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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. President, we have a lot in front of us as a nation. Our perception is that our country is anxious, and I think it has good reason to be anxious, but it doesn't have anything to do with the debt ceiling debate. It should be anxious because we are not listening. We are not paying attention to the anxiety and fear and worry that the country they know and the freedoms and liberties they have are slipping away from them. They are slipping away because we are putting America into debtor's prison. We are slowly losing our ability to make free choices about our future because we failed to be responsible in the past with the money the American people have given us.

We have had a lot of debates and a lot of statements over the last couple of weeks, but no one ever talks about what the real problem is. The real problem is we are spending money on things with good intentions that don't accomplish their purposes. We are spending money we don't have on things we don't absolutely need, and the programs we do have, we fail to oversee to see that they are running both efficiently and effectively. As a consequence, we find ourselves in the midst of an economic downturn with a $1.5 trillion to $1.6 trillion deficit, borrowing $4 billion a day. That means every day and a half, we borrow more money than the State of Oklahoma spends in a year. We hear all of the political speeches and all of the fingerpointing, but we don't hear the real solutions to our problem.

Let me explain what I mean. Everybody agrees we are going to have to make some cuts, but not everybody is honest about the numbers associated with those cuts. Everybody agrees we are going to have to tighten our belt, but nobody wants to offer specifically where to tighten our belt. What I wish to do today is offer specific places where the government today--right today, in this body and the one across the Capitol--could make a big difference in the outcome of our future by cutting specific programs this week and next week.

That is the one rare thing we never hear in Washington. Everybody says we need to cut, but when it gets down to talking about what to cut, nobody wants to come up with any cogent ideas because they don't want to take the political heat, because every program, no matter how well intended and how inefficient, has those people who are going to fight for that program because it has money coming into the coffers for something.

The other point I wish to make is the reason we are anxious and the reason we are worried is we have abandoned the very principles our Founders gave us that would keep us healthy, and that was the Constitution and its enumerated powers section, which spelled out very succinctly what was our responsibility and what was the States' responsibility.

So we have whole departments. One, for example, would be the Department of Education that Thomas Jefferson said if we ever have the Federal Government doing anything on education, we would have to change the Constitution. That is a direct quote of his. He was one of our Founders. He, as well as Madison and Monroe and others, wrote extensively about what their intentions were in the Federalist Papers. Yet we have allowed ourselves to be walked, like in a dream state, into the contention that the Constitution does not make any difference and that it would, in fact, if we paid attention to it, limit our opportunities for the mistakes we have made. The mistakes we have made--though well-intentioned--are that we can be the answer for every problem in America. We cannot.

What made our country great was self-reliance, individual freedom and initiative, personal responsibility and accountability. That is what built our country, in a system that said: If, in fact, you work hard, the opportunity is there for you to gain, for you and those you love. Now we have a government that at every place, for every decision that is for the economic benefit of those individuals who would grab that dream, they are confronted with layers upon layers of bureaucracy, with rules and regulations, to the point where no longer are they presumed innocent by the Federal Government, they are presumed guilty, and they have to prove themselves innocent to the bureaucracy to be able to accomplish that which would set them free, that which would put them ahead, that which would establish an opportunity to gain the wealth this country promised.

I put forward a week ago last Monday $9 trillion in potential cuts. Now, I know people are not all going to agree with me, but every one of these cuts is backed up with a government study that says what we are doing in these programs is not effective. Whether it is the Congressional Research Service, the inspector generals, the Government Accountability Office, OMB, or the Congressional Budget Office, there are over 3,000 footnotes to the 600 pages that are in here that explain very well why we should not be doing this $9 trillion worth of stuff.

I understand we can have a great debate on whether, one, it is our constitutional responsibility. Some of it certainly is when it comes to defense. No. 2, we can have a great debate on what we think are priorities, those things that fit within the Constitution that are our responsibility. But we cannot debate the facts of the outright waste, the outright fraud, the outright abuse, and the outright duplication of multiple sets of programs.

This is far from a complete list, as shown in this chart. But over the next 10 years, we could save $150 billion to $200 billion just by eliminating duplicative programs. We have over 100 programs on surface transportation. That is 100 sets of bureaucracies, 100 offices, 100 sets of regulations, 100 sets of rules. The question we ought to ask is, If we have responsibility on surface transportation, why in the world do we have 100 different programs?

We have 82 teacher improvement and training programs run by the Federal Government. Nobody will come down here and answer me why. It is indefensible we have it. Yet nobody will come down here and join me to eliminate it. We have to be asking the question: Do we have good reason to be anxious when we will not do the obvious?

We have over 180 economic development programs, but we have 88 economic development programs that we spend $6.8 billion a year on run by four separate agencies, and not one of them has a study that shows they are effective in developing economic activity--not one of them. So why would we continue to send money into programs with good intentions that are not working? Yet we have over 180 of them, 88 within four departments. We have not been able to find all the rest of them, but we know they exist.

That is 88 sets of bureaucrats, well-intentioned Federal Government workers doing what this Congress and Congresses before us have told them to do but not accomplishing the purpose for which that money--almost $7 billion a year--is sent.

We have 80 other separate programs for transportation assistance. You see the little community vehicles, the ones to help those who have a disability. Why do we have 80 separate programs? Nobody can answer that. It is easy to figure out how they happen. They are well-intentioned. We ought to help people who cannot get around. The question that ought to be asked is, Is that a State responsibility or a Federal responsibility? If it is a Federal responsibility--that is debatable, but if it is, why would we have 80 separate programs?

We have 56 different programs run by seven different agencies to teach Americans financial literacy. We have to ask ourselves the question: How can a government that is running a $1.6 trillion deficit and has $14 trillion of debt--and our debt-to-GDP ratio is 100 percent--how do we have any authority to teach anybody about financial literacy? That is No. 1.

No. 2, where is it in the Constitution that we are responsible for teaching people financial literacy? That is both a State function, a city function, and a family function. Yet we have 56 programs, and not one of them has a metric to study whether it is effective--not one of them.

Job training: We spent $18.8 billion on job training this last year. We have 47 different programs. The Government Accountability Office says, of those 47 programs, all of them overlap except 3. So based on the study of the people we pay to study this, the most we should have is 4 job training programs. And we are going to spend almost $19 billion on that? Here is what we know. The results cannot justify that we are spending the money because the results do not show performance. Yet we are spending $18 billion.

We have 20 different programs for homeless assistance and prevention. That is a great role. We all want to help the homeless. We want to do whatever we can to get them in a stable situation, to assist them. But 20 different programs? Why would we do that? Why wouldn't we have one? And why wouldn't only the one program be administered through a State if, in fact, it is our role? I happen to think that is the State of Oklahoma's role to take care of the homeless people in Oklahoma, not the Federal Government's. But if it is the Federal Government's role, why would we have 20 programs?

Food for the hungry: 18 separate programs, 5 different agencies. Again, I am all for helping those people who need to have food. Why would we have 18 sets of bureaucracies, 18 different sets of rules--18 different sets? And 2 of these actually work; 16 do not, but we have not eliminated them. We are still sending the money out the door.

Disaster response and preparedness inside FEMA: Just for disaster response and preparedness, there are 17 programs just inside FEMA. That does not count all the disaster response and preparedness programs in all the other government agencies. That is just inside FEMA. We have to ask the questions: What are we doing? One, what have we done in the past? And what are we going to do about the problems that are in front of us today?

So I would propose that we are off base, and we have a good reason to be anxious about us because we will not address these problems. When we bring amendments to the floor, they get routinely defeated. Why is that? Is it that we are being dishonest about the facts or is it we are protecting the politicians so they are not attacked by the very people who are benefiting indirectly--not directly, but indirectly--from these programs, the bureaucracies and the other quasi-governmental agencies that feed off these programs?

So where do we go to start fixing this $1.6 trillion deficit? I had some wonderful employees of the Social Security Administration come to me about a year and a half ago, and they said--and they wanted to remain anonymous; and I understand why--they said our disability program is broken. We are giving disability checks to thousands of people every year who are not disabled.

So we started looking at it in the Permanent

Subcommittee on Investigations, and here is what we found. If we take veterans totally out of the mix--this does not apply to veterans--1 in 18 people in this country today is collecting a disability check.

As a physician, I have done all sorts of disability examinations. What we are finding is about 40 percent of the people who are on disability are not disabled because the law says to be disabled in this country, and to receive a check from the rest of us for that disability, there can be no job in the economy they can do.

Yet we have judges who never deny anybody when they come through the disability program. We have people on disability who are working full time at other jobs. Once they are eligible for a disability check, 2 years after that they are eligible for health care.

So now we have undermined the system that was designed to help the truly disabled by having thousands upon thousands upon thousands of people collecting a disability check, which means there is not going to be a check for somebody else.

The disability trust fund, which we pay into when we work--as well as SSI, which is a separate fund that comes just from our tax dollars--is belly up. Next year, the Social Security disability trust fund runs out of money. The reason it is running out of money is the Social Security system does not say: If you were disabled and now you are not, why are you still taking the money when you are back at work? They do not do their job because the leadership at Social Security does not demand that the job is being done.

So we have significant ways of improving that to make sure we are helping those people who are truly disabled. But we cannot get anybody to help us get that law passed. To say we want to clean up Social Security disability does not mean we do not care about the people who are disabled. It means we care about those who are going to be disabled in the future, so we will have a dollar to help them when that need arises for them.

So it is just one of those areas. It has not been looked at in 25 years. The Social Security system--once you are on, you are on. They rarely take anybody off. The fraud associated with collecting a disability check and working for cash in our economy--and working not for cash, even working full-blown jobs--we had three instances where we had the Government Accountability Office film people, two of whom actually worked as salaried employees for the Federal Government, who were collecting disability at the same time they were collecting checks from the Federal Government as a Federal employee. And it is not small; it is big.

So there is $60 billion over 10 years that we could save just by reforming the Social Security disability system. That does not say we do not want to help people who are disabled. It says we want to do the best for our country and help those people who are disabled. But we have undermined self-reliance. We have found people who want to take advantage of our charity and love and care. So, therefore, they cheat the system. We have an incompetent bureaucracy that does not take them off the system, and we have an incompetent system of jurisprudence within the Social Security Administration that puts people on who should never be on. But the attack comes that we do not care about people if, in fact, we want to fix this program.

Social Security: Everybody says do not touch Social Security. This Congress and the Congress before it has stolen $2.5 trillion from the money we put into Social Security. They have written a little, bitty IOU note and said: Well, when you need the money, we will pay it back.

What does that mean? That means the full faith and credit of this country has to be good enough that when we get ready to pay the $2.5 trillion back, we can borrow the money at an acceptable interest rate to be able to pay it back.

So what do the Social Security Administration trustees say we need to do? They say we have to make it sustainable. And, oh, by the way, wouldn't it be nice if the poorest people on Social Security could get a little bump so we could help those who are truly dependent on it and make it sustainable so we never have to discuss Social Security again? Even with the baby boomers, we ought to do that.

So what we have done is designed a solvent path over 75 years based on Social Security where we are likely to achieve it. We did not raise anybody's taxes. We help those the most who are in need the most, and for those who are the most well off, we said: You cannot have quite as much. In other words, we means tested it.

We said: If you are very wealthy, you will eventually get your money out, but not like everybody else will. The people who need it the most, we are going to help the most. It alters the retirement age just to go along with life expectancy. It does not alter life. It alters that 2 years over 60 years.

But the fact is, our life expectancy is far advanced from what it was when we first started Social Security.

When we first started, we had almost 50 people working for everybody who is on Social Security. Now we have less than five, and it is not going to be long where we are going to have less than three. It is not sustainable unless we change that. So the point is, I understand Social Security is important to people in this country. But if we do not change it, in 2035, we are going to get two-thirds of the benefits you put in. We are not going to get any more than that.

So do we fix it now and make it sustainable forever or do we just wait until it goes belly up, knowing we cannot borrow the $2.5 trillion that was stolen from it and let it go belly up? The typical politician says: I do not want to do that because I do not want to take the heat to have to explain that to people on Social Security or coming on Social Security.

I do not have any problems trying to explain it. It is the right thing for us to do. We have to fix it, and we can fix it, if, in fact, we are going to save our country. That is one of the things we have to do to make sure the people who buy our bonds, loan us the money, recognize we have a salvageable situation. Ignoring Social Security--it is our second biggest issue now, other than health care--it is our second biggest issue. To ignore it and not fix it says we will not be able to borrow the money for it or anything else.

Let me spend a minute going through a couple things we can do next week that would save a lot of money--not hard, not controversial. The question America ought to ask is, Why have we not already done it? Let me give some examples. We ought to quit paying unemployment compensation to millionaires. Do you realize last year we paid $20 million out in unemployment compensation to people who were making $1 million that year. Is that nuts or what?

Unemployment is to help those people who are in need who are unemployed. It is not to give money to people who do not need it because they are unemployed. Yet we spent almost $20 million last year paying people unemployment compensation who made $1 million last year.

We could save $1 billion over 10 years if we quit making payments to dead people. You say: Oh well, you do not make payments to dead people. Yes, we do--$100 million a year that bureaucracies pay to people who are dead and a good portion of it we never get back. It is gone. We do not follow that up.

We know we can save $5 billion a year minimum--minimum--if we just eliminated some of the overlapping programs I talked about. That is a very conservative estimate. It is probably more akin to $25 billion a year. But let's say it is one-fifth of that--$5 billion a year. That is $50 billion. That would keep us from borrowing money for 14 days just by eliminating duplication in government programs.

We could eliminate $2 billion over 10 years by eliminating sweetheart contracts and bonuses to contractors who work for the Federal Government who do not earn their bonuses. Yes, we do that. We pay bonuses to people who both do not perform and do not perform on time. You would not do it. If someone came in to do something for you on a fixed price with a bonus based on quality and time and they did not meet it, you would not pay them the bonus. But your Federal Government does anyway.

We could save $1 billion over 10 years by collecting unpaid taxes owed to us by our own Federal employees. Taxes that are owed, they have been adjudicated, there is nothing else going on, it is final, it is set, but we do not take the money out of their pay. That number is growing every year, the amount of money they owe.

We could save $3.82 billion by reducing the amount of money Congress spends on itself by just 15 percent. Would it be too much to ask of the Congress to tighten its belt by 15 percent and save 1 day's borrowing? No. I turn back, on average, about $500,000 to $600,000 a year on what is allocated to my Senate office. I do not do that to be able to say I do it; I do it because I do not need it because I know how to run an office efficiently and pay people effectively. But the fact is, we have too big a budget, and we need to trim it. We need to lead by example.

We could save $480 million a year just by having HRSA, the Health Resources and Services Administration, pay the right prices for drugs in their programs versus paying too high prices--prices higher than what they contracted for. One-half billion dollars does not sound like much. But $ 1/2 billion over 10 years, that is $5 billion. That is one three-hundredths of what our problem is right now in terms of the deficit.

We could save $5 billion by eliminating unnecessary government printing. We could do that tomorrow--$5 billion.

We could get $15 billion back by getting rid of unnecessary government buildings we are not using, that are costing us $8 billion a year to maintain. I cannot remember the exact number. I think we have 63,000 facilities right now the Federal Government owns--63,000 that are underutilized or not utilized at all. That is 12,000 more than we had 2 years ago, and we are signing new leases for buildings all the time and abandoning the buildings the government owns.

The Federal Government should dispose of excess property within 5 years. According to President Obama's own administration, we could save, at a minimum, $15 billion. Every time we have tried to do this, somebody stops it in the Senate.

We can end subsidies for ethanol blending. We voted on it, had 74 Senators vote on it, but it did not happen. That is $2 billion we could save this year if we passed it tomorrow. We can decrease the number of limousines owned by the Federal Government, save $115 million. We could reduce the Federal vehicle fleet, $5.6 billion.

The Federal Government--you will not believe this number--the Federal Government owns 662,000 cars--662,000. The average mileage on them is less than 20,000 miles. The fleet has grown by 5 percent and the cost of maintaining and servicing the fleet has grown over 25 percent in the last 2 years--$4.6 billion a year just maintaining these 600,000-plus cars.

The amount of vehicles in our fleet could easily be decreased by 20 percent. We have all the capability of having GoToMeeting, of having Internet, of having live chats, of having telecommunications with visual conferencing. We have all those things available. We do not need the cars we have. Even the Obama administration agrees we can do that.

We could save $43 billion by decreasing travel by government agencies--same reason. We spend $15 billion a year on travel--$15 billion. Anything that is not mission critical and that could be done through teleconferencing ought to be done. We advertise. The advertising budget for the Federal Government, $5.6 billion a year. They do not pay for public service ads. These are ads outside of public service ads--$5.6 billion. We spend $1 billion a year hosting government conferences. The Federal Government now owns 685 million acres in the United States. The cost to maintain that, we are not funding. The land is falling in worse disrepair. We are adding land every year. There is lots of land we could give up that is not a precious resource, is not a heritage area, is not forest, is not a park. Yet we own it.

We could save a lot of money by not having so much land and put it back on the tax rolls. We could save $4.1 billion just on our last 2 years' average, in terms of slowing down and not buying additional land, unless there is a direct necessity for the Federal Government to have it.

We could save $19 billion over 10 years by combining the PXs and exchanges on our military bases--$19 billion just by putting them together. That is what we could save.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has used 30 minutes.

Mr. COBURN. I ask unanimous consent for 3 additional minutes.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, reserving the right to object--I shall not object--but I would like to add 3 minutes to my time as well.

Mr. COBURN. No objection.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. COBURN. Let me end with this. It costs us, to educate a student on our military bases, an average of $51,000 a student. If we look at the locations where all those are located, the cost outside is one-fourth of that. We could easily do that and pay the community. But we will not.

I will end with this. We can solve our problems. There is $9 trillion worth of specific savings in this. We do not have to agree with all this. We do not even have to agree with half of it. If we agreed with one-third of them, we would be well on our way. The fact is, nobody wants to be specific. We need to be specific. Everybody wants to talk in generalities. Nobody wants to make the hard choices. Hard choices are what we are here for.

Our time has come to stop living the next 30 years on the backs of our kids. It would be my hope that as we go through this process the next 2 weeks, we will see a renewal in the spirit of our country that says: We are going to live within our means, we are going to reward self-reliance, we are going to reward individual accountability, we are going to reward personal responsibility, and we are going to put the role of the government back where it should be both at the Federal and State level and have commensurate policies that will reflect that, that will renew our country, that will create jobs, that will create opportunity for the future of our country.

I yield the floor.


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