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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have several amendments that go along this line, but my question to the Appropriations Committee is one of trying to clarify for the American people the numbers that were used to downsize the operation and maintenance account based on what the expected inflation rate was.
It is important to know. The O&M account is what runs everything. What came out of the bill was $294 million because you chose to use an inflation rate that was less than what CBO and OMB had stated it would be. You did use the one that was the one prior. But the one presently would, in fact, add another $294 million to the operation and maintenance account.
I would be glad to hear the reasoning why we chose to use it. I think I know why the reasoning--because it allows more ability to do other things Members would like to do.
What this amendment is trying to do is to restore that money to truly reflect the inflation rate that OMB and CBO have said it would be. Three-tenths of 1 percent makes a big difference when you are talking about taking something from our military. I would remind my colleagues that last year the Navy ran out of O&M money and we needed an emergency supplemental to supply it. So by undershooting what the real inflation factor is for their costs, both in fuel and maintenance and operations, if we undervalue that account, what it means is we are going to take away from readiness. I know that is not the intent of this committee. The intent of this committee is to make sure our military has the needs and the means with which to carry out their requirements.
Let me get a little more detailed on it. When the committee set the O&M number, they used a GDP index inflation rate from the Congressional Budget Office that was 3 months old, and they ignored the updated one for August, which was three-tenths of a percent higher. That means that if--and I agree, they are estimates; they may not be correct. What I would like to know is, what if you are wrong with the lower number you put in? Are we going to be coming back with a supplemental to be able to drive the O&M? For the American people what that means is, when we do a supplemental, it is outside the budget rules, which means we borrow it. We borrow the money.
This amendment says let's realistically predict what the inflation rate is going to be in the operation and maintenance account. Let's truly put the money there that should be there. What this amendment does is simply restore it.
We know, by history, that O&M has been rising faster than inflation for the past 9 years. We have not gotten it right once, in terms of the actual amounts. How this amendment technically works is it restores $294 million by striking part of section 8091 of the bill that reduces that funding.
I will not spend any more time on it. I will discuss it again later.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is a straightforward amendment, and the Appropriations Committees heretofore have agreed with it. This says, other than in terms of national security or something that should not be released for general circulation, the reports that are authorized and paid for in this bill, which are going directly only to the Senators on the Appropriations Committee, be made available to the rest of the Senators in the body as well as the rest of the American public. If there is a good national security reason not to do so, fine, there is no problem with that, but all the rest of the American people ought to see it. It is called transparency. The American people are paying for them. The American people have a right and an obligation to see them if they are going to be involved in the governance of our country. In fact, they are supposed to be in charge of the governance of our country.
So what it will do is allow the American citizens to see how their money is actually being spent and allow them to get to see the results of those reports. It is very simple.
My hope is the chairman and ranking member would be inclined to support this amendment.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside.
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Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, in this bill we are attempting to address what I agree is a very serious problem, the funding of our National Guard and Reserve. I do have some concerns, though, about how we are going about doing that.
I would love to be corrected by either the chairman or the ranking member. As I understand the bill, the $1.5 billion in upgrades for the National Guard and Reserve actually bypasses the Department of Defense, bypasses the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and goes directly to the committee in terms of the approval of how they do that. I would inquire of the chairman if that is accurate.
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Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I think the leadership has been working on some amendments and agreements. I don't think any of our amendments are going to come up for votes tonight, but I did want to take a couple of moments talking about several of them.
AMENDMENT NO. 2560
One is a McCain amendment I am a cosponsor on, amendment No. 2560, on competitive bidding.
Every time we bring this amendment to the floor we get a side-by-side amendment so everybody on the other side who does not want us to competitively bid earmarks can have cover to say they voted for competitive bidding. The fact is, in this bill are directed earmarks that are not competitively bid to individuals and companies out there, for specialization of what one Senator may want in their home State.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to help your home State. What is wrong is to not competitively bid. If it is something we need, why shouldn't we use a competitive bidding process to get the best quality and the best value for all this money we are going to spend?
We are going to see again on the McCain amendment the competitive bidding amendment--I have offered this on many of the appropriations bills we have--a side by side. America should not be fooled. If you do not vote for the McCain amendment and you vote for the side by side, what you are saying is you still want your earmarks protected and not competitively bid. That is what it says.
I have another amendment that addresses earmarks. The problem with earmarks is it takes our eye off the ball. It is not they are not good ideas, but we vote on bills on the basis of having an earmark in the bill rather than on the total bill and what is in the best interest of the country, not our particular parochial State.
The competitive bidding amendment, when it has the side by side, what you are going to see is you are going to see the true competitive bidding amendment defeated and the false competitive bidding amendment win. That is because if you count the number of Senators who actually have earmarks that are not competitively bid, you get the majority of the Chamber. That is true on every appropriations bill. So we will not ever pass it until the Members start thinking about the long term and what is best for the country, rather than what is best for them. I thought that explanation needed to be made.
AMENDMENT NO. 2565
I also want to discuss for a moment an amendment, Amendment No. 2565, a very simple amendment. We know the National Guard has gotten shortchanged a lot of times in terms of equipment. I don't think there is anything wrong with setting aside money for the National Guard. But the way the bill is written is the chain of command in the U.S. Government, in terms of our military, will be excluded from the decisions made on how to spend this $1.5 billion.
The Secretary of Defense, who is ultimately responsible for the defense of the Nation--even though we use National Guard, and part of this money is going to be used for our Army Reserve, a very small amount--is not going to be able to have any input. The only people who are going to have input is the Appropriations Committee.
What that says is the American people are not going to get to know, we are not going to have the judgment of the people with the best experience to comment on it. I am not even saying they have to veto it. What we are saying is they have to be aware of it, they have to be part of the process. Yet they are not. So the more concern I have with our amendment the more concern I have about what is happening with this $1.5 billion. My hope is we will eventually find out. We may not find out until after the $1.5 billion will have been spent. But the problem is will it be spent efficiently and properly for the National Guard and the Reserve? The secrecy that shrouds this process is somewhat concerning, and also the reaction that we would offer an amendment that says we want somebody in the chain of command to be involved in this, outside just the Appropriations Committee and the individual guard units.
AMENDMENT NO. 2562
On another amendment, amendment No. 2562, other than national security issues, why should not every report in this bill be made available to every American? It is a real straightforward amendment. If we want transparency in our Government, then the reports that do not have anything to do with anything that would be a national security risk, for example, ought to be made available to the other Senators in the Chamber and the body as well as the American people. That is a pretty hard amendment to say ``No, you don't,'' because there is not a good defense to that if it is not related to a national security concern, and, Americans--43 cents out of every dollar we are spending we are borrowing from our grandkids. We ought to be proud to let them see what we are doing with the money.
AMENDMENT NO. 2569
Finally, I have an amendment that is a prohibition. We have this operation and maintenance account that has been robbed heartily for earmarks. I know I will never win the battle on earmarks. But should not we say it comes from somewhere else, other than to fund the actual day-to-day operation and maintenance of our military? We have already cut into the amount of money that is in the O&M account because we are using a false inflation number, to the tune of about $300 some odd million--$294 million. Shouldn't we say, if we are going to take that, let's take it from somewhere else in the military rather than operations and maintenance? What is a greater priority than making sure the troops on the ground have what they need on a timely basis?
It was just last year that the Navy ran out of O&M money. They restricted flight training. They restricted training on the ships. We had to pass an emergency supplemental because we did not authorize them enough, we didn't appropriate them enough money to adequately operate and maintain their force structure. Yet we have all this money, including other money that is related to other amendments, that comes out of their operation and maintenance account. If we want to do something that is outside the scope and outside what the military wants to have done, let's not make two wrongs. Let's not take the money from O&M. What this amendment would do is simply prohibit any directed earmark from coming from O&M funds.
Our military needs us to be efficient. I think overall on this bill the appropriators have done a good job. I think there is tons of waste we could get out of the Defense Department. I think it is about $50 billion a year that we could actually squeeze, which would make plenty of money for earmarks, it wouldn't hurt operation and maintenance, yet we will not have the oversight, we will not do the things that are necessary to lessen the waste that is in the military. My hope is, as we come back next week--I notice we are going to have a couple of votes here in a little while; not on these amendments. No. 1, my hope is the American people will let us know about priorities and what we ought to be doing. I think these are straightforward amendments.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
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