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Public Statements

Continuing Extension Act Of 2010 - Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, it has been 2 weeks since we last spoke on the floor on this issue. There has been a lot written in the press and a lot of things that have been said. I will reiterate what I said earlier in that debate before we took an inappropriate spring break, and that is the fact that everybody thinks those who are unemployed and are eligible should be getting unemployment checks. That is not a partisan issue. It is a fact we want to support those who need our help right now.

The real question, however, is what will we do to make sure that effort is an effort that has some real meaning behind it and that these are not hollow words. The debate around here becomes partisan and labels get applied, and I admit that I am partisan--but not from a party standpoint; I am partisan for our children.

The question isn't whether we should make sure that unemployment benefits are there. The question isn't whether people can get health insurance under COBRA. The question isn't whether we ought to do the right thing for those who are depending on us. The question is, where do we get the money?

It is simple. We have two options. One option says: Time out; this is so important that it doesn't matter where we get the money; we have to supply it. The other option is--and by the way, the first option belies the fact that we have any waste in the Federal Government. I don't think we can do a poll that would come so close to unanimity as a poll on which we would ask the American people whether the Federal Government is efficient and effective. I doubt that we would get anybody on the ``yes'' ledger side on that.

The real question, then, becomes do we have the goodwill and the presence of mind to do this in a way that doesn't jeopardize our children? You see, we are not just fighting about unemployment benefits. We are not debating the issue of unemployment benefits. We are debating the issue of whether we take from those who come after us and give to those today.

Many times I have used this poster of this young lady. Her name is Madeline. Madeline was caught in DC wearing this poster. I have gone over the numbers. When she wore the poster, her debt was $38,375. Her debt today, without us extending this bill after last year, is over $45,000. So the question is competing priorities. We have the priority of making sure that we help those who need our help in a time of economic decline. And then we have the priority of making sure we have not mortgaged the opportunity of freedom for children such as Madeline.

Who will fight for the Madelines? Who will stand up for our grandchildren and say we can find $9.2 billion out of an almost $4 trillion budget and pay for it and not charge it to the Madelines of this world? That is what we are doing when we declare something an emergency.

I would also make the point that we passed a 9-month extension for many of these programs. It was paid for. In other words, we didn't add to the debt when we passed a bill that would extend this for 9 months. The Senate did its work. That bill hasn't come back because the House is unlikely to pass it with the pay-fors in it and, frankly, several were used to pay for the health care bill that passed.

Who will protect the Madelines of the world? Since the beginning of this year and the famed passage of a statute called pay-go, which says we will no longer create new spending without cutting the spending somewhere else, we have spent $120 billion of Madeline's future, and every Madeline who is out there--every 3-year-old and 4-year-old who is out there. We have done it by waiving the new statute that says you have to pay as you go. Congress--and the Senate specifically--increased our budget 5.6 percent this year. In a year where true costs were down we increased our own budget. Yet, we refuse to look at the hard choices that are necessary for us to make a future for the Madelines of this world.

What happens if we continue this? What happens if we continue to say we will borrow from the future instead of making the tough choices now? I will tell you what happens. Madeline's future--her opportunity for prosperity--is mortgaged. We tend to think in the short run, and the vision our Founders had was thinking in the long term.

So where do we find $9.2 billion? If I get an opportunity, I will offer five amendments that will pay for that. I wager that nary a person would ever miss the money. We could find $9.2 billion in the Defense Department. They have at least $50 billion worth of waste. But, no, we won't go there. We have $700 billion in unobligated balances of which well over 20 percent has been sitting there for 2 years. That is $140 billion. We can pay for this for a year, but we won't go there. We have ineffective spending in the stimulus bill that hasn't been rolled out yet that I will put forward as a greater priority than the money intended left in the stimulus bill is for. But we are not going to go there. What we are going to do--and we will pass a motion to proceed today to this bill. But what we are going to do is take the easy, the soft road of not paid for. We cannot continue to do that.

Last year--and we will continue this year--out of every dollar the Federal Government spent we borrowed 43 percent. So 43 cents out of every dollar the Federal Government spent last year we borrowed. We ended up with a real deficit of close to $1.6 trillion by the time you get out of the accounting gimmicks that Washington uses. That is what we added to the Madelines of the world. We are going to do that this year again.

The February deficit was the highest on record ever for the Federal Government. So we are going to have an excessive $1.4 billion or $1.5 billion or probably a $1.6 trillion deficit this year, and we are going to add another $9.2 billion with this bill.

How is it fair? How is it right that in this country we cannot do two right things, we can only do one right and one wrong thing? I posit that stealing money from our kids' future and mortgaging their future is morally wrong. I posit that helping people who need our help on unemployment benefits is morally right. Why can we not do both? We ought to be able to do both.

I sent a letter to the minority and majority leaders when the bill first came up. I will read it because I think it is important to understand the thinking on why we should pay for this--realizing that we passed a 9-month extension that was paid for, and because the House hasn't acted, we don't feel an obligation to protect the Madelines of the world. The letter says this:

I am writing to notify you that I would like to be consulted on any unanimous consent agreements regarding the consideration of H.R. 4851, the Continuing Extension Act of 2010, which would extend the number of federal programs for one month.

No one is arguing that Americans who are currently unemployed should not have their unemployment insurance payments extended. But once again, Congress is refusing to find a way to offset the $9.15 billion cost of the bill with cuts to less important federal spending.

Time and time again, Congress intentionally waits until the last minute to consider important legislation and then declares the billions of dollars in foreseeable costs as ``emergency'' spending in order to avoid having to find a way to pay for the bills' price tags.

In the last 6 months, Congress has passed four major extension bills. H.R. 4851 would be the fifth such bill. The total cost of these bills is almost $30 billion. Additionally, over the last year Congress has increased funding totaling $64.9 billion for the Highway and Unemployment Insurance Trust Funds without offsets.

This shortsightedness sticks taxpayers with billions of dollars in additional debt and treats the unemployed, doctors and Medicare patients, hard working men and women who help make our roads and bridges safe, and others relying on federal funds as pawns in Congress' borrowing and spending game.

When the previous last-minute one month extension (H.R. 4692) was brought up days before the funding authority for numerous federal programs, including Unemployment Insurance and the Highway Trust Fund, which expired at the end of February, 2010, a United States Senator was attacked for objecting to passing the bill without any debate or amendments because the bill was unpaid for and added $10 billion to our nation's debt.

In other words, there is something wrong with Senator Bunning raising the question of whether we ought to pay for it.

As always, those who prefer to borrow to avoid making the tough budget decisions won out, and the taxpayers were stuck with another $10 billion in debt.

The Madelines of the world.

Congress has continually resisted the need to act like every family in the United States of America and to budget and live within their means. Our debt is now over $12.6 trillion. The 2010 deficit is projected to amount to $1.3 trillion and we are borrowing 43 cents on every dollar; yet, Congress continues to increase spending without any correlating spending cuts.

Congress' inability to prioritize and manage national needs results in real consequences for Americans, whether it be furloughs, market uncertainty that leads to lower investment and job losses, or Americans being saddled with higher debt and taxes.

If Congress keeps approving temporary extension bills throughout the calendar year without finding offsets, Congress will have added almost $120 billion to our national debt. Additionally, the Senate has already approved more than $120 billion in new federal spending not offset, even though it passed Pay-Go legislation just over one month ago claiming to prohibit such activity.

In the House, Appropriations Chairman David Obey has indicated that some new spending needs to be offset with unused, unobligated funds. Chairman Obey suggested rescinding $362 million in reserve stimulus funds for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program; $112 million from a Commerce Department program designed to provide coupons to households to help buy analog-to-digital converter boxes; $103 million from USDA rural development programs; and $44 million from the Transportation Department's Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program ..... to offset the cost of a different spending bill. The Senate should likewise find a way to offset this one-month extension bill and create a sustainable precedent.

The Senate can start with federal unobligated balances. According to the White House, in Fiscal Year 2011, 33 percent of all federal funds were unused and obligated. The total dollar amount of these unobligated balances was estimated at $703 billion. Rescinding only discretionary funding that has been available for more than two years would likely result in roughly $100 billion in offset spending. The Senate could also tap into $228 billion in unobligated stimulus funds as Chairman Obey has suggested.

At the very least, Congress should reconsider transferring the almost $100 million budget increase it approved for itself for 2010 to offset the cost of additional spending. Congress should not be increasing its budget by 4.5 percent when our economy shrunk by 2.4 percent and inflation was at less than 1 percent.

I have also detailed through numerous oversight hearings, reports, and legislation how the federal government wastes more than $300 billion every year. I have suggested hundreds of offsets to new spending, including consolidating duplicative programs, and eliminating federal programs that address parochial concerns.

We all think our Americans in need of financial assistance are worth the $9 billion bill cost, but do we think our children and grandchildren are worth paying for these costs up front, rather than passing the cost to them?. .....

Thank you for protecting my rights regarding this legislation.

I ask unanimous consent to have this letter printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, so what are we going to do? We have before us a need. It is a good need. It is something we ought to do. We are going to borrow 43 cents out of every dollar we spend this year. We are going to put the Madelines of this world in a position that by 2020, this number is not going to be $45,000; it is going to be $95,000. That is where she is going to be. That is every man, woman, and child in terms of what they owe in terms of the direct national debt.

Can we continue on this pace? We hear we will fix it later. Later is not good enough for the Madelines of this world. Later is today. Now is the time for us to do the very hard work. It is not easy to come up with spending offsets. It is not easy to not increase the national debt. It is very easy to simply put the credit card into the machine and say: Because they are out of sight, out of mind--the Madelines of the world--we will just charge it to them.

That is what is being proposed here. If you oppose that, all of a sudden you do not care about the people who are unemployed. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that in the last 2 weeks; that it is obstruction that you want to pay for it. Should we be working hard to secure the future of the children such as Madeline?

We are told that over the next 9 years, we are going to borrow an additional $9.8 trillion, based on the budget projections that are out there. Of that $9.8 trillion, almost half of it is money we are going to borrow and turn around to pay interest on what we already owe. That is eerily close to those of us who get into trouble with credit cards. We get another credit card, borrow the max on it to pay off the other credit cards. Then we get in trouble with that one and get another one. Pretty soon, we cannot pay anything.

The Chinese own over $900 billion of our bonds, the Russians $800 billion. Have we considered the fact that our problems, in terms of our foreign policy with Iran and our ability to put sharp, tough sanctions on somebody who wants to use and develop nuclear weapons could possibly be inhibited by the fact that two of the countries opposing those strong, tough sanctions own a lot of our bonds and that we are dependent on them? Could it also be that the week before last, when the Treasury option was very soft because the Chinese did not participate, that is a warning shot across our bow? We are in waters this country has never seen before. If we pass this bill and we continue to pass more bills, not having made the tough choices, we are steaming toward a catastrophe.

What will that look like? It is not that we cannot fix the problem. It is not as if we could not go and find $9.2 billion out of a nearly $4 trillion budget. It is that we refuse to. It is not that it is impossible. We refuse to. We refuse to do the same things families across this country do every day; that is, make a choice about priorities.

My office just last week, with the help of the Congressional Research Service and the GAO, identified 70 duplicate programs on nutrition across three Federal Departments. We now have 70 programs for food and nutrition across three departments, with thousands upon thousands of Federal employees, thousands upon thousands of pages of bureaucratic gobbledygook and regulations. I would propose probably we ought to have one good program on food and nutrition. We do not address that. The authorizing committees do not. The appropriating committees do not.

We have 105 programs that encourage people to go into math, science, technology, and engineering across six different agencies--105 programs. There is not one agency that does not have considerable waste in it, and there is probably not one American who would not think that we could not cut 1 or 2 or 3 percent from every agency and drive efficiency. But we will not do that.

The real question is: Why won't we? We will beat up people because they will not agree to spend Madeline's money and her future, but we will not agree to trim the waste, the fat, duplication, and fraud out of the Federal Government. It is no wonder the public has such a poor image of Congress because we are actually not doing what they are asking us to do.

It would be different if there was not waste in the Federal Government. If everything was fine-tuned, effective, and efficient, one could make an argument for borrowing this money. But nobody I know of believes the Federal Government is efficient and effective throughout its myriad departments and agencies. If the majority might feel that way, that it is not, why would we not do the hard work of paying for this bill?

What does it mean to borrow $9.2 billion this month and $10 billion last month and $10 billion before and the $120 billion we passed in the first 3 months of the second session of the 111th Congress? What does it mean? It means we do not think we have to play by the same rules as the rest of the American public. We have a tilted sense of reality. There is no obligation on us to eliminate waste to provide a good for those people who are depending on us.

We will go forward this evening on a motion to proceed to this bill unpaid for, charged to the Madelines of this world, and all you have to do is take $9.2 billion--it is not much in Washington speak; it is twice the size of Oklahoma's budget for a year--and we will charge it to a credit card to our kids.

Ultimately, what we are doing is stealing a college education from our kids. We are stealing a job opportunity from our kids. We are stealing the ability for our kids to own a home and to provide for their children what was provided for them. You see, the heritage we have that built this country was one of sacrifice, where we make decisions that require us to make a sacrifice to create opportunity. When you turn that upside down, the American experiment fails. When we steal opportunity from the future so we can benefit for today, we eliminate the genius that made this country great.

It is time we reversed that.

It is not really a partisan issue. I know the press is going to say that. It is partisan for our future. It is partisan for our kids. And we can do both. We can find $9.2 billion that isn't as effectively spent as will be spent on COBRA or unemployment insurance or on flood insurance or on fixing the SGR for a short period of time. We can do that, but we won't because we are in the habit of not making hard choices. We are in the habit of doing the least best thing rather than the best thing.

The best thing for our budget, the best thing for our future, the best thing for our children's future is for us to say X, Y, and Z are not nearly as important as unemployment insurance benefits, are not as important as COBRA benefits, are not as important as fixing the SGR for a short period of time. When will we muscle up the courage to start making those kinds of decisions?

We can't continue doing what we are doing. We can't grow to $20 trillion worth of debt--over 100 percent of our GDP. At the rate we are going, in 2010, we will have $24 trillion worth of debt, and $24 trillion, at 6 percent interest, is $1.5 trillion a year in interest payments. We can't make it. We cannot handle that. And the reality will only come home when it is too late.

Senator Reid, when we passed the pay-go bill, said it was a new start. He said we are going to open our billfold, and if the money is there we will spend it but we are not going to spend money that is not in our billfold--to paraphrase his quote. Well, this bill goes to an empty billfold. The money is not there. So we can either increase our debt, which will make life for the Madelines of this world tougher or we can actually take on some tough decisionmaking as a body and actually eliminate lower priority programs. Would that have some impact on some programs? Yes. I mean, we could actually take a 1-percent across-the-board cut and come up with $30 billion easily. Americans know we could get 1 percent out of the Federal agencies. But we are not going to do that either.

The question is, When will we start acting in the responsible role with which we are charged? When will we start thinking with a long-term perspective about what is going to happen to our country if, in fact, we don't start making the hard choices now? No matter how much scorn, no matter how many derisive statements are made, the Madelines of the world are worth it. When we sit and relax and think this is not as big a problem as we hear described, we fall into the same trap as every other republic in history. And they all collapsed. No republic has survived more than 250 years, and they all collapsed for the same reason. They all collapsed ultimately because they lost control of their fiscal policy--taxes, spending, priorities.

So we have a choice in front of us. This isn't the first time we are going to have this choice, and it won't be the last. But a question that I think the American people ought to be asking is, When is the Congress going to start acting in a responsible manner? When are they going to start following the guidelines every other prudent financial decisionmaker makes, whether it be the head of a household, a wage earner, a small business, or a small nonprofit? They all live within a budget, and what they do is they say: Here is the most important priority and here is the least, and they go down the line. When the money runs out, they either generate efficiency to allow that money to be more effective and more efficient in how it is spent or they eliminate the lower priority items.

It would be a wonderful search for people to go on thomas.gov to find out the number of programs that have been eliminated versus the number of programs that have been created in the last 2 years. I guarantee you they will outnumber 200 or 300 to 1. In the Judiciary Committee this week, we will have two bills up that duplicate existing programs. I will have the same fight in the Judiciary Committee, and I will lose. We will extend new programs that are doing the same thing other programs are doing, and yet I will lose the battle and we will create new programs to do the same thing we already have government programs doing. Why is that? Because you cannot manage what you do not measure. We don't put metrics on hardly anything in the Federal Government programs, and conveniently so. Therefore, we can say: Well, we can't know whether they are efficient.

The time for our comfort with where we find ourselves financially is over. The American people already understand that because 72 percent of them, in a recent poll, said their No. 1 issue is debt and spending. They already get it. They are wondering when we are going to catch up with them. They are for supporting unemployment insurance benefits but not charging them to their children. They are for us making the hard choices.

So as we go forward, the hope would be that we would get out of the short-term thinking we find ourselves in and start looking down the road of what is coming. I have been quoted as saying that I think we have less than 5 years to fix our ship. I think that is probably generous. I don't think there is one problem in front of our country that we can't fix. However, if we ignore the realities of our financial situation, if the elected leaders in this country fail to make priority decisions, which means you are going to offend some of the supporters of the lower priority programs, then we are not going to solve the problems that are in front of us. If our focus is parochial only--in other words, only the concerns within our own States--rather than that of our Nation as a whole, we are not going to fix the problems in front of us.

I have five grandchildren, and in thinking of the future, I often wonder what things will be like for them.

Thinking backward, when I was 17 and 18 and going to college for the first year, there was this tremendous vision on the horizon that I saw in front of me. I could go to school because I had parents who could afford to pay for my college, and wherever I wanted to go, whatever I wanted to do was out there on that horizon. That is a limited possibility today for our kids. Is it going to be a possibility for the Madelines of the world?

Thinking forward, if you take everyone who is 25 years of age and younger in this country and go out 20 years, here is where they will be: That group, 45 and younger, will be responsible for $1,113,000--each and every one of them will be responsible for $1,113,000 worth of debt and unfunded liabilities, every one of them, if we are on the same course we are on today. Take 6 percent of that, and you will see they are going to have to come up with about $67,000 a year just to pay the interest costs on that debt. That is before they pay income taxes. That is before they pay rent or pay a mortgage. That is before they pay for a car or a car payment. That is before they put food on the table. That is before they clothe their kids and themselves. That is before they give to a charity or their church.

We are stealing the American dream every time we fail to be cognizant of what the future holds, if we don't change course. So the debate really isn't about unemployment insurance; it is about when are we going to change course? When are we going to start recognizing the need to live within our means?

We are going to hear that we have always done it this way, that we have passed three other short-term extensions and that we call them emergencies so we don't have to pay for them. I would say it is time that we not always do it the way we have always done it because the way we have always done it has gotten us $12.6 trillion in debt and is sending us out to sea without a rudder and without enough fuel oil to get back to shore.

My hope is that our debate will focus on what the real problems are in this country, the real long-term problems, because you really solve short-term problems when you start attacking the long-term problems and when you really start making the tough decisions.

I say to my colleague from Montana, as head of the Finance Committee, he knows what would happen if we sent a signal that we were really going to start getting tough about our budget. He knows what would happen to bond rates. He knows what would happen to our ability to lead in the world if we all of a sudden became cognizant and acted in a way that was fiscally responsible. Investment would come flowing back into this country, bond yields would go down, not up, and the cost of our debt would go down. It would be a home run every way we look at it. It would be a home run for the Madelines of this country, and it would be a home run for those who are unemployed.

If you read the financial news, you have been seeing what is happening to Greece. Greece got rescued just in the last week, partly through the IMF, but mainly the money is going to come from Germany and France. They are going to get to borrow for a short period of time at 5 percent instead of the 7 1/2 percent the market reflects.

I would say that there is no Germany or France to bail us out. There is no one who will come to bail America out. It is highly doubtful that Greece has the political will to do what it has to do to solve its own problem. The question is, In 2 or 3 years, are they going to be saying the same thing about our country? Do we have the political will to dig out of the hole we have, in fact, dug for ourselves? When I say ``we,'' I am not talking about the American public, I am talking about the Congress of the United States. You can't blame it on any President. You can't blame it on the courts. The blame for our financial situation lies solely with the U.S. Congress. Whether it is lack of oversight of financial firms or Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae; whether it is the lack of oversight of the SEC; whether it is the tremendous amount of waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Government--$300 billion, at least, per year--it lies with us.

We are going to hear a lot of reasons why we should pass this--just pass the charges on to our kids. My hope is that the American people will reject that because when they accept that it is OK to just charge it to our kids, what they are doing is conditioning us to continue doing the same thing--continuing to spend the future opportunities of our children and grandchildren.

Our heritage is much greater than that. Our kids and grandkids are worth much more than that. Let it not be said of this Congress that we failed to act in the time when the tough get going and that we made the tough decisions about not increasing the debt, streamlining the government, eliminating some of the $300 billion worth of waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication that is in the Federal Government.

I yield the floor.

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