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Establishing the Commission on Freedom of Information Act Processing Delays

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. President, I have been listening in my office for the last several hours to the debate. I think there is one thing that has not been brought out in the debate. When Washington says it is going to cut spending, it is untruthful with the American public, because both the Boehner bill and the Reid bill increase discretionary spending over the next 10 years by--one of them $830 billion, and the other $832 billion.

How is it that we can, with a straight face in this body, talk about a cut when, in fact, CBO says we are going to actually increase the spending in the discretionary accounts over the next 10 years nearly $1 trillion.

You have heard the debate in the House, in the Senate, of a spending cut. And, of course, that goes to what the heart of the problem is in our country; words get twisted around to the advantage of the politicians but to the disadvantage of the American citizens. We are in trouble financially. Most people will agree with that. We have programs that are in difficult straits.

As a matter of fact, they are broke, they are not just in difficult straits. Here are the ones that are broke. Medicare Part A trust fund. Worst-case scenario this year to 2016. That is the fund that solves and pays for hospitalizations for our seniors.

We have heard a lot of statements said about Medicare. The average Medicare recipient paid $130,000 into Medicare. The average Medicare recipient takes $350,000 out. How long do we think that can continue? How long can we continue to tell seniors that we can continue a program based on its utilization rates, based on its reimbursement rates, based on the tax rates, that has a $220,000 difference between what goes out in benefits versus what comes in? It is broke.

Medicaid is broke. The reason it is broke is because the States are broke trying to take care of it. We mandate what they must do, and yet the States are choking on Medicaid, and we are choking on matching the amount of dollars. Under the Affordable Care Act, it is now estimated 25 million more people will go into Medicaid. So it is broke.

The Census. It was broke before it started. It cost twice what it did 10 years ago, $8 billion more than what was estimated.

Fannie and Freddie. We know they are broke. They are $190 billion--that you have now committed for, to pay to get them out of hock--Congress created that $190 billion. That is where we are today. It is going to be $300 or $400 billion that we have to pay--we will be required to pay, citizens of this country.

Social Security. People say it is not broke. We have $2.5 trillion worth of IOUs. Well, the fact is, that money is gone. Congress stole it, spent it on other things. Now we lack the ability to go into international financial markets to borrow that money to put that trust fund whole.

So why do we need to reform Social Security? So we can make sure it is there in the future. What we do know is in 2032 now, according to the trustees, everybody on Social Security will only get 77 percent of what they are promised, and every year after that it will decline, so that when my kids are on Social Security, they will get about 40 percent of what the average Social Security recipient gets now. We know we can fix it. We know we can fix it and make it sustainable forever. But we will not do that because that is politically difficult.

The U.S. Post Office is bleeding every day. Yet we have not fixed it. We are going to do a gimmick to buy some time. But the fact is, we have set it up under a system when they negotiate labor contracts under the arbitration system. They cannot consider the financial health of the Post Office. That would be like paying somebody to mow your grass and saying, they will set the price on it and you cannot negotiate what the price is. Yet they are going to lose $8 to $10 billion this year and more every year going forward, and we have not fixed it, not done anything.

Cash for Clunkers. Absolute--when you look at the dollars--and the home buyer program, the new home buyer program--they actually had a negative effect on the economy. That is what the studies show now. So we blew through all of that money.

The highway trust fund--what is used to build highways and roads and bridges in our country--is broke. We are looking for $13 billion to try to make it whole, and all we did was transfer the last 3 years to that. Rather than reform it, we did not do anything about it.

The new government-run health care program. Here is what we know. The new studies show that over half of the employers in this country will drop their insurance for the people who presently have insurance at work. Hundreds of billions of dollars of additional taxpayer money is going to be required to subsidize the exchanges those people are going to go into, because the penalty for dropping somebody's insurance is economically too low to keep employers from doing that.

We have all of these programs that are broke, and we have a discussion about the debt ceiling, but we are not talking about what is the real problem. This government is twice the size it was 10 years ago. Twice as big. It would be great if all of it were constitutional, it would be great if it were all effective, it would be great if it were all efficient, and it would be great if we could afford it. But the fact is, we are where we are today, with a $1.6 trillion deficit, because we cannot afford the government we have.

So we have not concentrated on the very areas where we can find mutual agreement. We have had three bipartisan bills in here where we have cut money, significant money, billion here, $5 billion here, $7 billion here, $3 billion here, go through the Senate with vast majority votes, only to go nowhere, because the allowance for the debate on the underlying bills was stopped. The bills were pulled.

So what do we do? Well, the first thing we do is we look at what the problems are. What are the problems? We have 100 different programs with 100 sets of bureaucracies for surface transportation alone. Why do we do that? Why have we not fixed it? That is a question the American people ought to be asking.

We have 82 programs to improve the quality of our teachers, run by the Federal Government across 7 different agencies. Only one of them is at the Department of Education. Why are we doing that? Where is the assessment of how well they work? Where are the metrics to say we should be spending this money in this way because we are getting a return? Not one of them has a metric on it. Not one of them has ever been measured on whether it is effective.

We have 88 economic development programs in 4 agencies, for which we spend $6.8 billion, and we have another 100 economic development programs in 6 other agencies, for which we spend another $4 billion, and not one of them has ever been measured to see if it improves economic activity. And if, in fact, it does, why do we have 188 separate agencies to stimulate economic development? I mean, this is not complicated stuff. It is common sense. Every American, other than the Congress, would fix that.

We have 56 programs to teach financial literacy to the American people. First of all, I question whether we ought to be teaching anybody financial literacy as a government when we run it so poorly. But if, in fact, we do, why do we have 56? And, oh, by the way, not one of them has ever been measured to see if it effectively teaches somebody financial literacy.

We have 47 job training programs which cost $18 billion a year, 9 different agencies, 9 different sets of bureaucracies, and all of them but three overlap with the other. That is according to the Government Accountability Office. Why? Why would we do that?

We have 18 programs for food for the hungry. That is something we all want to be involved in. Eighteen? Why 18 sets of bureaucracies? How well are they working? Are they effective? Could we do them better? The question has not even been asked by Congress.

We have homeless programs for both prevention and assistance--20, 6 different agencies. So you have 20 different sets of bureaucracies that are designed to do the same thing.

Disaster response and preparedness, inside FEMA alone. Inside FEMA alone, we have 17 different programs, inside that one agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

I ask the question: Why? Why hasn't it been a priority for us to work on this?

Mr. KERRY. Will the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. COBURN. Yes.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, it may surprise the Senator--I hope not, and I don't think so--but it might surprise people listening to us to hear from this side of the aisle that a lot of us have enormous respect for what the Senator has been talking about and fighting for and what he has achieved. I might add he is one of those courageous Senators who has come together in the last months working as part of the so-called Gang of 6 to try to bridge the gap and see if we cannot find a way forward.

As I listen to him, there is an enormous amount of common sense in the questions he is asking. These are questions all of us need to join in. We need to join into them in a process that allows us to be able to work in a balanced way on the grand bargain, as you call it, the big fix. I ask the Senator, because I think a lot of Americans listening to the debate--and I have been listening on the floor and listening some back in the office--people have to be saying these guys have been talking past each other because we hear things over there that sound reasonable and we hear things on this side that sound reasonable. But people are asking: What is hanging up this process? Why is the entire country being held hostage?

I ask my colleague if he would help us kind of bear down on what we need to do. I ask him if it is not fair and accurate to say that the so-called Gang of 6--a terrible name--maybe we can call them G6 or something--but they came together with an understanding that we needed balance in the approach to satisfy both sides and build a critical mass. That balance requires cuts. We have to put the big items--big ticket items on the table, and that means fixing Social Security, reforming it for the long-term; Medicare and Medicaid, which are unsustainable on their current paths; defense, where we have to find a handle on some of the procurement and expenditures. The Senator has joined in this. We have to close some tax loopholes and have tax reform and find some level of revenue at an appropriate ratio that allows us to fix this. That is where the problem has been. There is a group of folks in the House who have insisted no revenue at all.

I ask the Senator, isn't it fair to say the Gang of 6 came up with a more balanced approach in which, I believe, the Senate could find a ground of compromise--what Senator Reid has proposed, I believe, has cuts that the Republicans have supported--maybe not quite enough yet and maybe we can negotiate that.

(Mr. DURBIN assumed the Chair.)

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, Let me reclaim my time. There are absolutely no cuts in what either Senator Reid or Speaker Boehner proposed in discretionary spending. The spending will rise $832 billion over the next 10 years in the discretionary accounts.

Only in Washington is that a cut. Quite frankly, I am willing to work with my colleagues. I have been out there. I said we have to move and eliminate some of these loopholes; we have to reform the Tax Code. I am willing to take heat from my side on that.

What I am not willing to take anymore is a Senate that will not work on the details of the specific problems. What I am trying to do is outline where the problems are. Where is the leadership? We didn't do it when we were in charge either, I say to Senator Kerry. There has been a failure of leadership in this country, in this body, to attack these very problems. When we have 47 job training programs and none of them are working well--because that is what we do know, because the very few times they have been looked at, they don't work--and we are spending $18 billion a year and we are not fixing them, the American people have to say: What is wrong with you all?

What we have to do is evaluate the effectiveness of every program in the Federal Government. We have to limit the overhead cost to Federal programs. We have put ideas out there--and this is $9 trillion worth of cuts--not Washington cuts but American cuts--money we are not going to spend that is less than what we are spending today, not money we are not going to spend that we would have spent more the next year. These are real cuts. Each one of these is in here, backed by the facts, not biased. We could disagree with where we make cuts but not with the facts in here.

All the facts come from the Congressional Research Service, the General Accounting Office, the OMB, the President's budget, in terms of his recommendations and why, and the CBO. We will not go there.

My problem with the Senate is that we will not do our work. We are as guilty--and this is not partisan to me. Our country's future is at stake. When we have two bills--one last night and one today--that are literally lying to the American people when they say cuts, I think it is unconscionable.

Mr. KERRY. Will the Senator further yield?

Mr. COBURN. Let me finish, if I may. I will yield to the Senator in a moment. The fact is, we will not tell the truth to the American people.

The first truth is, if we will be honest with them, they will understand the necessities that will have to be brought forward to be able to solve the problem. But denying what the problem is, we will never get consensus in this country and the embrace of the American people to do what everybody in this body knows is eventually going to have to be done.

In 5 years, we will not have a Medicare system that is similar to the Medicare system we have today. It is absolutely unsustainable. We will never be able to borrow the money to do it. We are going to get a debt downgrade no matter what we do. So rather than continue to be dishonest with the American people about the status of where we are, we ought to embrace them and call for the very things that made this country great--the sacrifice of the citizens to rebuild the potential for our future, recreate a renewal in our country that embraces the things that made us great--a true free enterprise system, with a limited government that will actually allow people to be rewarded for their hard work and their blood, sweat, and toil--get that back and have the government take a fair share of that. On the upside, it should be more; on the downside, it should be less. I agree.

The question is, Will we do it or will we continue a charade to the American people, continuing to tell them we are going to cut $900 billion out of the discretionary budget when, in fact, we are going to increase it 832?

There is only a $2 billion difference between Senator Reid's plan and Speaker Boehner's plan on discretionary spending. Both are untruthful to the American people. Both of them take the American people as a lap and say we can wink and nod at them and tell them something that is not true and walk out of here saying we spent less money. We are only going to spend less than we planned to spend, which was too much in the first place, which was unsustainable.

Our deal is that we don't have the courage to actually make the cuts listed in here. We don't have the courage to eliminate the waste, and we don't have the courage to eliminate the duplication. Why? Because every one of these programs has a political backing. We are politicians. Unfortunately, too often, we are that instead of statesmen. It is time for us--both sides--to lead this country, to lead the country in a vision of here is the real truth of our problem.

Now let's have a debate about what should be the No. 1 priority. How much should we spend on defense? Should we continue to allow contracts to go way overrun? Should we continue to allow requirement creep in contracts--not just in defense but in homeland security, HHS. The same problems we have in defense we have in all the other big agencies. We buy $64 billion worth of IT every year in this country, and $37 billion of it is wasted, totally blown. Why? What have we done about it? Not one thing. We don't look at the high risk for the GAO on IT. Every year that happens. The Census Bureau spent $600 million on a device that never worked. There was no penalty for the company

that did it. We paid it anyway. It was a cost-plus contract, and the reason it never worked is because we had requirement creep all the way through.

We don't have any grownups making the purchases for this country--nobody with experience. So we are doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. We need to be doing the right things at the right time for the right reasons, considering that we make sure we take care of those who need it and demand participation from everybody else.

We need to cap the total number of Federal employees--not because we want to but because we don't have any other choice. We don't have to let anybody go; just through attrition we can downsize the Federal Government.

We waste $15 billion every 5 years on managing properties in this country that we own that are vacant. Yet we are spending that money on them. We cannot get a real property bill through. How valuable to us is $15 billion? We have to start paying attention to the pennies, nickels, and dimes. We will not do it.

Unnecessary government printing--including us. I have been trying to get the elimination of this for 3 years. There are millions of dollars we can save by not printing the copies of this every day, which nobody looks at--except I did see my good friend from Illinois looking at a vote last night. But he could have gotten it online out of
his BlackBerry. We are tearing down trees to print paper we don't need.

Mr. President, how much time do I have?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has 8 1/2 minutes remaining on the Republican side.

Mr. KERRY. Will the Senator yield for a moment?

Mr. COBURN. Yes.

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I ask the Senator, again--I am trying to help us get out of this predicament where we have a couple days before the United States defaults. Everything the Senator has said is worthy of inquiry. Isn't it true that if we could get--part of the Reid proposal and the Boehner proposal proposes a joint committee that will be structured somewhat like a Base Closing Commission, which will require the Senate and the House to vote in an expeditious fashion on these kinds of proposals, whatever the joint committee proposes, and if the joint committee doesn't succeed in proposing something, hopefully, either the Gang of 6 or the Simpson-Bowles commission will.

Isn't the key to resolving this crisis and not defaulting our ability to be able to come together on a sufficient trigger or some sufficient mechanism that guarantees we are actually going to deal with this in a similar fashion to what the Senator is raising?

Mr. COBURN. I don't disagree that those negotiations are going on as we speak. I am not a party to them. I don't know if the Senator from Massachusetts is. I suspect the Presiding Officer is. We are not going to decide that. That will come to us for a decision. Look, I worked for a long number of months with my colleagues from the other side of the aisle. I put my name on a bill that doesn't fix it, but it was something to get us moving. It is better than where we are today. I agree with the Senator. But that is not good enough. We are not good enough yet to be where we need to be if we are actually going to solve the problem.

Let me finish going through this. We need to end no-bid contracts in this country. To give a specific example, before he left, Senator LeMieux got through on the business bill prescreening of payments on Medicare payments, so we don't just pay them and then go chase the fraud. We got through a bill that required the Centers for Medicaid Services to put in a program to look to see if they ought to pay the bill.

What they did is signed a cost-plus contract for $77 million with a firm that has never done that before and didn't take a fixed-price contract from firms that have already done it before. Tell me how we let that happen. Yet it happened. When we had testimony in the committee, they said it was a fixed-price contract, only to write back and say it was not a fixed-price contract. We need some common sense in our government.

We need to disclose the text and cost of legislation prior to passage. We need to identify duplicative government programs. We have done that in here. There are hundreds of thousands of them throughout the Federal Government. We need to eliminate them. We need to mandate congressional oversight. That is where our leaders have failed on both sides. They have not mandated the committee chairmen to do the oversight required to solve this problem. We need to freeze the size of this government. We cannot afford the government we have. The debate is about what will happen in the future. What will be the revenue increases and the spending increases?

Nobody is talking about decreasing the size of the Federal Government. We can't afford this government. We can't afford to continue to spend the money we are spending.

I will close with this. If we continue to be less than straightforward with the American people about what we are doing, about the Reid bill--and the reason I wanted to debate the Boehner bill is I wanted to make this point on the Boehner bill--when we call something a cut of $900 billion, just because the CBO says we are going to spend $900 billion less than what we were planning to spend, but it's still $832 billion more than what we are spending now, that is not a cut anywhere except in Washington.

We ought to admit it. If that is the best we can do, the American people need to know that is the best we can do. But we can't play the games anymore.

I have another colleague, I think, who would like to speak, and with the remaining time, I would yield to her.

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