to buy things. And now the Christmas season is coming up so there's a lack of personal savings, but there's also a huge lack of government savings, because when you run a large deficit, as we're doing, that's dissavings. That's the opposite of savings. So they pointed out that both things are problems for this country.
And I know the gentleman also enjoyed their presentation. It was quite an honor for the Blue Dogs to have them ask us to share a few thoughts with them. And they are promoting, of course, their Hamilton Project, which is a centrist think tank here in Washington supported by these gentlemen and others to try to bring more common sense to Washington policy debates and economics.
But I thank the gentleman for referring to those issues.
Mr. ROSS. It was a fascinating discussion, and you raise a good point, and that is that it wasn't too long ago that Members of Congress were coming to this floor to debate how to spend a budget surplus, how to invest a budget surplus. You know, it was under President Clinton. I'm proud to say it was a fellow Arkansan from my home town of Hope, Arkansas, where I grew up and graduated high school, who gave us the first balanced budget of any Democrat or Republican President for the first time in what, 40 years?
Mr. COOPER. Since 1969.
Mr. ROSS. And he did that. There were several contributing factors that allowed him to be able to lead us in that direction, one of which was having what's called PAYGO rules on the floor of this very House, something the Republican leadership threw out the door with this new Republican President back in 2001. And what PAYGO rules mean is it means pay as you go. PAYGO is an acronym for pay as you go, which means exactly what it sounds like it means. If you've got an idea for a new program that's going to cost money, you've got to show how you're going to pay for it. No more of just borrowing money from China. If you want to cut taxes for folks earning over $400,000 a year, you've got to show how you're going to pay for it. No more borrowing money from China.
And I'm proud to tell you that in this new Democratic Congress, there's a lot of discussion about the first 100 legislative hours where we raised the Federal minimum wage and where we implemented the 9/11 Commission recommendations, where we said Members of Congress who break the law will no longer receive a pension, where we passed earmark reform, where we have passed SCHIP to ensure that the children of working parents receive health care. We've done a lot in this session of Congress. Unfortunately, a lot of it is sitting over on the Senate's doorsteps waiting for Senate action, which is somewhat disappointing for a lot of us that come here every week and work hard to pass these policy initiatives that are good for working families, good for children and good for seniors.
But not in the first legislative 100 hours, not in the first 9 months of this new 110th Congress under a Democratic majority, but in the first hour on this very floor of the United States House of Representatives, this new Democratic Congress reinstituted a House rule known as PAYGO.
You want to expand on that?
Mr. COOPER. Well, the gentleman's exactly right. An authority of no less than Alan Greenspan said that PAYGO was the most important reform that this Congress could undertake to right our fiscal imbalance.
PAYGO was actually started under the first President Bush in 1990. It was instituted on a bipartisan basis. It worked extremely well for 12 years, from 1990 to 2002. And then sadly the Republican majority here allowed it to expire. And that's when, really, our fiscal wheels started running off the track.
So we swung from a surplus, a surplus that was growing so fast there was actually fear that the United States would be debt free, as if you could be afraid of that, that would have been a glorious moment in our history for our children to be unburdened by interest payments and future generations. That was the prospect when President Clinton left office.
And then to swing from that into, as all Blue Dogs have, we have the debt sign outside of our office. Now it's $9 billion, $29,000 for every man, woman and child in this country. But it's growing so rapidly. And that doesn't even take into account our Medicare, our Social Security, our Medicaid and other entitlement program liabilities. So it's a monster of a problem, and it's going to take a bipartisan commission to deal with it.
But PAYGO, according to Alan Greenspan and other authorities, was the single most important reform step that we could undertake. The Blue Dogs are responsible for that reform. It's working. I am proud of our Democratic leadership here because they have been remarkably strict in making sure that every bill that reaches this House floor adheres to PAYGO requirements.
And as you said, it is completely common sense. If you want something new, pay for it. Don't charge it. And that is the way America needs to be acting in the future.
So I think it will not inhibit new ideas. It will just make sure that new ideas are fiscally responsible and paid for so we are not adding to the debt load of our kids and grandkids, and, as the gentleman said, not borrowing any more money from foreign countries, because we've done too much of that already.
Many Americans don't realize that President Bush, his administration, has already borrowed more money from foreign nations than all previous Presidents in American history put together. What a sad record to hold, to have borrowed more money from foreign nations than all previous Presidents in American history combined. That's not good medicine for America. That's not good fiscal policy. And the Blue Dogs are leading the way in helping to change that.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT