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Public Statements

FAA Reauthorization Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


FAA REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2007 -- (Senate - April 29, 2008)

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will not take the time now to go into detail. I will wait until the Senator from Washington finishes her speech.

I will say I have a personal involvement with this issue. My sister has breast cancer. My sister-in-law has breast cancer. My most cherished person in the world besides my wife and children and grandchildren died of breast cancer. She was a breast cancer nurse specialist. I understand the disease. We spend more on breast cancer research than any other cancer in this country today. We spend $100 million on environmental causes related to breast cancer research.

I don't object to us spending money on breast cancer research. I object to us making the decisions about what the scientists know we should do versus what the politicians want us to do. So I will spend some time after the Senator from Washington State speaks outlining in detail my opposition to putting one cancer ahead of the other 70, No. 1; and one disease that--specifically, we are going to put one specific disease and one ideology of a specific disease ahead of all of the others, and I will outline that in detail.

On the basis of that, I will object.

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Mr. COBURN. I would like to ask the majority leader a question. Are you aware of the thousands of studies that have already been published--

Mr. REID. Of the what?

Mr. COBURN. Are you aware of the thousands of studies that have already been written on this subject?

Mr. REID. I say to my friend, I am not aware of the thousands of studies. I am aware of the need to move forward with this legislation. I would say to my friend, if, in fact, there are thousands--and I don't in any way doubt the word of my friend--then why should that be a basis for stopping us to legislate on this issue?

We have 68 Senators who believe this legislation is important. If you, the Senator from Oklahoma, have a cause that this legislation is ill-founded, people are--I have changed my position on legislation before, and I can't understand why you would stand in the way of allowing this legislation to be legislated. That is what we do here. We are legislators.

So, no, I am not familiar with the thousands of studies.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I appreciate the majority leader's response to my question. The reason is because the policy is wrong. We passed the NIH Reform Act just to eliminate this sort of issue because what we know is, out of the 2,037 diseases, we don't know which one to fund properly. We don't know which one to spend the most money on, but peer-reviewed science does. So what we have decided is, because we have a very effective lobbying group on this because it does impact hundreds of thousands of women, we are going to step right back in the middle of the NIH reform and say we didn't need it.

So the policy of us directing spending on research when we don't have the knowledge base to know that is the right thing to do--and the researchers agree with this, that we don't have the knowledge--in the context of all of the other 2,037 diseases, I will object to moving forward on this because the policy is wrong. It is not about debating it. I am happy to debate it all you want. But the policy is wrong.

Who says that the women who died of breast cancer this year are more important than the same number of people who died from lung cancer that is not related to smoking? Are we going to say that? Should we tell the NIH everything they should do, every amount of money, every disease we should decide, based on the effective lobbying of people who are absolutely affected--there is no question about that--but should we make that decision? The answer is no, we shouldn't. We should let the experts, not the Senators, not the Representatives, but the scientific experts make those decisions. We have given that charge to the NIH. That is what we ought to do. They would more sooner come to a cure and solve the problem than with us micromanaging the NIH.

With that, I object.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, there is $38 billion worth of fraud in Medicaid. We are on an unsustainable course as a nation. We have $74 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities. When we talk about controlling spending and earmarks, we always hear it is a mandatory program.

Finally, not all of what the administration has done do I absolutely agree with but on key points I do. These rules will make a difference. If we are interested in fraud, let's write the regulations to get out the fraud. That hasn't been the offer. All we are willing to do as a body is say to the administration you have ideas that will get rid of $42 billion worth of fraud over 5 years, but we don't like it because we are feeling pressure from the State Medicaid directors, when we know States game Medicaid. A great example: There is nothing in this to stop any Medicaid Program from taking a child from school to the doctor, but it does stop the 500-some-odd million dollars being spent on transporting schoolchildren back and forth to school who don't have a medical appointment. So what we have is a system that has been gamed. We have allowed it.

Now the administration put something forward which we don't like and which we ought to negotiate with them to change, rather than saying you are not going to do any of it. The fact is the unfunded liabilities associated with the Medicaid Program are about $12 trillion. We are going to do something--just forget it.

I applaud the administration for making an effort to try to fix some of this. But to say you cannot do any of it, when some of it is very badly needed, is wrong. So unfortunately, Mr. Leader, I have to object again.

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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to spend a few minutes answering the question as to why would one Senator, in the light of all the other Senators who have cosponsored this bill, stand and block a bill that 60 some Senators want to see passed? I think it is a great time for us to define what is wrong in our country today.

What is wrong is we think about the next election far off and more often than we think about the next generation. I want us to cure breast cancer as badly as anybody else. The point Senator Reid did not tell you is we are already spending $100 million on this very subject, the environmental connection to breast cancer. We are also spending more on breast cancer research than we are any other cancer, and yet it is not the leading cause of death.

We are going to have 160,000 people die this year from lung cancer, the same number who are going to die from breast cancer, 40,000 of which have no relationship to smoking, but you do not see anybody on the floor telling the NIH to do a study between the environmental effects and nonsmoking-related lung cancer.

The reason it is important is a little example of penicillin. It is a great example. We stumbled onto that through the science of microbiology, but we would never have gotten there if we had told the NIH: Study scarlet fever and find a cure; study strep tonsillitis and find a cure; study syphilis and find a cure; study gonorrhea, and we had gone four or five different ways. The point I am making is basic research is what we ought to be doing.

In the mid-nineties, I was one of the strong advocates for increasing the size of the NIH budget. It ought to be twice what it is today. The reason it is not $60 billion a year instead of $29 billion is because we will not fix the waste in Medicaid of $42 billion over 5 years, we will not fix the $90 billion in fraud in Medicare, we will not fix the $8 billion that was paid out by the Pentagon for performance bonuses that nobody earned last year, we will not fix the $50 billion that is associated with waste within the Pentagon. Nobody will fix it. We had one wheelchair that was sold multiple times for $5 million to Medicare in Florida alone--one wheelchair. We will not do the hard work that creates the long-term best interest for our country, but we will certainly respond to--granted, very real issues, but in an inappropriate way that does not get us where we want to go.

The NIH budget spends more on breast cancer research than any other research. We are going to spend $100 million on research on the link between breast cancer and the environment. Plus, the Defense Department is going to spend another $138 million, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention combined is greater than $1 billion. There is not any other disease we do that on right now. Yet we are going to tell them to do more of the same they are already doing, and we are never going to think about the other people with other diseases, the other 2,037 diseases that are not as well organized and have nowhere close to the same investment at NIH.

The point is, the hardcore, heavy-duty, peer-reviewed science ought to guide us, not emotion, not my poor cousin Sharon Wetz who died 6, 7 years ago of breast cancer, not my sister who has breast cancer, not my sister-in-law who has breast cancer. What we ought to be doing is what is in the best overall good for this country as a whole. And if we need to spend more money on breast cancer, then the way to do that is to get rid of some of the waste and double NIH, but any dollar we spend on breast cancer is a dollar we are not going to spend on colon cancer, it is a dollar we are not going to spend on thyroid cancer, it is a dollar we are not going to spend on lymphoma, because we are going to take it away.

In this bill, it says this should not interfere with peer-reviewed research. If that is the case, then this will never get appropriated. So either this bill is about doing research or it is about a press event for a politician. I will tell you, I think it is the latter.

In 2006, we modernized the NIH to keep exactly this thing from not happening. We took away all the silos. We gave the Director the power and the authority to start making great decisions based on what the raw science was telling him so when we invest in raw science, we magnify the potential benefits that come from it. Now we are going to go back and say we are going to start picking diseases; we are going to start managing it. Why do we need a staff at NIH? Let's let the Senate pick every disease and how much we are going to spend on every one of them; we obviously are qualified.

We are not qualified.

I find it amazing--I do not doubt Senator Reid's story, but as a surgical resident in 1984, I was doing cystoscopies and diagnosing interstitial cystitis. We didn't think it was psychosomatic. We knew it was a real disease 3 years before Senator Reid came to the Senate.

The question politicians ought to be asking is what is NIH doing? Where is the oversight on what they are doing? Find out what they are doing. How does their work rank in comparison to the other disease initiatives at NIH? We have not had a hearing on that issue.

The HELP Committee has had hearings on multiple speciality disease bills. So we are back into answering a real need, but maybe it is not the best priority. What if we spent the same money we are going to spend on this disease and we got a breakthrough that cured all cancers, but because we decided we were going to reconnect with one specific aspect of one potential risk for one cancer, we missed it?

The wisdom of this body has to be to think in the big picture and in the long term. I have diagnosed breast cancer over 500 times in my medical practice. It is a gut-wrenching, life-changing disease. Fortunately, we have had great improvements in it and our diagnostic skills are getting better, especially with digital MRI on breast examination. Early diagnosis has an impact, but what we do and how we do it is going to matter.

I will put forward that Senator Reid can bring this bill to the floor, and if he brings it and we take the time--and I am more than happy to take 4 or 5 days to talk about how we should work at NIH, and I am happy to do that--and the bill will pass, but then are we going to do the same thing with every other disease the HELP Committee brought out? There are about eight other bills just like this bill. We are going to tell NIH: You have to spend this money here, you have to do it here. Regardless of what the raw molecular science says, regardless of what the peer-reviewed literature says, we are going to tell them what to do. Consequently, we are going to delay scientific discovery.

My opposition is not that I don't want to cure breast cancer. My opposition is not that I don't want us to find a cure. I want to find a cure for all of them. I am a two-time cancer survivor. I would love to prevent colon cancer. I don't like walking around with half a colon. There are a lot of consequences to it. I don't like having melanoma and having half my neck taken away. I don't like it, but I don't want colon cancer to displace possible cures for everybody and in the best interest of this country.

Will I object? Every time I come to the floor I will object because I think the ultimate underlying policy is wrong. The way we solve breast cancer in this country is double the NIH funding and let science drive the way we need to go. The way we double NIH funding is get rid of the $300 billion waste, fraud, and abuse that is in the discretionary budget every year which most of us don't have the courage to attack because it might gore somebody's ox.

To those who have breast cancer, as a physician and somebody who has been through cancer, I know your fear. I have been there. I have experienced the questions. I have experienced the chemotherapy. I have experienced the losing of 30 or 40 pounds.

I have experienced the nausea and vomiting that is persistent with you for 4 or 6 months. Most of all, what I have experienced is, we have a great health care system and great research in this country that is saving a lot of lives. If we will get our hands out of it as politicians, they will be able to save a whole lot more lives than when we put our hands into it and tell them what they must and shall do.

I thank the good Lord for the time he has given me. I am 5 years out this month from colon cancer. There is no guarantee, but while I am alive, I am going to do things that are in the best long-term interest of our research for health care, that give us the most life for the dollars that we invest. If that is pleasing politically, great. If it is displeasing politically, it is OK too. What is important is we are good stewards--not just with the money but with the direction to allow science to lead us to cures.

I yield the floor.

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