OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS ACT, 2009 -- (Senate - March 09, 2009)
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Mr. DeMINT. Mr. President, everyone is well aware our country is going through some serious tribulation economically. The whole world, in fact, is dealing with serious economic troubles.
There are signs of hope in many areas of our economy. I think it is important for us, particularly those of us in elected office, to recognize those good things, and that the strength of the American people will certainly pull us out of this hole, as they have many times in the past.
Hopefully, what we do here in Washington will help and not hurt. I think everyone is aware a large part of our recession is the banking and credit problem. Certainly, if it did not cause it, it made it much worse, and continues to today.
Unfortunately, the new administration and the Congress have not put forth any plan to fix our credit crisis, to make our banks work appropriately. While many of them are calling me to remind me they are loaning money, they are working, there is still a lot we need to do in the credit area that we have not fixed.
Unfortunately, the trillion-dollar so-called stimulus plan we passed only a couple weeks ago--all borrowed money--did not address the credit/banking problem. It addressed issues that had nothing to do with the recession. The stimulus provided a lot of additional funds for education, health care, and infrastructure--a lot of good things. But those things did not cause our recession, and they are certainly not going to get us out of it.
I think the failure to bring forth a plan that addresses the real causes of the recession has many people around the country wondering what we are thinking. The fact is, what we are thinking is about the next election and not the next generation. It has become clear we are not addressing the real causes of the problems but are doing things that are more politically beneficial than beneficial to our economy.
As we deal with the difficult economic situation, it is almost hard to see the White House going in a lot of different directions, and some that are especially painful, particularly the issue of life.
The new President campaigned on reducing the number of abortions, but in the first month or 6 weeks of his Presidency, he has changed the rule where now the American taxpayer is funding abortions all around the world. They put forth an Executive order to strike the conscience clause, which means we are going to require physicians who are opposed to abortion to perform abortions. That makes no sense at all. When there are physicians who make a living performing abortions, why should we take a physician who considers it the taking of a life and force him to do it? Why do we need to do that in the middle of a recession and the economic problems we have?
Today, the President reversed a prohibition on Federal funding of certain types of stem cells. It seems to be opening Pandora's box to begin the destruction of unborn human beings. His Cabinet nominee for Health and Human Services has been one of the most radical pro-abortion folks in the country, having encouraged and protected late-term abortion and partial-birth abortions. Many people who are not pro-life believe we certainly should not be performing late-term abortions in this country. Yet the President seems to be going in a rather radical direction, in the middle of this economic storm we have. We have to wonder: What are they thinking?
Today we come to this, what we are calling an omnibus spending bill. Only 2 weeks after we passed this huge spending bill we called a stimulus--$1 trillion or more if you add interest and 2 weeks later we are talking about a bill that is over $400 billion. The Federal agencies cannot even spend the money as fast as we are throwing it at them, but now we are here today with this other bill under the pretense that we have to have this money to make the country operate. Americans need to know we have been operating under this year's funding through what we call a continuing resolution, which means we are operating essentially at last year's budget. The country has been operating effectively. The reason we are passing this bill is not that we need it to fund the Government because the Government is funded under a continuing resolution which we could extend through the end of the year. We actually need to be about working on next year's budget and next year's appropriations. That is what we are supposed to be doing now. Instead, we are going back and creating this new spending bill, which I consider an ominous spending bill, not so much an omnibus.
What I have in front of me right here is the reason there is such a rush to pass this additional spending bill. All Americans have heard of earmarks. These are the earmarks in this spending bill. This is the reason it has to be passed. Remember, last week they brought it up and said we had to pass it before Friday or the Government would shut down and it would just not be right to pass another continuing resolution. Well, come Thursday, they found out that because the American people had gotten agitated and outraged and had begun to call and e-mail their Senators, they didn't quite have the votes to pass this bill last week. But they will pass it because they have taken over 9,000 earmarks--special projects--and sprinkled them all around among Republicans and Democrats in the House and in the Senate. It is hard to vote against a bill that has a special project in it.
Some Americans have begun to hear a little bit about these earmarks. I will take the one that is sitting right here on the top of this stack. Keep in mind we have over 9,000 earmarks for most of the Congressmen and Senators. Now, a lot of Senators will come today and talk about how it is wasteful and we should cut the earmarks, but they will vote for it because a lot of them have already done the press releases on the money they are taking back home.
I will read a couple on the front page. There is an amount column, a project column, a purpose, and a location. Then they have the names of the Congressmen and Senators, but they have struck those. I am not exactly sure why. The first amount is $200,000 to Providence Holy Cross Foundation and it is for tattoo removal to a violence prevention outreach program in Mission Hills, CA. Now, I am sure that is a worthy cause, but in the middle of a recession, when we are borrowing trillions of dollars to try to keep this country going and the President is saying we have to make every dollar count and he is going to strike every item of waste, what is the Federal Government doing funding the removal of tattoos?
The second item is $75,000. That is not too bad, although it is more than most families make in a whole year. It is for the city of Albany. It is for Totally Teen Zone. This is Albany, GA. This is where they go and play with Xboxes and things such as that. I am sure that is a fine thing, but you have to wonder, in these times when we are out of money as a country, do we need to be involved as a Federal Government with this kind of thing?
The next item is $400,000 for the University of Montana. It is for teacher training, curriculum development, and awareness initiatives to combat bullying as well as the development of emergency protocol for school shootings--something I am sure is very necessary to combat bullying in schools; it is certainly something every school has to deal with. But how can we as a Federal Government send $400,000 to one university and expect to solve problems all over the country?
Well, the next one is $50,000 to Los Angeles for after-dark gang prevention. Again, these are all good things, but there is probably no Senator who has read all of these, but they know the ones that are in it for them because that is why they are going to be voting for the bill. The tacit agreement always is, we are going to get the votes to pass this bill so these 9,000 earmarks--these 9,000 press releases--will go out all over the country.
Our only hope of stopping this is if the American people continue to show their outrage and to continue to connect the dots of what we are doing because we are not doing this to fund the Government. This isn't about last year's business. It violates every pledge many people here have run on and certainly the President. If you recall, the President has said he was against earmarks. When I introduced a 1-year moratorium on earmarks, he flew back, along with all the candidates for President--or at least the top three at that time--to vote to have a 1-year moratorium on earmarks because more and more we are seeing the damage this is doing to our country. You can pass almost any bill with any bad policy with almost any level of spending as long as you fill it with earmarks for people back home.
They are thinking about the next election, not the next generation. They are not thinking about the families who are hurting because they are losing their jobs right now because this is much more likely to cause additional job losses over the next 5 to 10 years than it is to help create them. So this is the seed. This greases the skids to pass almost any type of bill. If my colleagues remember, when the first Wall Street bailout came through the House, it failed. So when the Senate took it up, what did they add to it to help it get passed? More earmarks.
Now, we have had several amendments to strike some of these earmarks, and there have been some heroes on the issue. JOHN MCCAIN has certainly been on the floor talking about the problems with earmarks he has seen over the many years he has been in the Senate, and he has one other amendment that will be on the floor that will basically take all these earmarks--they aren't in the legislation; they are in what they call report language off to the side, so it is not seen in the bill that is on the desk right here. But there is a reference in here to this, and that supposedly makes it all legal. The Constitution says we have to appropriate money based on law, which means it has to be in the bill, but we do everything we can to get around that Constitution and law by attaching some rider in here that says all these should be considered as law.
Folks, this is no way to run a Federal government. This is just one bill; it has nothing to do with the trillions of dollars on Wall Street and the banking bailout we have been talking about or the $1 trillion stimulus 2 weeks ago. It is over $400 billion, with over 9,000 earmarks they wanted to rush through last week, but because of people back home, some were shamed into saying they couldn't vote for it unless we had a longer process with more amendments.
Now, this is show. There is already a strategy to kill every amendment that comes up, so we are not trying to pass an amendment to strip earmarks. You will see Senator McCain's good amendment, a commonsense amendment that, in the middle of our financial crisis, let's us take these and set them aside and pass the bill that funds our Government. It is a good amendment, but the decision has already been made on the other side to kill that amendment unless the American people can shame a few more into voting against it.
JOHN ENSIGN has an amendment that will strike some language in the bill that seeks to discontinue school choice in Washington, DC. It is a small program--only 1,700 kids are involved with it--but there is a waiting list of parents who would like another choice. In this funding bill, this must-have funding bill, they sneak in a little policy such as that to kill a little bit of freedom in our country that we need to be expanding to every State, not killing it in Washington, DC.
DAVID VITTER has an amendment that will force Congress to vote on pay raises for Congressmen and Senators every year instead of what we do right now. Currently, there is an automatic provision in appropriations bills that goes through and gives us a cost-of-living pay raise. This should be done in the light of day. Right now, we can say we didn't vote on a pay raise, and we didn't because it was set up years ago to be automatic. So at a time when many Americans don't have work and some are taking pay cuts to keep their job, Senator Vitter's idea to be more transparent in what we do in Washington makes a lot of sense.
The President has promised change. Our growing concern is that the biggest change so far in Washington has been in him. We want to support him as much as we can. He did say he would stop this practice of earmarking, but he is looking the other way on this bill. He is saying he supports it. He could veto this bill and send it back to Congress and tell us to get rid of these earmarks. He could keep his promise and he could force us to change. But right now, this stack of earmarks is so addictive that the Congressmen and Senators who have these projects that they are so proud of back home are not going to vote against the bill. You could double this bill to $800 billion, and I am pretty sure it would pass anyway, as long as it had these earmarks in it.
Folks, as Senator Coburn from Oklahoma says, earmarks are the gateway drug to this runaway spending we have in Washington. We are spending our children and grandchildren into such a hole it is going to be almost impossible for them to get out. We are almost guaranteeing them a lower quality of life than we have had, as we borrow more and more money from other countries, as we print more and more money, and as we spend more money as a government than we ever thought possible.
This is the time when we need to stop this runaway spending. An amendment will be on the floor to strike these earmarks and to continue to fund the Government through the rest of the year. The other side doesn't want any amendments passed because that would mean we would have to go back and work with the House on a final bill. They want it to go through amendment free. It is up to us to make sure the American people know what is in this bill before we vote on it. That is the whole point of extending the debate. My hope is we will have 2 or 3 days to make the American people more aware of what is in it and, even more importantly, what is in this stack of earmarks, which is the reason this bill is being rushed through the Senate.
I thank the Chair, and I yield the floor.
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