JOBS, ENERGY, FAMILIES, AND DISASTER RELIEF ACT OF 2008--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - July 28, 2008)
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Mr. COBURN. I thank the majority leader for the time.
Mr. President, in the bills we did not agree to go to, I have worked with Senator Biden on the child exploitation alternative bill, which would protect our children from pornography and Internet exploitation. That bill is at the desk and has been filed.
After working with Senator Biden, adding the SAFE Act, which is an act that would decrease the amount of graphic and vile images of child pornography currently available on the Internet and help root out people selling, trading, and displaying images, and by expanding the requirements for the Internet service providers to report on online child pornography, which is a bipartisan bill as well, as were two of these components I never held in the bill, I ask unanimous consent that we call up and pass that bill, as amended, with the concurrence of the majority leader.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I would make the point--I understand the majority leader's concern with my actions. My actions are not of impure motives, nor are my attempts to embarrass anyone. But the fact is, we could pass these bills if we weren't struggling with politics. The fact is, if we wanted to do something about it--and I believe many of the Members of this body do--we can continue the game of reducing minority rights or we can truly work to try to work out the problems on the bills.
That is what the attempt was. I will not go any further with that.
I will take this time to ask unanimous consent for another agreement--the Emmett Till bill, which I offered multiple times; multiple potential amendments to solve this problem. I met with Mr. Sykes, who is leading this effort. I agree with the purposes of the bill. I have always agreed with the purposes of the bill, and I objected because the Justice Department spent over $400 million in the last 7 years on conferences, and the Justice Department says they can do what we want done for about a third of the amount of the money. So I am willing to offer a way to pass the Emmett Till bill tonight on the floor, a way that allows the Justice Department to take funds from within their other funds and pay for the costs of this bill, which will be about a third less than what we would have authorized, and that will happen in spite of the fact that we do not plan to offer any appropriations bills this year.
The Emmett Till bill could become law and be in effect at the level at which we would all want it by agreeing to the following unanimous consent request, the bill I filed, and I ask unanimous consent it be adopted and passed.
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Mr. COBURN. I make the note that what we have is the majority leader saying I want cover. I don't cover for anything, I say to the majority leader. I have been out front opposing these bills from the start because they were not paid for or they were not good policy. To claim that my effort to pass this legislation now in a way that both saves money for the next few generations and also will accomplish the very goal that he says he wants to accomplish--that has nothing to do with feeling guilty. I think it is a great victory for the American people today that we did not spend $11 billion and get on a bill that would spend it.
I understand there is a permanent disagreement, both on how we have done this and also on the policy questions, but the fact is, if we want to solve unsolved civil rights violations, the way to do it is this. The way not to do it is to say: We are not going to do it, we are not going to work with you, we are not going to change it.
The whole purpose of not agreeing to the unanimous consent request on the bill in the first place was there is so much waste in the Justice Department. It would be my recommendation that maybe after a few days we take another look at that, and I will work with the authors of the bill in a good-faith effort to try to make both those bills capable of being passed. I know many on your side would like to get the legislation done no matter what.
This is no attempt to cover for anybody. I have too many holds to try to cover for anything.
Mr. SESSIONS. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. COBURN. I will yield to the Senator from Alabama.
Mr. SESSIONS. Senator Coburn, with regard to the Emmett Till bill, you have been open about your objection. This is not a secret hold, is it?
Mr. COBURN. Absolutely not.
Mr. SESSIONS. You worked on it. You spent a lot of your time. You talked to the Department of Justice, you studied the bill, you studied the language in it. You have a sincere concern about the way it was originally written; is that right?
Mr. COBURN. I have a concern with the money authorized in this bill that will be wasted and appropriated when we have not taken care of a large amount of the waste in the Justice Department.
Mr. SESSIONS. In fact, you talked to the Justice Department about it, I believe; is that correct?
Mr. COBURN. I have.
Mr. SESSIONS. You spent a lot of hours of your personal time trying to make this legislation better. Have they told you they needed as much money as the bill originally authorized?
Mr. COBURN. They said they needed one-third of what the bill authorized.
Mr. SESSIONS. The Department of Justice said they can meet the goal with one-third less money than the bill has in it?
Mr. COBURN. That is correct.
Mr. SESSIONS. And you are willing to accept that amount?
Mr. COBURN. And have it paid for out of wasted funds at the Justice Department.
Mr. SESSIONS. I don't think that is an unreasonable position, I would say to my friend the majority leader. I think that is good work, what a good Senator should do. They should ask questions.
You served on the Judiciary Committee, so you were engaged with that discussion when it first came up?
Mr. COBURN. I first raised reservations on this bill when it first came up.
Mr. SESSIONS. On the Child Protection Act, the goal of that was--I served on that subcommittee--the goal of that was to create task forces around the country to exploit computer technology to identify pedophiles and child molesters, a goal which I support and I think you support. But the amount of money just seemed to be drawn out of thin air, one-point-something billion dollars; is that correct?
Mr. COBURN. That is correct. The bill as offered brought that number down to $360-some million, which was
never offered to me but was in the bill as it came to the floor.
Mr. SESSIONS. OK. When it came out of the subcommittee, as I recall--and I talked to the chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Biden, at length, and our staff talked, and we asked him to bring the amount down.
I served 15 years in the Department of Justice. I know the Presiding Officer was a U.S. attorney also. I know something about how task forces work. We didn't need $1.2 billion. I tried to get that down.
I was placed in an uncomfortable position to either vote for a bill that I supported in general or insist that the number, the amount of funding, be reduced to a reasonable level. Sometimes you wonder, maybe they want to put you in that position. I voted against the bill in committee.
After you raised an objection and placed a hold on it or made clear your objection, the bill has been reduced in amount?
Mr. COBURN. Yes, it has, by three-quarters.
Mr. SPECTER. Will the Senator from Oklahoma yield to me?
Mr. COBURN. I will.
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Mr. COBURN. I thank the Senator from Pennsylvania for his question. I think you accurately assessed it. The fact is, this country has an energy crisis. We have chosen not to address American resources for that. We have chosen to do anything but that, and that is why we have seen bill after bill forcing political votes rather than solving the real problem Americans want the Senate to address, which is how do we stop sending $700 billion of our treasure out of this country every year, knowing we are going to be on carbon-based energy for at least the next 20 to 30 years, and how do we use American resources.
You are absolutely right. That is the real question. That is what we should be about. That is why Republicans stood and said the thing the American people are interested in is us addressing the issues that are impacting them directly today, the $2,400 per family, trying to get to work or get to school.
The question the Senator asked is absolutely right. The real question is energy and trying to take us off energy and run out the clock and not deal with this before we go on summer break.
Mr. SPECTER. My next question to the Senator from Oklahoma is, when the Senator from Nevada rejects the traditional standing of Senators to offer an amendment to any bill at any time--until the past 15 years, majority leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, have adopted this filling the tree to preclude amendments, and the Senator from Nevada says there is insufficient time to take up the amendments. Isn't it true that if the Senate and the House stayed in session during the month of August and did not take the recess, we could take up any number of amendments to give Senators the traditional rights, which had been enjoyed until 1993, when both Democratic and Republican majority leaders have stymied the process by this process of filling the tree?
Mr. COBURN. I think the Senator makes a good point. The answer to that is yes. As a matter of fact, we would have been halfway through this bill had cloture not been filed when it was introduced at the same time, as we just saw on the bills this evening. A bill is introduced, cloture is filed at the moment of introduction, as it was with the Advancing America's Priorities or, as I call it, the Grow Government and Spend More of Your Grandkids' Money bill, the point being we could have already accomplished half of what this country needs had we had an open amendment process that was germane to the energy needs of this country.
Mr. SPECTER. My next question to the Senator from Oklahoma is whether Senator Reid was correct when he spoke, on February 28, 2006, as noted in the Congressional Record on the Patriot Act Reauthorization:
I am disappointed that he--
Referring to a Senator who wanted to offer an amendment--
has been denied that opportunity by a procedural maneuver known as ``filling the tree.'' This is a very bad practice. It runs against the basic rule of the Senate. The hallmark of the Senate is free speech and open debate.
Was the Senator from Nevada correct when he decried and criticized this business of filling the tree to preclude the offering of amendments?
Mr. COBURN. I answer the Senator from Pennsylvania by saying yes, he was. No majority leader should fill the tree, Republican or Democrat. It goes against the best traditions of the Senate. It goes against the tradition of full debate and full amendment.
Our energy problems could be solved tomorrow as far as this bill. We could ask a unanimous consent to withdraw the amendments filling the tree. If we had unanimous consent to do that, we could have open amendments with the provision there would only be germane amendments to the energy needs of this country. We could do that, but we have moved from debate about what is in the best interests of this country to what is in the best interests of the next political election. That is what this debate is about. It is not about energy. It is not about what is in the best interests of the next two generations. It is not what is in the best interests of the Nation from a national security standpoint or energy security standpoint. It is about what is best for the next election.
We need to get away from that. Regrettably, Republican leaders have used it but never to the extent of 15 times has it ever--it has not been used 15 times in total until the present leader has exercised it 15 times. He has cut off debate and all amendments.
Mr. SPECTER. Is the Senator from Oklahoma aware that I have stated for the record my reason for opposing cloture on the oil speculators bill was not that I did not agree with the underlying approach of legislation to deal with the high prices of oil and the high prices of gas at the pump, but I voted against cloture on that bill, opposed putting the majority leader in a position to move for final passage because I had amendments I wished to offer.
Was the Senator from Oklahoma aware that I have been pressing to get an amendment, along with Senator Kohl, a bipartisan amendment, to bring OPEC nations under the antitrust laws so they could not meet in a room, lower production, lower supply, and thereby raise the price of oil in the international market?
Mr. COBURN. I was not aware of that.
Mr. SPECTER. Is the Senator from Oklahoma aware that I am the principal author of the legislation to provide for the reporter shield, along with Senator Schumer and Senator Lugar?
Mr. COBURN. I am.
Mr. SPECTER. Is the Senator from Oklahoma aware that if that issue goes through the process of the tree filling and cloture is invoked, that legislation will displace the oil speculators bill?
Mr. COBURN. I am aware of that.
Mr. SPECTER. Is the Senator from Oklahoma aware of the detailed effort I made on the legislation involving global warming coming to the floor several times during the week of June 2, listing a number of amendments which I sought to offer, essentially from the Bingaman-Specter bill, and that I was precluded from offering those amendments because the Senator from Nevada filled the tree?
Mr. COBURN. I was.
Mr. SPECTER. Was the Senator from Oklahoma aware of the fact that I voted against cloture on the global warming bill, notwithstanding the fact that I think that is an issue that has to be addressed and worked for more than a year with Senator Bingaman, producing the Bingaman-Specter bill, but voted against cloture to advance the bill because I and others wanted to offer amendments to the global warming bill?
Mr. COBURN. I am.
Mr. SPECTER. Was the Senator from Oklahoma aware of that when the Senator from Nevada thwarted the proceedings under the FAA bill, that there were key issues to be decided, such as modernizing air control to move to satellite, to provide for greater safety, and the processing of that bill was thwarted because the tree was filled and, again, a motion for cloture was denied because Senators were not given an opportunity to offer amendments?
Mr. COBURN. I was aware of that.
Mr. SPECTER. Was the Senator from Oklahoma aware that I had two important amendments relating to air control over my State, southeastern Pennsylvania, actually over Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, that I had an amendment which dealt with the scheduling, where there were enormous delays on takeoffs and landings because they were overbooked, and that the efforts to change the law on that were thwarted by the procedures adopted by the Senator from Nevada?
Mr. COBURN. I was aware.
Mr. SPECTER. Was the Senator from Oklahoma aware that a number of Senators were on the floor for about an hour today and could not get recognition and had to wait because a quorum call was on and that the Senator from Nevada saw to it that the unanimous consent to take off the quorum was denied?
Mr. COBURN. I was aware of that. I had actually offered unanimous consent to waive the cloture and was denied.
Mr. SPECTER. Is the Senator from Oklahoma aware that there is a determination by this Senator, and I think by more than 40 other Senators on this side of the aisle, to fight these procedural moves come hell or high water, and no matter what legislation the Senator from Nevada offers, if it is legislation similar to the shield bill that I have worked on for a long time, I think it is very necessary, that we are going to rebel against the tyranny of what has been established by the majority leader in following a procedure to fill the tree and then blame Republicans who refuse cloture and exercise finger-pointing backward and forward?
Is the Senator from Oklahoma aware that I and others are determined to do everything we can to stop this procedure, which has undercut the basic purpose of the Senate?
Mr. COBURN. I am. I am very pleased in your effort.
Mr. SPECTER. I thank the Senator from Oklahoma.
Mr. COBURN. I will not take but a moment longer. I think it is fair to allow the majority leader to regain the floor.
The Senate I know and the Senate I studied was not about limiting debate. It was not about having a Rules Committee of one, it was about unlimited debate, germane but unlimited. It was about amendments. It was about using the parliamentary rules we have in a fair and straightforward way to advance what you thought was best for this country.
The majority leader has the toughest position in this body. It is a hard job. There is no question. I defer to his judgment. I am not critical of his judgment. I am sorry for the Senate that we are to the point now where we can only move legislation when it is approved and the amendments are approved by the majority leader and his leadership.
I think that fails the test of our Founders' version of the Senate. I think we will rue the day that we have gone down this path. But I will continue to use every parliamentary maneuver I know to lessen Washington's wasteful spending, to pass good bills and make them better and not to say that just because you do not approve of a unanimous consent request that you do not have something to offer.
The fact is, we have passed 855 bills by unanimous consent. I may have let too many go. But the fact is we negotiated with a lot of people and got a lot of bills through. The frustration factor is part of the Senate. Working together we solve problems, working against each other what we do is we lower the rate of acceptability and confidence in this body to the 9 percent it has today.
My hat is off to HARRY REID for the amount of time he has put in, the amount of effort he puts in it. I would hope he would choose to go a different way, reaching across the aisle, working across the aisle. Everybody's ideas have value. Everybody's input should be offered and there should be real negotiation.
One last comment. This omnibus package of bills had 34 bills in it. There were only three bills that I absolutely opposed, nine bills I never objected to at all. And every other bill in that I made an offer to reach out, offer amendments, offer suggestions. Most of the time it was flatly rejected: We are going to roll over you. You cannot have input.
If that is the way the Senate operates, then we are going to be back here a lot of times in the future. I know, pretty heady times, thinking that we may not have the power to do that. But that power, if it goes away, will not last for very long being in absence. It will be back. The American people get it.
This country is on a crashing course, financially. Fiscally, we cannot handle what is happening to us. Until we start handling the problems now that are going to be the crisis in the future, we will fail the American public.
I yield the floor.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will take a few minutes to add to the legitimate complaints my colleague from Illinois, the majority whip, raised. Currently, in this country, we spend $29 billion researching ALS and other motor neurological diseases. The CDC says we don't need an additional registry. Their quote:
The CDC already has the authority to create a registry under the Public Health Service Act--S. 1382 is not necessary to achieve the purpose of the bill. The goal of a registry is to create lists of patients with ALS so that government has records of the incidence and prevalence and researchers have lists to find patients for research.
The goals of a registry can be achieved without a registry. The National Institutes of Health already reports on the prevalence of ALS, ``As many as 20,000 Americans have ALS, and an estimated 5,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year. .....''
Scientific experts think a registry for ALS is a misguided use of resources. According to the CDC, ``Putting patients in contact with medical researchers is a worthwhile goal, but a registry is not a means to accomplish it.'' There are better ways of putting patients in contact with researchers. For example, a quick search on www.clinicaltrials.gov reveals many ongoing clinical trials related to ALS and a new recruitment effort called ``ALS Connection.''
We increased funding last year for www.clinicaltrials.gov. So it is not about not wanting to help people. The question is, are we going to spend $75 million on another bureaucracy for ALS or spend $75 million to increase the pure research associated with that disease?
Mr. DURBIN. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. COBURN. I wish to finish my statement first. But I will play fair and yield to the Senator when I am finished. So I will be here.
A large amount of resources is associated with the registry. We have registries, but they are not comprehensive. I identify with the families and the people who have ALS. I have had patients and some in my family who have had it. The hope is we would find a cure or a treatment to slow the progress of it. If we spend $75 million on a registry, which the CDC and NIH both say we don't need, that is $75 million we are not going to spend on research.
One of the things that didn't come up in the debate today is let's take this $10 billion and get rid of $10 billion worth of waste, and increase NIH from $29 billion to $39 billion a year. It would make a big difference in lots of diseases.
Let me talk about the Christopher and Dana Reeve bill. To want to help people who have suddenly become, or were for a long period of time, a paraplegic or a quadriplegic is a noble cause. According to HHS and CBO, the only thing this bill will do that is not already being done--the only thing it will do--is allow us to name some buildings and facilities after Christopher and Dana Reeve. I am not against additional research in those areas. But if we are going to do it, we ought to get rid of wasteful spending somewhere else. It is the same with ALS. If we are going to spend an additional $75 million, let's take it from some of the waste. I understand the difference in agreement I have with my colleague from Illinois in terms of authorization versus appropriations. But it is that very difference in agreement that got this country $10 trillion in debt, that helps account for the fact we are going to have the highest deficit in our history this year.
Common sense has to come back to Congress. We cannot keep authorizing bills and turn a blind eye to deauthorizing things that aren't working. We use a quaint little argument that it doesn't spend any money. No, it doesn't, until you appropriate it; but if you appropriate it for a new bill and you are still appropriating for the old--which we do--all you have done is grown the size of the Federal Government and made it less efficient and more imprudent.
I believe there is a case to be made that we ought to operate the Government finances the way families operate theirs. We ought to have to make hard choices. I know from the 109th Congress that this body doesn't like to do oversight. It doesn't like it. We don't like to do the job of making sure the money is spent well, that it has metrics on it. By the way, neither of these two bills has any metrics on it to measure whether they are successful or accomplish anything. There is no way for us to know that we have made an actual improvement for the people under these two disease categories.
I think it is fair game for us to talk truthfully and very clearly about what the differences are, in terms of what the Senator from Illinois said. It is not about not wanting to help people; it is about wanting to help more people. Do you know what. We can do more research on ALS and more to help paraplegic and quadriplegic people, and more to help our kids and grandkids. The way we can do that is being very wise and frugal with the money that comes to Washington. Quite frankly, we are not doing that. So the debate isn't about setting up somebody who is injured and should have our care and attention. The debate isn't that somebody doesn't care or does care. The debate is how best to solve the problem: the status quo in Washington that doesn't solve the problem, continuing to do what we have always done--authorizing new spending and never getting rid of the old, never looking at it or fixing it.
I also put forward one other argument: If authorizations don't matter in terms of spending, then there should be no objections to my offering a deauthorization to other programs that don't matter. If authorizations don't matter, then if I deauthorize something else, that won't matter either.
So we have this wonderfully circular argument that says spending is only spending when we spend it, but if you want to decrease spending in an authorization bill by offsetting other authorizations, that is spending and you are cutting. You cannot have it both ways. It is about how do we live within our means? How do we, in fact, guarantee these great opportunities--and we still haven't spotted all the problems in front of us as a nation--how do we guarantee that they go on to the next couple of generations?
This isn't about paralyzed people or ALS; it is about changing the culture of the Senate and the Congress to start meeting the expectations of the American people. The expectations are that we will start thinking long term and start thinking about their kids. We need to get rid of the waste and be much more efficient in the programs we have. To do less than that is dishonest with those very people who we say we care about in this bill.
This bill is a $5 million museum in Poland. How many people in America think today, with a $600 billion deficit, and them struggling to buy gasoline and food, and milk at $4 a gallon--the same price as gas--that we ought to spend $5 million across the seas? I agree there is a good argument about our foreign policy in terms of our involvement with Iraq. That is fair game--building museums, forgiving debt, sending another $24 million to the U.N., which won't tell us a penny of anything they spent, or where they spend it, because we cannot see it, and we are already spending $5.6 billion there a year.
This is a real debate. I hope the debate stays at the level that doesn't accuse anybody of not supporting what is in the best interests of every American. The question is, how do we do that? What we have heard on the floor today is that if you voted against this bill, you don't care about women with depression. I have delivered 4,000 babies. I have treated postpartum depression. The flippant way we talk about that--this is a serious disease that is being treated. There are multiple programs out there.
I will also make a final point, and then I will yield to my friend from Illinois. Under the Health, Education, Labor, Pension parts in this bill, on only two out of six bills I had a hold on. There was the Melanie Blocker Stokes MOTHERS Act. I didn't have a hold. It has never been offered. The Vision Care For Kids Act; I didn't have a hold on that. It has never been offered. On prenatal and postnatally diagnosed conditions, I am a sponsor of that. The Stroke Treatment and Ongoing Prevention Act, I never held that bill, not once. Under the judiciary bills, the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment Crime Reduction Act, I never held it. The Drug Endangered Kids Act, I never held it. The Effective Child Pornography Prosecution Act, I never held it. Enhancing Effective Prosecution of Child Pornography Act, I never held it, not once. National Sea Grant College Program Amendments I never held. Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, I never held it.
So what is it about wanting to work to meet the needs of everybody having input? The question is, can we do things better or do we have to keep doing them the old way? Does it have to be that if you read the bill and if you have concerns, do you let them go and say it doesn't matter? That is how we got into the energy crisis we are in, and the housing crisis.
I don't believe we can let things go anymore. We have to look at them, and if we think they ought to be fixed, we ought to have the courage to say they ought to be fixed or paid for.
With that, I yield to the Senator from Illinois.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The assistant majority leader is recognized.
Mr. DURBIN. Mr. President, I apologize publicly on the record if I said at some point that Senator Coburn was holding a bill that he wasn't. I certainly don't question his statements in the Record about which bills he held. I will tell you that there is a small group--and he is the most visible member of that group on his side--that is now in the practice of routinely holding routine bills. If he is not the reason why some of these were held, I hope the Record will be clear. But it won't, because they are secret holds--except for you, and I acknowledge that you are very open when you hold a bill.
Mr. COBURN. If the Senator will yield for a second.
Mr. DURBIN. Yes, without losing my right to the floor.
Mr. COBURN. I write a letter the day I hold it to the committee and the majority leader and minority leader and the sponsors. They know what I am holding. I will make one point to you. Most of the bills we hold at first are held so we can read them. It is a strange thing. We ought to read the bills before we say let them go.
Mr. DURBIN. I acknowledge that. As I tried to make clear, the Senator from Oklahoma does this differently and more honorably than some. Some sneak around and don't want people to know. I have the same attitude. If I am going to put on a hold, I want them to know why. Maybe they will change or withdraw a nomination. But it is very open and clear. I try to do it that way.
Having said that, let me say, if you object to the Lou Gehrig registry, it passed through the committee you serve on, it was reported to calendar in December of last year with an amendment. It must have been debated in committee to some extent. You had a chance then to amend it, to vote against it, and from what I hear you say on the floor today, you would vote against it today. That should be your right. I would defend your right to do that.
But I think it reaches a different level where you say I don't have a right to vote for it if you are opposed to it, and that you are going to put a hold on it and won't let the measure come to the floor for a vote.
If the measure came to the floor for a vote and the Senator from Oklahoma had spoken against it and voted against, he would have done the right thing. But to deny me a chance to vote for this bill, I think that goes too far. I do.
Whether we go through one or the other, I can discuss each one the Senator brought up, but that is the underlying issue. Should I have the right to deny him even a chance to vote on this bill? That is the position he has taken on some of these bills. That, to me, is troubling.
I will say in terms of fiscal sanity, I do wish to make a statement for the Record. The current administration inherited a surplus. The current administration inherited a budget surplus. It was the first time in 30 years that the Federal Government had a surplus.
Bill Clinton, for whatever his faults might have been, put America's economic house in order. We started generating a surplus in the Federal Treasury. Why? Some taxes were raised, some spending was cut, but it was done in such a way that it worked. The economy grew dramatically. Jobs, new businesses, housing grew dramatically, and we reduced the deficit of this country by generating a surplus.
This President inherited that situation and brought to it his own George W. Bush economic philosophy. I would not attribute it to the Senator from Oklahoma unless he wants to say that was his philosophy, too, but it was a philosophy that, best said, the best way to give this economy more is to give tax breaks to the wealthiest people in this country, cut taxes for the wealthiest people and a thousand flowers will flourish.
Unfortunately, September 11, 2001, occurred. We found ourselves spending a lot of money for the security of this Nation and then found ourselves in two wars. This President continued to call for tax cuts in the midst of a war. He became unique in American history. No President has ever done that.
The Senator from Oklahoma, the fiscal conservative that he is, must acknowledge it is mindless to have tax breaks in the midst of a war. You know the war is an add-on cost to your overall economy and budget, and then to cut revenue--that is what he did. As a result of that action by the President and his decision to initiate a war in Iraq that has gone unpaid for now into its sixth year, we have now piled up the biggest deficit in the history of the United States of America.
The Senator from Oklahoma is vigilant on bills that come that may cost us money in the future, but his party and his President have led us into the deepest deficit in our history. Having inherited a surplus, President Bush drove us into a fiscal mess, where we are borrowing money from all over the world. The last thing I will say is this, and I know the Senator from Oklahoma is never going to agree with me, but I want to make a point. If every one of these 34 measures that he and his side objected to today had passed, it would not add a penny to the deficit tomorrow, not a penny, and not next year either. We have to pass the spending bill. These bills give permission for a museum. These bills don't spend a penny for a museum, not one.
I am on the Appropriations Committee. We sit there, and they give us a finite pot of money and say: Take your pick. You want some new programs? Go ahead, fund them, but you cannot fund the old programs if you fund the new ones. You have a finite pot of money. Make your choices.
That is what happens in appropriations and on the floor of the Senate. That is a point which the Senator and I have debated repeatedly and probably will never resolve between us. But we have a genuine difference of opinion, and the only thing I have supporting me is a statement in the Record from the Office of Management and Budget saying I am right, he is wrong. Don't take it personally, but it was put in the Record.
I say to the Senator, I don't think it was right what happened today, that we stopped consideration of 34 bills. If he wanted to have his recorded vote as no on any one of those bills, it was his right to do it. But to stop me from trying to promote treatment of people with Lou Gehrig's disease and paralysis, because I think these are good bills, I do not think that is appropriate.
Today, we tried to get the Senate to rule the other way, and they did not. The Senator's side prevailed. But only three Republicans would join us, and now these bills are not likely to be passed.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Oklahoma.
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Illinois. I thank him for his debating skills and his heartfelt positions.
I guess the first thing I would say is the Appropriations Committee spends $875 billion every year that is not authorized. The Senator from Illinois knows that.
The second thing I would say is there is no ability to amend any of these bills in the appropriations process, unless you are on the Appropriations Committee. So if you are not on the subcommittee, you can't amend it. If you are not on the main committee, you can't amend it.
Last year, we couldn't amend anything because the omnibus bill came to the floor without any ability to amend it. So we haven't had any opportunity to amend it. It is whatever the appropriators say goes. There is no amendment with that.
I am not going to get into the debate. I am as disgusted with Republican spending priorities as the Senator from Illinois is. I will correct the record on real accounting principles. We had 1 year, and 1 year only, of a true surplus, 1999. The rest of the years we didn't have a surplus, if you count what we borrowed from Social Security.
I would not defend any of the spending of this President or this Congress, but I will make it known the President cannot spend the first penny until Congress passes the bills. I note that over the last 18 months, his party has not been in charge. A different party has been in charge. The bills that have gone to him have been controlled by the majority party.
Look, both of us admit that our children are in tall weeds right now if we don't start doing something about our fiscal situation.
The final point I will make is most of these bills would take less than an hour. Every one of them I have communicated on and I am happy to see on the floor. Give me the right to offer one significant amendment and one amendment for every billion dollars. I will debate it for 15 minutes, have two votes, and we will be done with the bills.
Nobody is withholding anybody's right to vote for a bill. The majority leader can put any bill he wants on the floor at any time, with my agreement to never try to dilatate, never try to spread it out, to only bring pertinent amendments that are germane and do that in a very short period of time. He knows that. The Senator from Illinois has known that. That has been the way I work. I don't play the games of political position to spin something.
My hope is--and I have a great relationship with the Senator from Illinois. I value his friendship. He is not ``just my friend,'' he is a friend. It is not the collegial statement of the body, it is DICK DURBIN is my friend. My hope is that when DICK DURBIN and I can pass three significant bills out of our subcommittee that make a real difference in the world of human rights, that if we can do that, then certainly the Senate can come together on energy and all these other bills. My hope is we will do that.
I do not want to delay our staff or the Presiding Officer any longer.
I yield the floor.