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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 - Continued

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--Continued -- (Senate - September 11, 2008)

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Mr. COBURN. Let me say how much I appreciate the hard work done on this bill. It is a hard bill. It is important. My question would be to both the chairman and ranking member: How are we to be afforded an opportunity to amend earmarks if none of them are in the bill, yet they carry the force of law as if being in the bill?

Mr. LEVIN. That can be done by amendment, like any other amendment. But what this amendment does is to say that not just the earmark, the entire budget, including the President's budget, which is currently in that committee report, which is incorporated by reference, that that no longer carries the force of law. So the DeMint amendment goes exactly in the opposite direction of what Senator McCain and others were trying to do, which was to incorporate into law all of the earmarks and the President's budget. We want them in law. We want them to be in law. We got a letter, however, from Senate legal counsel saying it cannot be done technologically.

I am not able to argue with him. I would be perfectly happy, and I hope they can be made part of law. But the DeMint amendment goes in the opposite direction. Instead of making them part of law, it wipes out their legal status by saying they will only be part of a committee report which is not incorporated by reference, and, because of the Executive order, the agencies of the Government are directed to ignore the committee report. Previously, the executive departments would comply with committee reports. That is no longer true under the Executive order.

So what this amounts to, the DeMint amendment, is an abdication of the power of the purse totally, not just over earmarks but over the President's own budget which has been adopted by the Congress. This is the opposite of what Senator McCain and others have urged, which is that earmarks and other appropriations be incorporated into law. This goes the other direction and says they have no force of law whatsoever.

We have to debate the DeMint amendment. I am more than willing to debate the DeMint amendment. I would come back tonight to do it. But I don't think, in fairness to the Senator from Vermont, that we should not allow him to proceed for his 10 or 15 minutes, whatever he wanted. I would be happy to come back.

Mr. COBURN. If I might through the Chair ask another question?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The time is held by the Senator from South Carolina.

Mr. COBURN. And he yielded to me.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Senator Coburn is now recognized.

Mr. COBURN. I say to Senator Sanders, I will finish this very quickly.

My concern is, I have talked to the McCain folks. They are very unhappy with this provision. The reason they are unhappy is there is no way the Parliamentarian will allow me to amend report language on the floor because it is not part of the bill we are discussing. I would be happy to work in the background with both the chairman and ranking member to move all of this to the bill so it is not a question.

That is what I would ask that you, please, try to accommodate us on because having the debate and amending things--and I will raise that out of the $5.9 billion worth of earmarks in this bill, the vast majority are noncompetitive bid. In other words, there is no competition for value for the American taxpayers' dollar. They are direct mandates that certain money will be spent with certain companies with no estimation, no competitive bidding.

So I will not delay this any longer. I would ask that the chairman and ranking member--I think the Senators have done a great job on the bill. I do not think it is significantly different in terms of earmarks than what it has been in the past. But if, in fact, we could figure out a way to make them where we could have them at least discussed and have an opportunity to amend them, I would appreciate that deference.

Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, will the Senator yield?

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will be happy to yield.

Mr. WARNER. Can the Senator visit with the two of us off the floor such that our colleague can proceed?

Mr. COBURN. Absolutely.

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