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Congressional Oversight

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT -- (Senate - September 24, 2008)

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to spend a few minutes talking about a perspective that I think is lacking, and I hope we have an opportunity to gain. I was intrigued and interested as I listened to the senior Senator from New Hampshire explain to the American people what actually is going on in terms of our financial system. I don't believe there is anybody in the Congress, or anybody in the country, who is happy about where we are today: contemplating putting the Federal Government as the owner of a bunch of toxic assets that were accumulated on the basis of greed, poor policy, bad management, and bad regulation. I don't believe anybody is happy we are here. I don't believe the regulators are; I don't think Members of Congress are; I don't think people in this country are.

But from that, we can learn something. My worry is that we will not. I heard this morning the majority leader--and I have a great deal of respect for him--laying this all at the foot of President Bush. Presidents can do very little other than what we let them do. When we talk about the lack of oversight and regulation, the problem is, we were not watching the regulators, and our constitutional duty is that we should have been.

There is a lot of blame to go around--and it is not partisan--Republicans and Democrats, the executive branch, even the judicial branch in some of their rulings that created some stupid consequences to things that were never intended by Congress.

But what we ought to learn, and what I think is most important is, if you are an American right now and you are worried, you have a great reason to be worried. It is not about some impending financial crash. What you should be worried about is the Congress is not listening.

Let me explain what I mean.

We are going to finish at the end of this year with over $10 trillion in debt. That is over $33,000 for every man, woman, and child. We are about to pass some type of system to salvage credit liquidity in this country that is going to cost another $2,000 to $3,000 per man, woman, and child in this country.

We are going to have a continuing resolution that comes to this body this evening or maybe tomorrow morning that continues to do the wrong things that got us into the mess in the first place.

The financial mess we are in is because confidence in the country and our response has been eroded. As I got on a plane to come back to Washington, I talked with a businessman from eastern Oklahoma who has a worldwide business. He talked about on August 20, he saw this tremendous worldwide drop in demand for his product. It didn't have anything to do with his product. It had everything to do with people now worried about if they should hang on to cash because the economics don't look good.

Whatever they do here, the No. 1 goal has to be reestablishing a confidence in this country that, yes, we can have an economy that works, we can rebuild faith in the financial institutions, and we can do that, best of all, by not repeating the mistakes we have made in the past.

To outline, the Defense appropriations bill has over $10 billion in it for airplanes the Air Force doesn't want. Think about that. There is $10 billion worth of airplanes in the Defense appropriations bill that is going to pass that they are going to have to buy that they neither want nor need. Why is that happening? Because we are putting local, parochial politics ahead of the best interests of the country.

We are going to buy some ships the Navy doesn't want. Same reason, different area of the country. But we are going to buy them because we are going to put a parochial benefit to a Member of Congress ahead of the best interests of the country.

There isn't a family out there who doesn't have to weekly or monthly make hard choices about how they spend their money. We, unfortunately, continue to make decisions on how we spend your children's money and your grandchildren's money on a parochial or political interest that benefits Members of Congress. That is what has to change.

If there is a lesson in what has happened to us in terms of the loss of confidence in the financial system in this country, all I have to say is Congress earned it. We created it. We expend 100 times more effort trying to create new programs and new ways of spending than we do managing the very Government you send us here to put under control.

I take the Constitution literally. It has a section in it called the enumerated powers. It is article II, section 8. It spells out exactly what the role of Congress is. If you look at how we got into this mess, every example of that goes back to the fact that Congress is violating what the Constitution says is our legitimate role, is doing something that is outside the legitimate role, and we rationalized it for the political benefits for either career politicians or party, one side of the aisle or the other. That is why Congress has a 9-percent approval rating, because we are more interested in us than we are the best interests of the country. And it shows.

We have the financial debacle in front of us today to prove it. Imagine what would have happened had Congress been aggressive in its oversight. Imagine what would have happened after the failed attempt 4 years ago to try to put the controls of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that we had a monthly hearing outlining the worsening--worsening--condition so we could have avoided this situation. Instead of us doing that, we did what was easy. We took the easy road, the wide road. We didn't do what our oath calls us to do.

I think we are going to see some very different behavior when it comes to us approaching the financial package that we are going to put together that will enable an economic recovery in this country. I believe you are going to see people vote for bills they basically don't like because it is in the best interest of the country. My hope is that when we do that, it would not be a one-time happening; that we will, in fact, move back to the position to take a decision on how we vote on something and not do a finger to the wind on how it looks back home or how it looks for our political career but, in fact, look at the U.S. Constitution and say: Does it square with that, and does it match our oath to do what is in the best interest of the country?

When we get through with this exercise, as far as this economic recovery, I think the country can once again maybe start to have confidence in Congress; that we will, in fact, address the issue; that we will vote against our political best interests, but we will vote in the best interests of the American people.

Senator Gregg has outlined very eloquently what is happening, what has happened, what the response has been thus far, and what needs to be done in the future. If you have not heard him speak to this, I would suggest my colleagues listen to him. You can get it, what he spoke about this morning, before lunch, an understanding of what is necessary to reestablish confidence. It is not a time for politicians to win, it is a time for the American people to win. The only way they win is when we put them first and us second.

Mr. GREGG. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. COBURN. I will.

Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at the conclusion of the time the Senator from Oklahoma has used, I be recognized for 10 minutes under morning business; and at the conclusion of my time, Senator Alexander be recognized; and if a Democratic Member wishes to speak, that they be inserted in the proper order.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. GREGG. Mr. President, I wish to congratulate the Senator from Oklahoma. He has made an extraordinarily statesmanlike presentation. This isn't about the politics of the day, it isn't about theater or hyperbole. This is about how we maintain the integrity of the American financial system so we have the necessary tools to make Main Street solvent and prosperous so Americans don't lose their jobs, don't lose their savings, and we have economic activity that continues. He has stood and--in the face of what is some fairly intense criticism coming from pundits who don't have a vested interest in the issue, other than their desire to get ratings--made the very rational point that we need to do this, we need to take action, we need to step outside the bounds of politics, outside the bounds of theater, and we need to do it now; that delaying this only will lead to significant problems.

So, first, I wish to say I have unlimited praise for the position the Senator has taken, and he has not only done this in this Chamber but he has done it in meetings with membership, and it has had a huge impact on my colleagues because he is so highly regarded on the issue of fiscal policy especially. But I guess my question is: We have Senator McCain basically suspending his campaign to come back and try to work on this, and Senator Obama has been very constructive. It is time to move forward in a bipartisan way. Doesn't the Senator from Oklahoma believe this has to be done in a bipartisan way and done in a very timely way; otherwise, we will lose the opportunity to settle this situation out, and we may see a disastrous event occurring which affects every American's pocketbook and their lifestyle, basically?

Mr. COBURN. First of all, I thank the Senator for his comments, and to answer him: What we saw on the market today, we saw a period of time when there was zero interest on a 2-month T-bill. What that is saying is people have lost interest on anything other than a government security, and they are willing to give the Government their money for that security with no interest. That is fear talking. What we have to do is drive out fear. We have to drive back confidence.

So I believe, Senator Gregg, that we will see a bipartisan vote in the Senate and the sooner the better. Because every day we are not fixing this, it is costing jobs, it is costing the ability to promote new jobs in our economy, and it is costing savings for those people who are no longer working but living off retirement. So I feel this body is going to stand and do the right thing.

I have been impressed with Senator Schumer, Senator Jack Reed, whom I just saw. The questions he asked and the answers that were put forth by both Secretary Paulson and Chairman Bernanke yesterday, I thought, were right on the money. I don't think we are far apart. But even if we are not far apart, we have to be able to do what is right and we have to do it timely. We should not leave here. There should be no leaving and coming back until this is solved.

Our future depends on what we do and how fast we do it. That doesn't mean we should not do it right. It doesn't mean we shouldn't be thoughtful about what we do. But the degree and the magnitude of this problem is something I have never seen in my 60 years, and I doubt the Senator from New Hampshire has ever seen it. Very few people in the history of the world have ever seen the kind of risk this country is facing at this moment.

So it is important it have nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats; that it have nothing to do with the Presidential election; that it have nothing to do with anything except the best interest and the future of this country.

With that, I yield the floor.

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