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Public Statements

Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. McCAIN. Mr. President, this amendment is very simple and straightforward. It would prohibit funds to be spent on the thousands of earmarks that are listed in the statement of managers but that are not included in the bill text.

We have seen a remarkable evolution over the past number of years here in the Senate and House as to how we do business, and I think there is no greater example of it than what we are considering and have, fortunately, not passed. This is the legislation. In itself, it is 1,122 pages. You can thumb through it anywhere, and you will find moneys to be spent on various projects, none of which--or very few of which have ever been authorized or examined by the committees that have jurisdiction. That in itself is interesting.

This is a funding mechanism to keep the Government in business. It also happens to be an 8-percent increase in spending over last year. It also happens that the majority, the Democrats on the majority side last year, chose not to pass these appropriations bills because they knew, or expected, that they would have a larger majority in the Senate and House and they would be able to increase spending, which is exactly what happened--an 8-percent increase.

Here on the other side of my desk is ``statement of managers.'' That statement of managers is 1,844 pages. Guess what it is filled with. The same earmarks and porkbarrel projects that are in the bill itself. The statement of managers used to basically just be a statement of the managers of the bill saying this is a bill that is being put forward and the reasons for it, the rationale for it. It used to be just a few pages. Now it is 1,844 pages. Remarkable. And guess what it is filled with. It contains part of the 9,000 earmarked porkbarrel projects in this bill, none of which have been authorized--or very few have been authorized, let me put it that way. I am sure there are some funds in here that have been authorized. But the earmarks in it are exactly that: they are unauthorized projects.

What does that mean to the average citizen? They hear about earmarks and pork, but they do not really understand what it means. Well, the way the Congress is supposed to work is, there are two parts to legislating. One is to review legislative proposals--both policy and funding by committees--and they say: OK, we will authorize this project, we will authorize $1.7 million for a honey bee factory in Weslaco, TX. I don't particularly think that is necessary, but at least it is authorized. And then it is supposed to go to the appropriating committee, and they figure out how much money there is and then they appropriate the money. That system is completely broken. It is completely short-circuited. Now we have bills this size, statements of managers this size, and no one has ever seen or heard of many of these projects until it appears on the Members' desks. The system is completely broken.

So when I hear my colleagues stand up and defend these ``porkbarrel projects,'' when they defend $300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center, which may be necessary, why didn't they ask for it to be authorized because of the need and then compete with all other projects that are necessary and that Members of the Senate and the House believe are necessary for their districts or States?

Mr. President, 20 or 25 years ago, I can tell my colleagues, an earmark was an unusual event. It was an unusual occurrence. But the evil grew and grew and grew. Like any other evil, it grew and grew and grew, so that now we are presented with legislation such as this, with 9,000 of them. And I can guarantee you that none of my colleagues fully read this bill or the statement of managers. Now, some people say: Well, it is not very much. It is not very much. Well, our estimates are that it is about $8 billion. Now, $8 billion to the average citizen is a fairly good sum of money.

Another egregious pattern of behavior which has crept into this is that there are policy changes that are put in, again fundamental changes in policy written in, which, of course, the Senate does not then have an opportunity to debate. One example is to do away with the voucher system in the Washington, DC, school system. Another one has been noted this morning
in the Washington Post, called ``Truck Stop.''

When we signed a free-trade agreement with Mexico--I believe it was 14 years ago--part of the deal was that Mexican trucks, provided they met all the safety standards and all the requirements, would be able to come into the United States, with reciprocal access to each other's markets. Thanks to the influence of the unions and others, there is an amendment in this bill that basically kills that. Now, you can take either side of that issue. Maybe there are a lot of Americans saying--even though these Mexican trucks are inspected, even though they meet the safety standards, even though we promised in the North American Free Trade Agreement that they would have access to our markets--maybe we shouldn't do that. But should we be doing it in an appropriations bill, in a bill this thick, in a statement of managers this thick? Should we be making policy changes in here?

By the way, I will talk a little more about this later on, but the Mexican Government is in an existential threat with the drug cartels in Mexico. Phoenix, AZ, has now become the kidnapping capital of America. There is violence on the south side of our border which is spilling over onto our side of the border. The President of Mexico, President Calderon, has staked everything on taking on the drug cartels, and the corruption he is fighting is at the highest levels of Government. So what have we done in this appropriations bill? We have just sent a signal to the Mexicans that we are not going to keep our agreements with them. We are not going to stand by our solemn pledges to them. And, by the way, we are going to do it in an obscure provision in one of these either 1,122 pages or 1,844 pages.

So I hope the American people and our colleagues understand what it is that is so badly broken here. They say: How in the world do we--when unemployment today is at 8.1 percent and people can't afford their health insurance premiums, are losing their jobs, are being moved out of their homes--afford $951,000 for Sustainable Las Vegas; how do we afford $819,000 for catfish genetics research in Alabama?

You will note that there are always locations associated with these earmarks. I had a discussion with a Member of Congress about one of the provisions having to do with tattoo removal--tattoo removal--because it helps when combating gangs. Maybe tattoo removal needs to be funded, but, of course, this earmark was directed to a specific geographic part of the country. So while the American people are suffering under the worst recession since the Great Depression, we here in Congress not only are doing business as usual, we are wasting taxpayer money at an incredible rate, and these 9,000 earmark projects are part of that.

By the way, there are also 13 projects in this bill, which total approximately $9 million, that were the result of the efforts of an outfit called PMA. PMA is a lobbying group, the head of which was a former staff member in the U.S. Congress, and PMA has been raided and shut down by the FBI. They are under active investigation for corruption, and they were ``listed'' as those responsible for these 13 projects. We can't even take those out. We can't even take those out.

It is really remarkable. On Thursday, the media reported that in discussions with Majority Leader Reid, Speaker Pelosi took the position that if a single amendment to this omnibus bill was made by the Senate, she would refuse to resubmit the bill as amended to the House but would, instead, put the rest of the Federal Government under a continuing resolution for the remainder of the year.

I think we should be on a continuing resolution as we have been and examine each one of these appropriations bills individually, debate them, and decide what various appropriations should be and how they should be funded and what the priorities are.

By the way, we also have proved that we can pass another continuing resolution because we just did. The insistence that not a single change could be made or it would shut down the Government and jeopardize even the most essential Government services was high drama at its best, used to sway Members to oppose even the most commonsense proposals, such as insisting contracting be fair and subject to open competition and restricting funding that was achieved through a lobbyist organization.

By the way, it is my understanding that last year this same organization, PMA, which has shut its doors, was raided by the FBI. The home of the head of it was raided by the FBI, and last year they got $300 million worth of earmarks in an appropriations bill.

What I am saying is, this system has become a corrupt practice. That is why we have former Members of Congress now residing in Federal prison. That is why we have continuing indictments of people who were involved in the Abramoff scandal, which all had to do with obtaining these earmarks in appropriations bills which were not authorized and nobody knew anything about. We even had a situation last year where a couple of items were put into an appropriations bill after the President signed it--after the President signed the bill. They were inserted. Investigation of that is still going on.

It seems to be the Speaker's position that the Senate should have no voice in a $410 billion appropriations bill that funds every agency in the Federal Government other than Defense, Homeland Security, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. I have been deeply disappointed by many things this new Congress and this new administration have begun. After all the campaign promises of changing the culture of Washington, bringing hope for a new era, bridging differences between people, parties, and ideology, what we have actually seen and what has been delivered to the American people is far different: first, in the $1.2 trillion stimulus bill and now in this massive $410 billion appropriations bill, which would, in a normal year, be the largest appropriations bill the Congress would pass. There has been no serious effort at bipartisanship. There is no serious effort to hear opposing views, to have an honest debate, to balance carefully the policy implications of our actions. We should engage in serious debate and vote on amendments without the false threat of a shutdown of the Federal Government or an out-of-the-hand rejection of all amendments.

The President has said, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget has said, this bill is last year's business. This bill is to fund the functions of Government this year--not last year, this year. To say somehow that this is ``last year's business'' because we are voting on funding for the operations of Government for this year is disingenuous at best.

I have talked to Members on both sides. I have talked to people who said: Yes, we need to do something about this earmarking, and we would like to sit down and do something about it. We would like to reduce it. That is like saying you would like to reduce any other evil. You want to eliminate it.

There is a simple way, I say to my friends who say they are unhappy with the way this explosion of earmarking and porkbarrel spending is taking place. There is one simple solution: Authorize it. Send it through the authorizing committees. Then, if I have a problem with the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY, for which I am going to spend $190,000 of our taxpayers' dollars, then fine. I may not like it, but at least we will have gone through a process of scrutiny, of proposal, of authorization, and the Buffalo Bill Historical Center would be in competition with other proposals for other historical centers throughout the country if they are needed.

Maybe we need to improve blueberry production and efficiency in Georgia. It is $209,000 to improve blueberry production and efficiency--in Georgia. Maybe not in Maine, maybe not other places where blueberries are grown, but in Georgia.

We want to spend $400,000 for copper wire theft prevention efforts. I would like to prevent copper wire theft as well, but maybe it should happen across the country. And I am sure the Alaska PTA needs $238,000, but so do PTAs all over this country. Why should we earmark $238,000 for the Alaska PTA? The list goes on and on.

As some of my colleagues may know, I have begun to twitter. We have been tweeting for the last week with ``Top Ten Earmarks,'' every day. We could go on for days and days. I would like to mention some of them. We began last Friday.

No. 10 was $1.7 million for a honeybee factory in Weslaco County, TX; $300,000 for the Montana World Trade Center; $870,000 for wolf breeding facilities in North Carolina and Washington; No. 7 was $332,000 for the design and construction of a school sidewalk in Franklin, TX; No. 6 is $1 million for Mormon cricket control in Utah; No. 5 was $650,000 for ..... management in North Carolina and Mississippi; No. 4, $2.1 million for the Center for Grape Genetics in New York; No. 3 was $6.6 million for termite research in New Orleans; No. 2 was $2 million for the promotion of astronomy in Hawaii; and No. 1, on our first day, was $1.7 million for pig odor research in Iowa.

Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune had an editorial entitled ``Whoa.'' It goes on to say:

The Obama administration and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate are blowing the lid off of spending restraint. But they're finally meeting some resistance within their own party.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), in an essay published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, ripped a spending bill passed by the House last week as ``a sprawling $410 billion compilation of nine spending measures that lacks the slightest hint of austerity from the federal government or the recipients of its largesse.''

He said he will vote against it, and he urged President Barack Obama to veto it if it passes the Senate. We second that motion.

Politico.com reported Tuesday that 15 senators--14 Democrats and one independent--met behind closed doors this week to share concerns over the cost and reach of Obama's proposed $3.55 trillion budget for 2010.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Obama team are pushing a gaudy expansion of deficit spending.

A $787 billion ``stimulus'' package. A $410 billion spending bill. A $3.55 trillion budget.

Their reasoning: we need to do this in response to the economic crisis. But it's sure sounding like business as usual in Washington. When in doubt, spend. When not in doubt ..... spend.

The $410 billion bill hikes discretionary spending by 8 percent and includes at least 8,570 earmarks worth $7.7 billion. ``Such increases might be appropriate for a nation flush with cash or unconcerned with fiscal prudence, but America is neither,'' wrote Bayh. ``Families and businesses are tightening their belts to make ends meet--and Washington should too.''

The Obama folks have tried to dismiss this huge spending bill as a little cleanup work. ``Last year's business,'' said Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

Last year's business? No, this is the nation's business right now. We're going to borrow this money right now and carry the debt for decades.

The administration says Obama will sign this bill. Hopefully, enough Democrats like Evan Bayh will join Republicans in the Senate to put the brakes on this. Let everyone catch their breath and rethink this spending spree. Right now, Democratic leaders look like they're getting dizzy from all the dollars they think they have to throw around.

What we should be doing is not passing this legislation now. Go back to the drawing board. Go through the appropriations bills and authorize them as necessary and figure out how much we need to spend rather than have a bill that is like this and like this, which nobody has read.

Also, if the Congress goes ahead and passes this bill, then the President should veto it. The President should abide by the commitment he made in the campaign, the debate in Oxford, MS. The President of the United States, then-candidate Senator Obama, stated it clearly. He said: I will go line by line through these bills, and I will veto the ones and scrub the ones that are not necessary.

The President, then-Senator Obama, made a commitment to the American people. He can keep that commitment by vetoing this pork-laden bill.

The list goes on and on of these projects. I mentioned the 13 projects of PMA.

I want to return to something that is very disturbing, and that is the provision concerning free trade with Mexico. I would again like to quote from the Washington Post editorial today that says ``Truck Stop,'' entitled ``Congress Flashes a Yellow Light on Free Trade With Mexico.''

President Obama seems to have resolved, for now, an incipient dispute with Canada over ``Buy American'' rules in the stimulus package. The law would have hurt Canadian steel exports to the United States, but, at the White House's insistence, Congress appended language that blunted the worst protectionist consequences. Now, however, Congress has turned on Mexico, the United States' other partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement. A $410 billion omnibus spending bill contains a provision that would pretty much kill any chance that long-haul freight trucks from Mexico could operate in the United States, as had been promised under NAFTA.

Economically, giving U.S. and Mexican trucks reciprocal access to each other's markets makes a lot of sense. Currently, Mexican rigs can drive in only a small zone on the U.S. side of the border, where they must offload their goods onto U.S. trucks. The process wastes time, money and fuel, harming the U.S. environment and raising the cost of Mexican goods to U.S. consumers. Yet access for Mexican trucks has been bitterly resisted by U.S. interests, most notably the Teamsters union--which claims that poorly regulated trucks from south of the border would be a menace on U.S. highways.

In an effort to disprove that, the Bush administration promoted a pilot project under which Mexican trucks, screened by U.S. personnel, could operate freely within the United States. The Mexican trucks compiled a safety record comparable to that of American rigs. Mexican participation was limited, however, because of the political uncertainty. And safety was always a smokescreen for the Teamsters' real concern--economic turf--anyway. Now the Democratic majority on the Hill has slipped into the omnibus bill a provision killing the program. The provision seems certain to survive, given that the president supported such a measure when he was a senator; his transportation secretary, Ray LaHood, backed it as a member of the House.

When the U.S. economy needs all the help it can get, this legislation perpetuates inefficiency and invites Mexican retaliation against U.S. exports. To a world looking for signs that Democratic rule in Washington would not mean revived protectionism, this can only be a disappointment.

So you not only have these earmarks that are in the thousands, you not only have companies that are under FBI raids and shut down by the Government, adding porkbarrel projects, but you also have policy provisions in the bill which can damage relations with a country we need good relations with, given the fact that the drugs we are creating a demand for flow through their country.

As I mentioned earlier, the Mexican Government, under the courageous leadership of President Calderon, is in an existential struggling with the drug cartels. He needs to win. He needs to win for a variety of reasons, including the direct effect the flow of drugs from Colombia and other places, through Mexico into the United States, has and the damage it does to our young people and others who are using drugs.

This amendment, as I stated, simply says that all these provisions, which are in 1,884 pages, some thousands of earmarks that are in the ``statement of managers,'' not be prohibited from being spent because they are not included in the bill here. It is a pretty straightforward amendment. I hope my colleagues will approve it.

Finally, I would like to say again, if the President of the United States wants to fulfill his promise to the people of this country if this bill is passed, he will veto the bill and he will send it back and tell us to clean it up. These are tough times in America. These are tough times. We cannot afford to do business as usual in the Senate and the House of Representatives. It is time the President led, veto this bill, if we pass it, and let's get down to the business of saving the taxpayers' dollars, rather than the profligate spending spree we have been on for so long which has mortgaged our children's futures and has committed generational theft.

I yield the floor.

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