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Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance, and Continuing Appropriations Act, 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


CONSOLIDATED SECURITY, DISASTER ASSISTANCE, AND CONTINUING APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2009 -- (Senate - September 27, 2008)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I appreciate the unanimous consent request that allows me to spend a little bit of time on this bill. Before I get into the bill, I wish to answer the most senior Senator we have in terms of the President's request for flatlining a lot of DHS.

I happen to be on the Homeland Security Committee, and I can tell you, outside the Pentagon, there is no agency in the Government that has more waste, fraud, and abuse than the Department of Homeland Security. Any business manager or any family could quickly see that you could easily flatline it and make it much more efficient and do a good job for the taxpayers. So the motivation by flatlining is to try to generate some efficiency in the Department of Homeland Security.

I also wish to associate some of my words with the Senator from Mississippi on terms of process. We have a tremendous amount of money--$643 billion--that this bill has. Here is the bill. It is another one of those thick bills we are going to send over. There are going to have to be technical corrections--we know that--in any big bill we do this way. But there is something fundamentally flawed, and it doesn't have anything to do with the bill; it has to do with the process.

We have an Appropriations Committee that does generally a very good job on most of these items, but what we have done is excluded the whole body from their input into making decisions about some $640 billion worth of spending. As far as the discretionary budget, it is about 65 percent of the total discretionary budget that we are going to pass, and it is not going to have any input except for 29 Members of this body--no input, no chance to change policy, no chance to put limitations, no chance to truly do what should be done. We have to ask the question: Why is that? Why is it that appropriations bills did not come through this body this year? I think the reason is, not because they didn't really want people to try to improve and perfect the legislation, it is that we didn't want any votes that might make some political party--one or the other, ours or the majority--to have a political advantage through a vote. That is a very terrible way for this body to descend into politics instead of policy. This bill contains tons of earmarks. Some are bright, some stink. Some, when the light of day is shone on them, the American people will actually gasp and say: Where was the common sense? How in the world are my children paying for us spending money like this?

I am concerned, not because of the present crisis we have in front of us. I think this body, by the time this weekend is completed, will have addressed that issue and started down the road. But what we are doing is treating a symptom of a disease Congress has, and that disease is lack of oversight to see how we are spending the money, lack of metrics to be able to measure the effectiveness of programs.

We are highly resistant to holding administrative agencies accountable, and we are restricting the ability of individual Senators to offer positions for the body to consider. Not that they may be won, but that the whole country loses when we don't have the debate.

There are many egregious earmarks that are in this bill, and I will tell you I think our appropriations process this year is broken, that it doesn't serve the country well. There is no question we need to fund the agencies, but what we are doing is we are taking three agencies and we are funding them--we will not allow amendments or allow the body to work--but the rest of the agencies will run in a status quo until March 6. Now, let me give you an example of why that is bad.

I had the good pleasure of meeting with a couple of Oklahomans who happened to be traveling back here last Monday. They happen to work for the weather service. They are both acquisition officers for the weather service, and here is what happened to them last year--and it is going to happen again this year. They are going to get their final numbers sometime in late March. We will pass the information on for them as to what they are allowed to spend. They will have less than 3 months to contract and acquire everything for 12 months. They are telling me it is impossible for them to do a good job; that there is no way they can be frugal, efficient, and get great value for the American public the way we are running the appropriations process.

Now, that has nothing to do with my colleague from Mississippi. His desire would have been to bring these bills to the floor, have them amended, have them voted on, and send them to the House. But a leadership decision was made that we could not do that.

Now, I want you to multiply these two gentlemen who were acquisition specialists in the weather service, multiply that across the whole Government, and what we have done is we have squeezed, into a 3-month period of time, acquisitions that normally take 6 to 9 months to do properly and efficiently and in a frugal way for the American taxpayers. Consequently, we are going to waste another 10 or 15 percent of the money in these appropriations bills.

Then, when it comes to the end of the year, if any money is left over, here is what they told me they have to do. They have to spend the money to make sure the Appropriations Committee will give them the money next year, even though they had trouble spending the money this year because we put a time constraint on them.

None of us would run our businesses, none of us would run our families that way. Yet we are telling the rest of the Federal Government--great employees whom we have--to do something that is impossible to do in an efficient and orderly manner.

There are a lot of things that have happened in the last 2 years in the way this Senate is run. I believe most of them were for political reasons. They were not intended to hurt the policy, but nevertheless the policy is tremendously damaged. It is my hope that come January, when we have a new leader in the White House, no matter who it is, he will recognize the severity of the appropriations process and its impact on waste in this country.

As I frequently do, I wish to raise again to the American public and this body the fact that the Government Accountability Office, the various inspectors general, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Budget Office can specifically lay out for the American people at least $300 billion a year of spending that is either pure waste, fraud or total duplication. At a time when we are going to have a $600 billion accounting deficit--because you have to add what we are stealing from Social Security to what we spend to get what our real deficit is--does it make any sense that we would continue to have $300 billion worth of waste, fraud or abuse and duplication in these bills? There is not one attempt in this bill to eliminate that. Not one. Not one.

So as you think about your quarterly tax payments or you think about your paycheck stub and the taxes taken from you, your income tax and estimated payments, and you think about what we are not doing, you ought to be awfully dissatisfied as an American taxpayer. We have failed the test. We have failed the test. Why it is important is because what we have done is mortgaged the future hopes, freedom, and prosperity of our children and our grandchildren.

I am disappointed, to say the least, with the process. But I am more disappointed in the fact that we are going to earn a reputation that we have not done our jobs.

Serious concerns with the economy should turn the attention of Congress away from parochial interests toward national interests.

Congress has focused on parochial interests for far too long, spending more time securing earmarks than doing the business of the American people.

Our Nation faces an economic challenge today equal to any challenge we have previously faced and now requires our full attention.

The following snapshot of our economy should impress upon everyone the seriousness of the job ahead.

The national debt currently stands at over $9.58 trillion, the largest in world history.

This year's deficit, in real accounting terms, stands above $600 billion.

This year alone, taxpayers will spend more than $230 billion just to pay the interest on the national debt.

Since 2006, gas has risen from $2.24 per gallon to nearly $4 a gallon.

More Americans are out of work; the unemployment rate has increased from 4.9 percent in January to 6.1 percent in August.

In 2008, over 600,000 jobs have been lost.

According to USDA projections, the Consumer Price Index--CPI--for all food is forecast to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2008. For example, since 2006 the price of milk has increased approximately 16 percent.

According to Reuters news service, the total tab for government rescues and special loan facilities this year is more than $900 billion, not including the proposed $700 billion rescue of the financial markets in the Paulson plan.

Already this year, the Federal Government has taken drastic steps to stabilize the economy, all using taxpayer dollar. While several of these amounts may be fully repaid to taxpayer, they involve huge liabilities and expenditures:

$200 billion was authorized for use in rescuing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Treasury will inject up to $100 billion into each institution by purchasing preferred took to shore up their capital as needed;

$300 billion for the Federal Housing Administration to refinance failing mortgages into new reduced-principal loans with a Federal guarantee;

$4 billion in HUD grants to banks to help hem buy and repair homes abandoned due to mortgage foreclosures;

$85 billion loan from the Fed for AIG, which would give the Federal Government a 79.9 percent stake and avoid a bankruptcy filing for the embattled insurer;

At least $87 billion in repayments to JPMorgan Chase & Co. for providing financing to underpin trades with units of bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers;

$29 billion in financing from the Fed for JPMorgan Chase's Government-brokered buyout of Bear Stearns & Co. in March;

At least $200 billion of currently outstanding loans to banks issued through the Federal Reserve's Term Auction Facility, which was recently expanded to allow for longer loans of 84 days alongside the previous 28-day credits;

Starting last year, Social Security and Medicare projected expenditures exceed revenues. Over the next 75 years, this will cost $41 trillion in present value terms. Of that amount, $34 trillion is related to Medicare and $7 trillion to Social Security. By one account, the current unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Social Security are above $100 trillion.

If we think that the current economic troubles are a concern, wait until the bill comes due for all of the reckless spending Congress is engaging in today.

Members should focus like a laser on these issues rather than concentrate their efforts on political games and earmarks.

Instead of doing any of this, Congress is now planning to ram through an irresponsible continuing resolution to keep the Government operating during fiscal year 2009.

None of these issues are addressed in the bill but only compound the problems. Congress seems to have not learned its lesson.

The appropriations process is broken and excludes Members from considering serious issues.

The Senate is preparing to vote on an appropriations bill that will cost $634 billion, which will include funds for all of our national security agencies, disaster relief, and a continuing resolution for the 2009 fiscal year. Yet the text of the bill only came available late on Tuesday night, with no one having seen a word of it except for a few Democratic staff and Members in the House. Further still, a joint explanatory statement was released yesterday afternoon.

This must be what the House Appropriations Committee chairman meant when he said that the continuing resolution would be drafted in ``secret.''

The following is an excerpt from an article yesterday in Bloomberg News.

The plan outlined by Obey would give Republicans less than 24 hours to scrutinize legislation spending more than $600 billion on the Defense, homeland security and veterans' affairs agencies including thousands of pet projects known as earmarks.

Asked if the process has been secretive, Obey said: ``You're d**n right it has because if it's done in the public it would never get done.'' He said he wanted to avoid his colleagues' ``pontificating'' on the content of the legislation, saying ``that's what politicians do when this stuff is done in full view of the press.'' He said ``we've done this the old fashioned way by brokering agreements in order to get things done and I make no apology for it.''

It is easy to understand why the House Appropriations Chairman would want to conduct his business in secret, as one who received $51.5 million in earmarks for his district.

The one constitutional duty of the Congress is to pass legislation funding the operations of Government, and yet his duty has been entirely abandoned by the majority.

Congress is now less than 1 week away from the beginning of fiscal year 2009, and yet it has not passed one appropriations bill.

The only bill to receive a vote by either body is the Military Construction--Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that passed the House of Representatives.

No appropriations bills have even been brought to the floor of the Senate during the entire calendar year 2008 thus far--though the Senate is now expected to vote on three of the largest bills having had 36 hours to review the $634 billion in spending they contain.

The appropriations process should have begun long ago. It is unfair to taxpayers when Congress chooses to pass large legislation in the dark of night rather than debate them for all to see.

Congress now finds itself considering major national security legislation in one day under pressure of both a Government shutdown and delay on an important piece of economic legislation.

Had the majority leader taken action earlier this year, Members would be free to concentrate fully on the Treasury proposal. Instead, they are distracted by making sure that their earmarks and pork-barrel projects are in the CR.

The CR has been loaded down with billions of dollars in wasteful earmarks.

Despite having had only 1 1/2 days to look over the bill, it is plain that there are a large number of highly questionable earmarks set to receive funding in 2009.

In just the three appropriations bills for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Veterans Affairs/Military Construction, there are 2,627 earmarks worth $16.1 billion.

This means that without even funding the remaining nine appropriations bills, Congress has nearly reached the dollar value of all earmarks in fiscal year 2008.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, there were 11,620 earmarks worth $17.2 billion for all 12 appropriations bills in 2008.

In fiscal year 2008, the average dollar amount of each earmark was $1.48 million.

In the continuing resolution before the Senate, the average dollar amount for each earmark is $6.1 million-- more than five times higher.

Every dollar that goes to an earmark in this bill is a dollar that will not go to important national security programs at the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense.

What kind of projects are receiving earmarked funds out our national security agencies in 2009?

$3.2 million for the High Altitude Airship--Senator Sherrod Brown. After spending millions to investigate and develop a blimp-based platform for ICBM surveillance, the Missile Defense Agency--MDA--cancelled the program--called the High Altitude Airship--due to myriad capability limitations.

MDA did not request funding for the program for 2008. However, $2.5 million in earmarks in the 2008 Defense appropriations bill revived the cancelled program, despite the fact that no one else at the Pentagon had expressed interest.

After shopping the program around, Lockheed Martin managed to pass the program to Army Space and Missile Defense Command, which will now begin investigating if there is any utility for them with the program.

The project has been based in Akron, OH, funded by a $1 million earmark toward the program by Senator Brown, who has a long record in opposition to missile defense.

$2 million for Hibernation Genomics--Senator Ted Stevens. This earmark would provide funding to the University of Alaska for research into the hibernation genomics of Alaskan ground squirrels.

University of Alaska lobbyist, Martha Stewart--no relation--claims that the research into squirrel hibernation will one day help wounded soldiers in the battlefield.

According to Ms. Stewart, the university is well equipped to do the work. She insists: ``We have a number of ground squirrels that are in various stages of hibernation in Fairbanks.''

And $800,000 for the Columbia College Chicago Construct Program--Senator Dick Durbin. Columbia College claims to be the ``Nation's largest private arts and media school in the Nation.'' It offers a wide selection of coursework in audio arts, dance, film, journalism, poetry, and radio. According to the school's annual report, it received $2.7 million in Federal grants during 2007 from the Department of Education, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Corporation for National and Community Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 2000, Columbia College Chicago has received over $275 million in grants, cooperative agreements, and direct payments from the Federal Government.

And $800,000 for Partnership in Innovative Preparation for Educators and Students and the Space Education Consortium--Senator Wayne Allard and Senator Ken Salazar.

The Space Education Consortium was created by the Air Force in 2004 as a partnership with the University of Colorado and others to promote science education for professionals as well as ``getting space technology and curriculum infused throughout the U.S. education system from kindergarten to post-graduate work.

``It is a chance to grow a cadre of space professionals from the launch pad to the stars,'' said Air Force General Lance Lord, commander of the Air Force Space Command.

A July 2008 report by the DOD Inspector General stated that this earmark was not consistent with the department's mission ``to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country.''

And 24.5 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center--Representative John Murtha. Every year, millions of dollars for our national defense are siphoned away from the military's budget to pay for a single program administered not by the Pentagon but by the Department of Justice.

This funding is directed to the National Drug Intelligence Center--NDIC--which the Department of Justice has asked Congress to shut down.

The former director of NDIC even confessed to U.S. News, ``I recognized that a lot of [NDIC] reports were God-awful, poorly written, poorly researched, and, some cases, wrong.''

Another former director even admitted, ``I've never come to terms with the justification for the NDIC'' and ``the bottom line was that we had to actually search for a mission.''

According to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, NDIC duplicates the activities of 19 drug intelligence centers that already existed.

Since 1992, the center has received over 500 million in federal funding.

$15 million for Waterbury Industrial Commons Redevelopment Initiative--Senator JOE LIEBERMAN and Representative CHRIS MURPHY. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, ``This would clean up a decades old munitions factory to be used as a city-owned industrial park.

The Fairfield Weekly reports that the State of Connecticut has turned down requests to fund this project--each year the Mayor of Waterbury ``makes the trip to Hartford seeking the money, and each year comes back empty handed.''

Why should the American taxpayer fund that which State of Connecticut will not provide funding?

And $4 million to the Go For Broke National Education Center. This earmark is aptly named in light of the fact that Congress is helping the Nation ``go broke.''

And $9.9 million for the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Asociation. Visitors can go aboard the battleship from World War II that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

While preserving the Nation's history is important, this is not only something that could be funded privately, it is not a priority at this time.

And $1.6 million for New Electronic Warfare Specialists Through Advanced Research by Students Representative David Hobson.

And $4.5 million for the 2010 Olympics Coordination Center Senator Patty Murray and Representative Rick Larsen.

And $800,000 Pseudofoliculitis Barbae--PFB--Topical Treatment--this goes to ISW Group in St. Louis, MO--Senator Kit Bond.

There is $10 million for the Intrepid Museum Foundation.

And $4 million for the Nimitz Center.

And $1.2 million for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute for International Affairs--Representative Berman.

And $10 million for the New Mexico State University Institute for Defense and Public Policy----Senator Jeff Bingaman.

I yield the floor.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT


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