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Public Statements

Continuing Extension Act Of 2010 - Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, if anybody has been watching the Senate today, there was a point of order made that the spending we are going to pass to pay for unemployment insurance extension benefits and benefits for health insurance for those people, in terms of buying through their former employers, as well as the sustainable growth rate formula, failed to be overriden.

We will have another vote on that because the majority side was missing one Member, and they will eventually win on that. What that says is, we are once again back to the point where we refuse to make the hard choices to pay for things we need to do today by eliminating things that are not as important.

The point of order was on the fact that it is an emergency so, therefore, we can say: Time out. But those who voted to override it fail to recognize the other major emergency that is happening in our country. We have $12.8 trillion worth of debt as of today. We are going to add another $1.4 to $1.5 trillion this year, this calendar year; that the increase in the cost of that debt over the last 12 months will require an additional, next year, $125 billion worth of expenditures.

There has to come a point in time when we grow to the responsibility that has been given to us; that is, make hard choices. It is very easy to pass an unemployment insurance bill by charging it to our children. The majority leader has graciously agreed to give me an opportunity to offer three different ways to pay for that. I am going to put those out today. One amendment now, which we will vote on, another amendment later, and then a third amendment later.

Most of the ideas for cutting spending, quite frankly, have come from my colleagues on the other side, and many of them you have already voted for. So it is going to be an interesting exercise today. The majority leader also spoke to me before lunch saying it did not matter because I was going to lose anyway.

That sends a signal. The leadership of our Senate today says: We do not have to pay for things.

Prior to leaving here, we agreed on a compromise of tax loophole closures that would have paid for this for a period of 30 days. The bill we voted on back then was for 30 days. We have now before us an identical bill before us for 60 days. It is going to cost $18.2 billion. That is what CBO says. The question I have to ask is, is it morally right for us to steal that money from our children's future or make hard choices about wasteful spending today? The choices are not hard other than in our stubbornness that we don't want to agree.

When businesses are taken over, when a larger business buys a smaller business, the first thing they do is become great cash managers of the business. In other words, they make sure the money in the business is always working for the business. So if there is excess cash lying around in accounts, they take that money and reduce whatever outstanding debts they have or forgo borrowing money and use that cash in a more efficacious and serious manner. The first amendment I will offer is asking us to do nothing but the same.

At the end of last year, the Federal Government had on its books money it borrowed but had not spent of $676 billion. That is what is sitting in accounts, money we have borrowed that is not being utilized efficiently. At the end of next year, at the end of fiscal 2011, according to the OMB, it will be $614 billion. That is almost half of the debt we will borrow this year. This first amendment simply says: Let the administration utilize its executive prerogatives and instead of us borrowing $18.2 billion from our children and then paying interest on that--and, by the way, the interest on that $18.2 billion that will go on in perpetuity, because we are not retiring any debt, is about $900 million, almost $1 billion a year. Why would we borrow money when we have money sitting there that is not being utilized effectively and pay almost $900 million every year? Why would we borrow again next year an extra billion to pay for the money we are going to borrow to fund this program?

Let me give an example of where this money lies. In our own accounts to run the legislature, we have $1.450 billion sitting there. In other words, it has not been promised to do anything. It is sitting there. It was sitting at $1.876 billion at the end of last fiscal year. It is projected to be $1.481 billion next year. We are keeping that money in the bank and not using it.

The Department of Agriculture has $20 billion and is estimated in 2011 to have still $12 billion sitting in an account that we are paying interest on that is not being utilized, not obligated for anything at the time, unobligated.

What all these figures show when you total them up is that we are sending money so fast to agencies, they can't spend it. In other words, we are throwing money at the agencies far faster than they can spend it, and it would be wise and prudent of us to send less money--still with the same rules, still with the same instruction, to utilize their money better.

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman Obey, has already agreed to do that on the summer jobs program in certain accounts.

The idea behind this amendment is to take some of the $1 trillion that is sitting in accounts that is not obligated--in other words, it will not be utilized this year; it won't be utilized for at least 2 years--and utilize that rather than charge our children.

I have used Madeline's picture a lot, but I don't think you can overutilize this picture. This little girl was caught on the street outside of Washington protesting. Obviously, her parents put her up to it. At the time she was wearing a sign that says: I am already $38,375 in debt and I only own a dollhouse. At the end of this fiscal year, she will be $45,000 more in debt, and she will still only own a dollhouse. Why would we want to do that?

This bill adds $500 for every man, woman, and child in this country. Why wouldn't we want to not charge it to them and utilize what we have in excess now, the inefficient use of the cash balances we have, to pay for something we all agree we want to pay for but the disagreement is over whether we should steal it from our children or actually make hard choices? These are not even hard choices. These are easy choices. We were told, when we came to an agreement prior to the April recess, that the reason this wasn't acceptable in the House is they didn't want to set the precedent of starting to pay for things when we are spending money. I would put forth that the American people are ready for us to start doing that. They are ready for us to start making tough choices. They think we need to make tough choices.

Out of every dollar we spend, we are borrowing 43 cents against the future. That is what happened last year. It will actually be probably higher this year. Maybe not. But somewhere about 43 cents out of every dollar the Federal Government spends is borrowed. Is there a time that we should stop and pause and say: Maybe a review is in order of our priorities, looking at the priorities of the Federal Government? I know that builds a lot of resistance in this body. But what I would like somebody to tell me is, when is that time? Is it when the Chinese won't buy our bonds anymore? Do we wait for the firestorm to come where we are at critical mass and then the choices are limited and few? Or do we start making the proper decisions now and live up to the authority and responsibility given to us?

There is a saying that the easiest thing in the world is to spend somebody else's money. I also think it is the most addictive thing in the world. We can see that. It doesn't matter whether it is Republicans in charge or Democrats. We have not seen the kind of behavior in Congress that will get our Congress out of the financial problems we face.

In terms of an almost $4 trillion budget, $18 billion doesn't seem like a lot, but if you keep doing that every 60 days, in a year you have done over $120 billion that you will add to the debt. Our kids will get to pay it back, but they will get to pay it back on compounded interest.

The interesting thing is what the OMB and CBO agree to. Actually, CBO came out with the latest numbers. We are going to borrow $9.8 trillion if we don't change things over the next 9 years, and fully 50 percent of that will be borrowed money to pay interest on the money we have already borrowed. Should we not do what is right for the unemployed but also what is right for the Madelines of this world in terms of protecting their future?

I call up amendment No. 3723 and ask for its consideration.

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Mr. COBURN. Here is a fairly painless way--just more efficient management of the money we have--of paying for this needed program without charging it to the children. We don't have to go to the bond market to borrow more. We don't have to incur an additional $900 million a year of debt, a tremendous benefit to those who follow us. The question is, when will we decide to start being responsible?

I am going to be offering two other amendments, if this one is not agreed to, that will give specific choices. Wait to hear the howling. In other words, nothing is less important than unemployment insurance. Said the other way, everything is more important. In other words, we can't cut anything to pay for unemployment insurance.

Let's talk about that for a minute. Just through competitive bidding, if we had mandatory competitive bidding in the Federal Government--in other words, we will not buy things that are not competitively bid--we would save $62 billion a year. But we have sweetheart deals out the kazoo. We have earmarks that have noncompetitive bidding. We have contracts that the government does without competitive bidding. We could save $62 billion a year by instituting competitive bidding.

Here are examples. It was recently reported that the Defense Department rewards no-bid work to small contracts for repairs at military bases costing taxpayers $148 million more than they were competed for. This is in 1 year on repair contracts. That is just on the repair of small items on military bases. We could save $148 million a year. Federal funds were spent by the State of Wisconsin, $47.5 million, on two Spanish-made passenger trains, no competitive bid. The Legal Services Corporation, 37 out of 38 consultant contracts had not been competitively bid. The Department of Interior inspector general issued a report on sole-source contracting within the Department of Interior total savings; $44.5 million, had they used competitive bidding.

If we go through all of the agencies, what we come up with is a potential savings of billions and billions of dollars; as a matter of fact, enough to extend this same bill for 7 months, if we use competitive bidding. But that will not be considered important. It is going to be too important to do that so we will borrow the money from our children.

Let's look at ourselves. In 2010, the legislative branch received $4.7 billion in discretionary funding, a 6-percent increase over last year. Do we know of any other people who got those kinds of increases who work in small business or private enterprise in a down economy? Last year and this year alone, every day without this bill we are adding $4.3 billion to our debt a day. Is that an emergency? I think that is the real emergency, that we are absolutely stealing opportunity from our children and grandchildren.

When Members of the Senate or the House don't utilize all their funds--and I average turning back about $600,000 a year--that money does not go back to the Treasury. It is consumed in other areas of the legislative branch. There is a disincentive for Members to be efficient with the dollars they are allotted as they represent their individual States.

We ought to change that. There ought to be an incentive to be efficient. We ought to change it to where whatever we turn back goes to retire the debt, not goes back to spend on something that is not a priority.

If you look at the Department of Agriculture, for which one of my amendments will have some recommended eliminations, there are hundreds of millions of dollars that are wasted every year. But when we offer an
amendment that is going to have a program that both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have recommended be removed, we are going to have people say: Oh, no, you can't do that because maybe 1,000 people or 1,500 people want that gravy train, when we have 10 million people unemployed. So we are going to keep the gravy train for the small numbers and borrow the money from our children and grandchildren to take care of unemployment benefits.

In 2009, the Department of Agriculture made errors in payments and overpaid by $4.2 billion in that year alone. Think about that. That is just the Department of Agriculture. Should we not eliminate that to pay for unemployment insurance or should we borrow from our children? Which is it we should do? Should we make the hard choice and force the Department of Agriculture to clean up its act or should we borrow the money from our kids? It is a lot easier to just borrow it from our kids. Then we do not have to work. Oh, by the way, we do not get any of the complaints from the administration that: You are making our job too hard--let alone the fact that they are not efficient and oftentimes not effective.

In 2008, the Agriculture Department had 7,000 different employees attend conferences around this country. There was $22 million of expenditures in 2005 alone. The USDA is ranked among the four worst Federal agencies in paying its travel credit bills on time. As a matter of fact, they get charged interest because they cannot even pay their bills on time. Ten percent of their travel cards are in delinquent status. They have embezzlement cases on their credit cards. But have we done the work to clean that up? No. Have we gone after the $4.5 billion in overpayments? No. Mr. President, $4.5 billion a year for 10 years is $45 billion. Just cleaning up one aspect of improper payments at only the Department of Agriculture will pay for this bill for 4 months. But we will not do the hard work. We do the easy work. And the easy work is to put the credit card into the machine and not think about how that is going to steal opportunity and potential from those who follow us.

The Department of Defense--everybody says: Well, you can't go after the Department of Defense. My question is, Why not? It is the only Federal Government agency that cannot even come close to an audit anywhere. We cannot even audit their books they are in such a mess. But what we do know is we can save at least $36.5 billion from the Department of Defense by putting in competitive bidding, by making cogent management changes that every small business in this country runs on in the practices that are there. But it has not been changed. We have not insisted it be changed. We have not limited funding in areas that are noncritical to our troops to force the Department of Defense to come up and save this $36.5 billion.

Mr. President, 10 to 15 percent of everything that is spent in the Pentagon is wasted. Why wouldn't we go after that? Because somebody will accuse us of not supporting our troops? Well, what are our troops fighting for? They are fighting for the future of their kids and our country. Yet we refuse to look where the payments can be made in a way that is more efficient in the elimination of waste and fraud, with the institution of competitive bidding so we are not borrowing $18.2 billion against our kids and grandkids. Why do we refuse to do that? Is it too hard? Do we love our jobs so much that we love our jobs more than our children and our grandchildren? I do not think that is the case. I think the case is that we are focusing on the wrong emergency.

The emergency in front of us is that in 2020 we are going to have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 to 100 percent. Every economist in the world will agree that will suppress our potential growth by at least 2 percent a year. So we will go in a downward spiral. When you have that kind of a debt-to-GDP ratio, what happens is the debt service--the money that pays the interest--is not available to invest in capital and equipment to grow jobs, to improve efficiencies, to expand our Nation's economic base. We are adding to that problem by being irresponsible in terms of paying for an $18.2 billion program.

Over the past 4 years, I have identified in the Federal Government waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication in excess of $350 billion a year. When I bring those amendments to the floor, they get voted down--not because they disagree with them but because we do not have the political will to make the hard choices.

The Congress, in a historic move, passed the health care bill that is going to continue to allow $150 billion of fraud a year to come out of Medicare and Medicaid. We did not do anything to fix it. There are no significant changes in the health care bill that will address a source of $150 billion in losses. Why? Because it is too hard? Kids are not important?

We are at a turning point in our country like we have never been before. We have never been walking into a financial situation that will totally limit our ability to get out of a situation. We can come out of this recession. But if we do not change the trajectory of the way we spend money and put the government back within the limited role the Constitution says it is to have, then the future will not only be economically not bright but not bright from a standpoint of liberty.

I have told my colleagues--and we are going to have this on every bill that comes before the Senate--it does not matter if it is a supplemental spending bill for the war, we ought to be paying for it. Rather than borrowing it from our kids, we ought to be paying for it. We ought to be making the hard choices about what is not as important as supporting our troops rather than charging the extra funding to our grandkids. So we are going to go through at least three cycles of votes on every bill that comes to the floor that is not paid for, that will add to the debt. I am not going to serve my last year in the Senate and say I did not do everything I could to try to put us back on track. So when we vote that this is an emergency and we do not have to pay for it, we are not hurting us. You are not hurting Tom Coburn. You are hurting the generations that follow us.

It would be different if we had an efficient, effective, well-run Federal Government that was within the bounds of what the Constitution said we were supposed to be doing. But we are not anywhere close to that. There is so much fraud, so much waste, so many well-connected goodies going to the well-endowed and well-heeled in this country because they have a connection politically, and we need to clean it out.

Everything ought to be competitively bid. There is no reason for it not to be competitively bid. To pass up that $65 billion a year because we do not do it--there is another thing we do. We spend $8 billion a year maintaining properties the Federal Government does not want. Think about that. For 3 years, I have tried to get through real property reform and cannot get it through. We either need to tear these structures down so we quit spending money on them or sell them, but we should not continue to spend $8 billion a year on buildings and properties we do not need. We have not done a thing to solve that problem in the last 3 years.

I have a book full of further examples. Just think about this: We want people to go into math, engineering, science, and technology. Everybody agrees with that. We know if we can get our younger students going into those areas, that is where they are going to have their greatest benefits of having a wonderful living in utilizing those skills.

The Federal Government has 105 different programs through six different agencies to incentivize math, engineering, science, and technology. The administrative cost for 105 different programs is ridiculous, and not 1 of them has a metric on it of whether it is working. So every time somebody raises the issue, some Senator comes and creates another new program, and we pass it, and we never look at what we are doing already. We do not eliminate things that are not effective. We do not put metrics on it to say we are going to look at this every year, and if it is not working we are going to get rid of it or we are going to fix it, and we are not going to create another program. Yet we have 105 different programs.

In the month of December, my staff found 640 separate instances just like that where we have duplication of programs across government agencies. In
the last debt limit extension, we passed one of my amendments that said the GAO must report to us a governmentwide assessment of all the duplications in all the programs because Congress does not know it. We do not know what is out there. So we see another problem. It does not matter that we may have 105 programs working on it; we go create another one. That is called incompetence. It is also called laziness.

Just inside the Department of Education are 230 duplicative programs and $10 billion in waste, fraud, and mismanagement--230. Why? Because we refuse to do the hard work of oversight.

So when we vote on this amendment, what we are going to be voting on is whether we have the courage to start making choices. If you vote to defeat this amendment, what you are saying is you lack the courage to do the hard work to pay for something out of waste today and mismanagement of Federal funds and you think the Madelines of this world ought to pay for that lack of integrity and lack of hard work. And there is not another reason for it.

We are going to hear why you should not vote for this. We are going to hear why it is going to be hard if we take $18.2 billion out of the management accounts of all these agencies. It is just going to be, out of what is there, about 3 percent of the cash that is sitting idle--about 3 percent of what will be idle in 2011. What is idle this year, it will be less than 3 percent; it will be about 2.5 percent. Yet we are going to vote it down. We are going to vote it down because we care more about making a political point than doing the hard work of getting our country back on track.

We do not have forever to get our country back on track. If we get to 90 to 100 percent of our GDP, the job of making these decisions becomes 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 times more difficult because we will have less growth. We have a precarious economy right now. It is coming out of a recession. We want that growth to boom. We want those jobs to be created. When we borrow more money, we are putting a brake on that.

So if we can utilize the money we already have, we get the stimulatory effect of getting people unemployment insurance that buys the necessities of life, but we are not adding to the debt, which depresses the economy.

I will close for right now on this amendment. I will ask for the yeas and nays at a time that is agreeable to the majority leader.

I note the absence of a quorum.

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