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Public Statements

Statutory Debt Limit

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I want to speak on two or three topics, the first of which is the statutory debt limit.

We heard the Treasury Secretary today say that essentially early, late July would be the last time at which we could manipulate things to not surpass our debt limit. I wanted to ask the rhetorical question: What does the statutory debt limit mean? What it means is we put into law a limitation on ourselves on the amount of money we can borrow.

President Bush--I believe my facts are correct--asked for the debt limit to be extended seven times. This will be the second under President Obama's leadership. It has been extended multitudes of times prior to that. As a physician I am querying myself to ask the question: Why do we put a limit on our debt when every time it comes up, we raise the limit again? The answer to that question is the limit does not mean anything because we continue to disregard the difficulty we are in. If a debt limit meant something, we would make changes and take actions to limit the amount of money we are spending so we would not break the debt limit or have to raise the debt limit.

As a physician, when I think about the debt limit, the debt limit is a symptom of simply another problem. That other problem is that we in Congress--this Congress, the Congress before this, and the 10, 20 Congresses before that--have not taken seriously the idea that this country has to live within its means. In fact, we are not living within our means. We were not living within our means before the housing crisis of 2008. We were not living within our means except one short period of time when we had a true net surplus of about $36 billion, thanks to the tech bubble and the fact that in 1995, the 104th Congress did a rescission package of a significant amount, under $30 billion, but the accumulated benefit of that allowed us to run those surpluses.

The question before our country today is: Is the Congress going to pass another debt limit? Are we going to raise the debt limit again and not do what every other family, every other business, and every other organization in this country has to do and, in fact, the rest of the world? And that is, they do not have the liberty of spending money they do not have on things they do not absolutely need.

I believe the question the American people ought to be asking of Congress and this President is: How dare you even consider raising the debt limit until you have done a thorough job of finding out whether the programs--the multitudes, hundreds of thousands of programs--we have actually function efficiently, actually do their intended purpose and, in fact, are a legitimate role for the Federal Government to be doing in the first place?

We are always going to have the partisan debate on whether taxes are not high enough or spending is not low enough. But all of those belie the real problem, which is this country cannot continue to live beyond its means.

In point of fact that this Congress does not want to do that, we have a small business bill on the floor about which we are all tied up in knots because we do not want to make votes that actually will cut $20 billion worth of spending this year. We do not want to have those votes. We have had all these shenanigans to try to keep from coming to the floor amendments that actually do something.

The American people ought to look at us and say: What is going on? Do you not get it? Do you not understand that the country as a whole is now experiencing what a large number of our families did over the last 2 years, that the amount coming in is less than the amount going out and adjustments in how we spend and what we spend have to be made?

We have an ethanol amendment that I understand is controversial. The fact is, it will be voted on after cloture is filed on this bill. But it is an amendment that will save a true $4.9 billion this year alone. The money for that tax credit that goes to the international and national oil companies in this country to blend ethanol with fuel--they sent a letter and said they do not want the money. How does one justify voting to send money, $4.9 billion, to ExxonMobil and Chevron and ConocoPhillips and all the rest of the big ones that are going to show tremendous profits with oil prices where they are today? When they say they do not want it, how does one justify continuing to send money to them? How does one vote against not sending that money back to the Treasury, not borrowing the money from the Chinese to pay the large oil companies to blend ethanol?

It is not a justification. The reason we are not having a vote is because they know it will be adopted. That amendment will be adopted. That is why we are not having a vote.

America ought to look at the Senate and say: You are not having a vote on something that will save America almost $5 billion this year, before the end of this year that the people who are getting that money do not want and have written to the Congress and said, We do not want the money, and yet we are not going to be allowed to take that amendment up in regular order and not be able to have a vote on it because a small special interest group does not want that to happen?

Talk about dysfunctional. Talk about having our heads in the sand. Talk about not addressing the real problem with the debt limit when we cannot even do something that simple, of saving the American people $5 billion on one amendment and we will not do it? Some real change has to happen, and not enough change has happened yet.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report a month ago outlining massive duplication throughout our government, the first third of it with massive amounts of duplication. The question on the other side is: Are these legitimate roles for the Federal Government? We are not even going to debate that issue. The fact is, they showed massive amounts of duplication in large areas across the government in which we have multiple programs to do the exact same thing.

We have an amendment that will save $5 billion this year if we will vote on the amendment and say, Let's cut $5 billion out of at least $50 billion to $100 billion we know is there, and let's do it this year, and let's have the administration mandate they have to do it.

That is another $5 billion. In two amendments, we would have covered everything we would have cut with the CRs. They are common sense. They match what the American people want us to do. If we had true world bankers, they would be telling us to do it as well. And yet we have not been able to achieve a vote on that amendment.

Then we have the fact that we have unemployed millionaires to the tune of taking, I believe the number is, $20 million in unemployment checks--people earning $1 million a year taking $20 million from the taxpayers of this country for unemployment. We should not let that go on one second longer. Unemployment is for people who desperately need it. It is not for those who do not.

What we have also found is the tremendous cost, as we researched the data on the unemployment for millionaires, that we are spending almost $5 billion a year to manage the unemployment program in this country at the Federal level, when 85 to 90 percent of the work is done at the State level. We did not even offer that amendment to downsize that activity.

The suggestion I have for my colleagues is let's go back to the debt extension, the statutory debt limit. I am of a mind--and I think the average American, regardless of what the consequences are and all the fear mongering we hear about, oh, you have to do this, you have to do this--I do not think we should do it until we have followed some of the commonsense prescriptions that the average family does in this country before we extend the debt limit. My knowledge of the functioning of this town says it is doubtful we will ever do that.

I call on my colleagues to start thinking about what the real disease is in Washington. The real disease is we do not have the courage to make the very hard choices that are in front of our country today and then live with the results of that in terms of how it is going to impact our political careers.

Everybody has a program they want to protect. The message for America today is every program is going to get hit. The Defense Department is going to get hit. Every program is going to get hit. My taxes are going to go up. Sorry, they are going to go up. This country cannot get out of this mess with the behavior we are exhibiting in this body. And if we fail to do what is necessary for our country at this critical time in our juncture, history will deem us absolutely incompetent.

I yield the floor.


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