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Public Statements

Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 -- Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


CONSOLIDATED APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2008--Continued -- (Senate - December 18, 2007)

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Mr. COBURN. As we approach the end of the year, Congress once again finds itself on a last-minute spending spree, approving billions of dollars of new spending with few questions asked, no amendments allowed, and little debate, discussion, or inspection permitted.

The U.S. national debt now exceeds $9.13 trillion. That means almost $30,000 in debt for each and every man, woman, and child in the United States. The U.S. debt is expanding by about $1.4 billion a day, or nearly $1 million a minute. The unfunded liability placed on a child born today is $400,000.

The ``Financial Report of the United States Government'' released this week found that the Federal deficit would be nearly 70 percent higher than the $162.8 billion reported 2 months ago if the Government used the same accounting practices as private firms. Accounting for such liabilities as pensions and health care costs when they are incurred rather than when they are paid would have boosted the deficit to $275.5 billion, the report noted.

It is completely irresponsible for Congress to add to this debt that threatens the retirement security of our senior citizens and the economic prosperity of our children and grandchildren who will inherit the debt that results from the spending decisions Congress is making today.

The Omnibus appropriations bill, which combines the 11 unfinished appropriations bills to fund the Federal Government's operations in fiscal year 2008, provides approximately $515.7 billion in discretionary spending. The bill also adds approximately $11 billion in emergency spending, of which $3.7 billion is contingent emergency spending for veterans programs.

This bill was approved by the House of Representatives last night, and the Senate will vote on it today, even though it has only been available now for 36 hours. The bill is more than 3,400 pages, and I am fairly certain that not a single Member of either chamber of Congress, or anyone else, for that matter, has read it in its entirety. What is most shocking, however, is that the eagerness of Members of Congress to recess for the year and to satisfy the desire to secure pork projects has taken precedent over our responsibility to properly manage the Nation's finances and set national spending priorities.

While this bill does not provide the funding that is needed for our brave men and women in uniform fighting on the front lines in Iraq, it does contains over 9,000 special interest pork projects, known as ``earmarks.''

``An earmark Christmas, Lawmakers deck out omnibus with many a spending project,'' proclaims the front page of the Hill newspaper. ``Earmark Extravaganza, Nearly 9,000 Requests in Omnibus,'' exclaims the front page of Roll Call.

Nearly 300 of the earmarks in this bill costing over $800 million were air dropped into this bill during closed- door meetings not open to the public or most Members of Congress.

Among the thousands of earmarked projects tucked into this bill are:

$113,000 for rodent control in Alaska;

$213,000 for olive fruit fly research in France;

$1,645,000 for the City of Bastrop, LA. According to Bastrop Daily Enterprise, ``The money is officially earmarked for the purchase of bulletproof vests and body armor. Bulletproof vests only cost about $700-800, however, so $1.6 million would appear to be overkill.'' Police detective Curtis Stephenson agrees, conceding ``There's no way we'd need that kind of money just to put all our people in vests.'';

$200,000 for a Hunting and Fishing Museum in Pennsylvania;

$150,000 for a Louis Armstrong Museum in New York;

$700,000 for a bike trail in Minnesota;

$1,000,000 for river walk in Massachusetts;

$200,000 for a post office museum in downtown Las Vegas;

$1,000,000 for an earmark requested by a House Member who has been indicted on Federal charges of racketeering, money-laundering and soliciting bribes;

$824,000 for alternative salmon products;

$146,000 for an aquarium in South Carolina;

$1,000,000 for managing weeds in Idaho; and

$37,000 for the Lincoln Park Zoo in Illinois.

It is hard to argue that any of these are national priorities or more important than funding the troops in Iraq or worth increasing the national debt. Members of Congress have, however, learned to rationalize the practice of earmarking, but the truth is every earmark diverts funds away from more important national priorities.

I filed two amendments to this bill that would have demonstrated this point that I had hoped to offer but was blocked from doing so. These amendments would have given Congress the opportunity to choose between improving deficient roads and bridges and providing health care to women and children before steering funds toward special interest earmarks.

The first amendment, 3860, would have allowed the Department of Transportation to redirect earmarked funds to improve unsafe roads and bridges.

On August 1, 2007, the Interstate 35 West, I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN, collapsed during rush hour, killing 13 people and injuring another 123. This tragedy exposed both a nationwide problem of deficient bridges as well as misplaced priorities of Congress, which has focused more on funding earmarks than improving aging infrastructure.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, one out of every eight bridges in our Nation is structurally deficient. Of the 597,340 bridges in the United States, 154,101 bridges are deficient. Yet, instead of addressing needed bridge maintenance, Congress has prioritized earmarks for politicians' pet projects, many which do not even involve roads or bridges.

The $286 billion, 5-year Transportation authorization bill approved by Congress in 2005, for example, included 6,373 earmarks, totaling $24 billion, including the infamous ``Bridge to Nowhere'' in Alaska.

An investigation by the inspector general of the Department of Transportation found that ``Many earmarked projects considered by the agencies as low priority are being funded over higher priority, non-earmarked projects.'' The IG notes that ``Funding these new low priority projects added to the already substantial backlog of replacement projects and caused [Federal Aviation Administration] to delay the planning of its higher priority replacement projects by at least 3 years.''

Earmarks have siphoned away tens of billions of dollars that could and should have been spent to upgrade deficient bridges or improve aging roads rather than being spent on politicians' pet projects.

The Senate has already rejected a similar amendment in September, and this bill shows once again that Congress is more interested in securing earmarks than securing our Nation's roads and bridges.

The second amendment, 3861, would have allowed the Department of Health and Human Services to redirect earmarked funds to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Program.

Congress has spent much of this year posturing about who cares most about providing health care for children and the uninsured. Yet Congress has failed to enact any reforms to expand health care access. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, in this country there were 9.5 million children who lacked health insurance for at least part of last year, and over 17 million women are uninsured.

This amendment ensures that many of these uninsured women and children would receive services from the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant, which provides funding for urgent health needs for pregnant women, mothers, infants, children, and adolescents. It is shameful that Congress has diverted tens of millions of dollars in the health title of this bill towards special interest pork projects when millions of children and women do not have access to critical health care.

The Senate rejected a similar amendment in October, and this bill demonstrates once again that while Congress may talk about prioritizing children's health care, the real priority of Congress is its own special interest pork projects.

There are plenty of other examples in this bill of Congress's misplaced priorities. The bill, for example, terminates the Baby AIDS Program that provides resources to prevent perinatal HIV transmission and care for mothers with HIV, while ensuring that San Francisco receives funding for deceased AIDS patients. The bill provides another $100 million for the 2008 political party conventions. It allows the Department of Justice to again provide Federal financial support for groups linked to terrorism by removing the prohibition passed by the Senate in October.

Who know what other travesties are hidden within this 3,400 page omnibus spending bill that Congress is expected to pass without having time to read, review, or amend? Members of Congress may never know, and apparently few seem to care.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that the approval ratings of Congress have reached alltime historical lows.

Congress has ignored the needs of our troops in combat, the looming bankruptcy of Social Security and Medicare, and the nearly insurmountable national debt that threatens the future prosperity of our Nation while showing virtually no restraint on spending, especially for parochial pork projects.

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