DISCONTINUING BUSINESS AS USUAL -- (Senate - December 12, 2007)
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this morning we have heard about a lot of good causes and a lot of good bills. But what we have been asked to do is to pass bills without any debate, without the opportunity to amend, and we just heard a Senator say we could agree to a UC and not have to vote on it. Agreeing to a UC is the same as voting yes. The fact is, we have had plenty of time to bring up all these bills, put them on the floor, debate them and have great debates so the American people become informed, and offer amendments.
I will say for many of these bills, I am the Senator objecting. Senator Harkin knows I am objecting to the two bills he just raised.
The point is, our debt is rising $1 million a minute. When you authorize $100 million for the Realtime Writers Act, what you are saying is, I intend to get the money out of the appropriations process to develop training for something that the market should already be inducing through increased wages. If in fact there is a shortage, why is the market not taking care of it? Is it because the pay is too low? Maybe the pay ought to be higher. Maybe people ought to go into it. Instead we are going to inject $100 million of American taxpayers' money into something that will be solved through the market. If it is not, then the pay is entirely too low and the market will eventually adjust to it. But to say we are going to authorize something with no intent to ever spend, that is not the intent of an authorization. The intent of an authorization is to spend more money.
At $1.3 billion a day, we are going into debt, and it is not our debt. We are transferring it to our children and our grandchildren. To come down here and want to authorize and spend and pass without debate and pass without amendment multitudes of bills with no debate is to say, in other words, take it or leave it. And if you want to amend it or you want to have a chance to vote on it, tough luck; we are going to do it without you. It is called ``UC.''
The fact is, we find ourselves $9 trillion in debt now. The fact is, our children are facing $79 trillion worth of unfunded mandates. It is time that we change the business in the Senate. To come down and claim you want to just authorize but not spend is a hoax because you would not be authorizing unless you do spend.
The other thing the American people ought to know is, out of the over $1 trillion in discretionary budget that we spend right now, $280 billion of it is not authorized. The appropriators totally ignore the authorizers. When it comes to appropriations, they appropriate whatever they want. So it doesn't have to be authorized to get it done. They will appropriate it if they want to do it. They don't pay any attention to authorization.
When we have $8 trillion worth of authorized programs now, to say we cannot eliminate some program that is not being funded to be able to make room for one that should be funded, and to say we should not have to do that, that doesn't pass the commonsense test with the American public.
I understand that is irritating and bristling to the way we have done things in the past. I apologize if at times I am irritable and irritating, but I think the future generations are worth it. I do not think we can continue doing business as usual. So we have seen an ALS bill come down. The CDC doesn't want the ALS bill, the registry, and the reason is they can already do it. If we are going to do an ALS bill, we ought to do it for all neurologic diseases in terms of a registry, not just one. What we have decided is a celebrity or an interest group can come and we will place a priority there. Regardless of what the science says, regardless of what the basic science and the pure science says in terms of guiding us where to go on diseases, we will just respond. We will create a new program, and we will tell NIH where they have to go, or CDC where they have to go when science doesn't guide them there.
If we are going to do that, if we really think as a body we ought to be going the disease-specific direction, then why don't we do it all? Why don't we say we will do the peer-reviewed science on all the programs at NIH? Since we are going to pick the ones that have a cause behind them, why don't we do them all. Why don't we let the lobbyists tell us which ones should be first? Of course, we wouldn't do that because we know the scientists at CDC and the scientists at NIH make decisions, not on popularity, not on politics, but on the raw science that will give us the best benefit for the most people.
We look good when we do those things. We do satisfy a yearning for those who are handicapped or paralyzed or have breast cancer or have colon cancer. But if we are going to do a registry for ALS, why aren't we doing one for diabetes? We aren't we doing one for multiple myeloma? Why? Why aren't we doing those things? If we are going to pick one, if we are going to do a neurological disease, let's do it for all of them. It shows the shallowness of what we are trying to do. Our hearts are big, but we are not looking at the big picture.
The FHA we discussed. The component in the FHA that I object to is, we have a study in the FHA bill that the GAO is mandated to do on reverse mortgages. But at the same time, regardless of what the study shows, we lift the cap. All I have asked for from the authors of the bill is to keep the cap where it is until we get the GAO study back so we know what we are doing, rather than responding to a clamoring which we have no basis, in fact, to know is the accurate thing to do; otherwise, we wouldn't be asking for the study in the first place. It is a simple request.
Instead, we come to the Senate floor and try to make us, those who object, seem unreasonable when we say common sense would say if we have a study in the bill to tell us where to go, but we are already ignoring what the results of that study may or may not be, to question that we should not have a debate about that, that we should not have an ability to amend that, we should just blindly say yes, that is not what the Senate tradition is. This is a body that is supposed to be about debate.
In the past 31 days the Senate has been in session 15 days. We have had 10 votes in 15 days, and we have had 8 days without any votes at all. All these bills could have been on the floor and had accurate debate. I would have lost most of my amendments, based on the historical record of my amendments, but the American people would have benefited from the debate about those bills. Instead, we are made to look as if we don't care if we want to try to improve a bill because we will not agree to blindly accept a bill to go through. We are made to say we don't care about people who are losing their mortgages because we think there are some commonsense changes to a bill? That isn't quite right.
You hear the reference that people vote or the committee voted or that there wasn't an amendment. The fact is, on voice votes if you do not vote, you are not recorded because there is not a recorded vote. But that doesn't mean you agree to bring the bill to the floor. We all know that.
The fact is, and you have heard me say it many times in this body, if you are born today you inherit $400,000 worth of unfunded liabilities. There is a lot of things we do wrong on our side of the aisle, I will admit that, and have done wrong on our side of the aisle, both in the tenor of how we approach things and in how we characterize things. But the best way to right what we are doing wrong is start doing it right. The fact is, it is no legacy that we should leave to the next two generations that they are born into the world with a stone around their neck. The culture and methodology the Senate--I asked the President of the Senate a moment ago: What does unanimous consent mean when we bring up these bills? It is the rules of the Senate, I was told. The rules of the Senate are, you get no opportunity to amend.
I ask unanimous consent for an additional 3 minutes for me.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.
Mr. COBURN. You get no opportunity to debate, you get no opportunity to amend, you have no opportunity to vote. So, if you truly object to a bill or a component of a bill you are told: Stuff it. What you think about it doesn't matter, let alone the very real loss of the American people not hearing a full debate about these issues.
We have plenty of time to debate them. We have quorum calls much too much. We should have two or three bills on the floor at the same time. I am willing to debate and lose, but I am not willing to give consent I disagree with and imply to the people I represent, in my oath to the Constitution, that it doesn't matter. It does matter. It matters immensely.
The future is at risk. We are on an unsustainable course, and we are seeing some of that played out in the mortgage market today. We are seeing some of that played out with the value of the dollar today. We are seeing some of that played out in the confidence of the American people, not only in the future and what they see, but in how they view us. We do, in fact, have an obligation to secure the future, and we do, in fact, have an obligation to make tough choices, priorities. Those priorities ought to be framed in the light of what the everyday American family has to do to frame their priorities.
Instead, what we have the habit of is not making any priorities at all because we take it all. We don't choose. We choose to do it all, knowing that the consequences of that choice bear on two generations from us. We will long be gone, but the legacy we leave will deny the very essence of this country. The essence of this country is one generation sacrificing for the future, for the next. The legacy we are leaving is exactly the opposite.
So I beg some patience on the part of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle that, in fact, if we disagree on a bill going by UC, it doesn't necessarily mean we disagree with the intent. It does mean that we think it can be improved or we think it can be held more accountable or, as the case of the SBA bills I am holding now, one of them is atrocious in terms of the money it is losing for the American people. Yet we are supposed to agree with those bills without amending or voting or debating.
I will be back to talk later in our time, and at the present time I yield.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we are 2 days away from the expiration of the continuing resolution--our second one. We had difficulty as a party when we were in the majority with getting the bills done on time. It is difficult to move things through this body. That is not necessarily always the majority's fault, but it requires that we work together. One way to take the pressure--the crash pressure in coming up against a point where everybody ends up losing is to have an automatic CR so we don't have that problem. There has been a bill offered that says if we cannot get our work done, there is an automatic CR, that the Government continues to run at the rate it was, or at the lower of the Senate- or House-passed bills. It takes us away from the idea of playing chicken and protects the American people and those employed by the Federal Government. I think it is common sense. It is something we ought to do. It takes the pressure off both sides so we are not running down to the end and looking at bills that nobody knows what is in them, thereby doing a grave injustice to the rest of the American people. I think it is an idea whose time has come.
On the basis of that, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 2070, the Government shutdown prevention bill. I ask unanimous consent that the bill be read the third time and passed, the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table, and that any statements relating to the bill be printed in the Record.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?
Ms. STABENOW. Mr. President, on behalf of the majority leader, I object.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. Objection is heard.
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, that tells us something. That tells us we are going to get a bill that none of us knows what is in it because we are going to run it up against a deadline--the deadline was September 30, we know that. We need a way to relieve the pressure. This bill relieves it; otherwise, we are going to do a great and harmful injustice to the American people.
I yield the floor.
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