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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 -- (Senate - September 10, 2008)

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GOVERNMENT SPENDING

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I heard, this morning, the majority leader talk about the objection to the request by Senator Gregg. I do not believe there is anybody in this body who does not want us to fix the highway trust problem, and it will probably be the fact that there will be no amendments offered at the direction of the majority leader, which I think is probably somewhat tragic because we would not be able to have the debate we need to have on this issue.

But it should not be lost on the American public that some $16 billion in the last highway bill was not for roads, bridges or highways. One of the amendments that was going to be discussed, had we had the opportunity to amend it--which we are not because the majority leader is not going to grant that opportunity--was the idea that of the $8.5 billion we are going to put in there, no new projects ought to be started unless they are for roads, bridges or highways. In other words, we should not be building museums. We should not be building parking garages. We should not be doing ancillary work that does not have anything to do with true transportation needs associated with the trust fund. That was the only amendment we were going to offer.

All the States are going to be at a significant disadvantage if we do not do this. But I found it somewhat curious that before we left we had an omnibus bill that had to spend $10 billion. We had to do it. We were contrasted as terrible because we did not agree with it. Now we have $8 billion, and we want to do it, we want to debate it, and we are not going to be allowed to debate or amend it. I would think that is to the detriment of the body, that, again, we are losing the history of this body, we are losing the deliberative nature of the body, and at the whim of the majority leader, because we have an emergency, we have to have a unanimous consent, we do not even have to have a vote, and that is the only way we can do it. I think it hurts the institution in the long run.

As far as what Senator Reid said about the omnibus package he put forward, let me correct the Record. First of all, the childhood cancer bill was agreed to by unanimous consent. It was not even a part of that package he claimed it was. The irony is, as we heard from the majority leader's statement today his disdain for the largest deficit in history, do you realize the President of the United States cannot spend one penny unless we let him? If there is a deficit in this country, it says a whole lot more about this body and the House than it says about the President. We are the ones who approve the spending.

So far, this year, we are going to spend off-budget about $270 billion. Where is that money going to come from? It is going to come from the next two generations paying it back. So I find it curious we have to have a bill that spends $10 billion and then we are critical of the deficit and now we have to have a bill that is going to spend $8 billion, but we cannot have any amendments and we cannot debate it in a thoughtful way and still get it done this week. We could get it done in less than 2 or 3 hours.

It shows you the lack of consistency. To be fair, Senator Reid has a very difficult job. This is a hard place to manage, there is no question about it. But we are getting on the edge of a lack of fairness. We are getting very close to an edge where the traditions of the Senate are going to be thrown out the window.

As we look at it, as Senator Reid complains about the deficit, I would remind that he sponsored $531.2 billion worth of new spending in the 109th Congress. So far, he has sponsored $56.7 billion in the first 8 months of 2007. So it is another $150 or $200 billion in this Congress. We cannot continue to have more and more new spending without getting rid of some of the spending that is not effective.

So when we have the claims that we are disgusted with the deficit, and then we can have $500-plus billion sponsorship of new spending and routine votes against an earmark moratorium, against the idea of stealing money from Social Security to spend new money, against amendments that say we have a moral obligation to offset the cost of new spending so we do not charge it to our children, against prioritizing the reconstruction of Louisiana bridges instead of earmarks in Alaska, these are the votes of Senator Reid.

So the disdain for the--and I have three pages of them by the way, all similar. So the fact is, our country is in trouble right now. We are going to have a trillion-dollar--a trillion; that is with a ``T''--deficit next year. We have $382 billion worth of documented waste and fraud every year in this Government. We have not had one amendment to get rid of any of it in this body this year that has passed, save the hippie museum in New York. That is it. We saved $1 million out of $380 billion of waste, fraud, and duplication.

So it rings hollow to come down and complain about the administration when they cannot spend one penny we do not send to them. We are at least as culpable and liable as the administration in terms of this deficit. To say we cannot debate and clean up the priorities of the transportation fund by saying it is going to be spent on some of the 240,000 bridges that are in desperate shape in this country and spend the money on highways and roads and bridges and not other things that benefit Members of this body but do not benefit the majority public and are outside the transportation goals of every State transportation department in this country rings hollow.

There are a lot of great things we can do. We can help people with disease. We can solve problems. He mentioned the Emmett Till bill. He objected twice to a compromise that the Emmett Till board had agreed to--twice--that Senator Dodd had agreed to, that Senator Biden had agreed to. As far as the child pornography, Senator Dodd and Senator Biden had agreed to that too. It was offered as a unanimous consent request twice. Both had agreed to it.

Is this about politics or is this about doing things for the country? I would tell you the evidence shows it is about politics. We need to wake up. Our country is at a crossroads. We had Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac taken over. The first number, of course, is low: $200 billion. It is going to be $600 or $700 billion that we are going to charge to our kids for the mismanagement of those two agencies. That is going to get added next year. We are getting ready to do another emergency supplemental that everybody is piling things on. It is going to be $50 or $60 billion. It is going to be another free-for-all. It is going to fly through here in spite of my votes against it. We are going to do another stimulus package--none of it we have the money for. We are going to borrow every bit of it. We are compounding to make the problems worse. Because we will not work on the $350 to $380 billion worth of waste, and we would not even put an effort out toward that, we are going to continue to see a downward spiral in our economic position in this world.

So I would think most Americans, as we add $8.5 billion back to the highway trust fund, would want us to see that it goes for highways, bridges, and roads, not for earmarks, special pork projects that make us look good at home that are outside the boundaries and the priority lists of the State departments of transportation.

That was the amendment I was going to offer. I knew I was going to lose, but we ought to have the debate.

The fact is the majority leader does not want us to have the debate. We could dispense with the bill in less than 3 hours, be done with it, and it could be going to the President, but we have decided we want to make it political. It is not about what is best for the long-term interests of this country, but about what is best for the upcoming election in November. To me that is a disservice to this body and it is a disservice to the American people.

I yield the floor.

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