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Public Statements

Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. This is a straightforward amendment. We have had a lot of talk about millionaires in the country, but what most people don't realize is that there are a lot of farmers in this country whose adjusted gross income is well in excess of $1 million whom we are making direct payments to.

What I would put forward is if you are making over $1 million, I don't think you need a lot of help from the Federal Government to be profitable. So what this amendment will do is it will put a limit of $1 million or greater from receiving direct payments from the Department of Agriculture. You could say somebody making $980,000, but we have chosen this. Right now it is supposedly $2.5 million adjusted gross income.

What we have done is, of all the people who make more than $2.5 million, 75 percent of their income outside of the farming income comes from some other areas. In other words, this is not their main business. Their main business isn't farming. So if they make $2.5 million farming, and they make 75 percent more than that in other areas, again, I would say we should have trouble justifying to the American people that we are sending their tax dollars--actually, borrowed money that is going to be charged to their kids and grandkids--to those individuals.

Of the 1.8 million people who received farm payments from 2003 to 2006, 2,702 of them exceeded the income limits that were established at that time, greater than $2.5 million. GAO reported that the USDA does not have management controls in place to verify that payments are not made to individuals who exceed the program's income eligibility limit. So we have a limit of $2.5 million, but they are not enforcing it. They don't know whether they are enforcing it.

What this amendment will do is, first, we are going to cut it back to $1 million and say put it in action so you know who you are paying and how much they are making. GAO found that participants in the program in 2006 were three times as likely to have an adjusted gross income in excess of $500,000 as individuals who did not participate at all in the direct payment program. In other words, 21 of every 1,000 farm program participants reported in excess adjusted gross income of $500,000 or more, compared with 7 of every 1,000 tax filers in the general public. Instead of taking more of what wealthy individuals have earned, Congress would be wise to first end unsolicited subsidies in the farm program to those individuals.

Studies show that direct payments went to wealthy individuals who live in urban areas but own or have partial interest in their farms. In other words, they are absentee landlords who live in U.S. cities with populations 100,000 or more, but they were paid $394 million in farm payments in terms of the direct payment in 2010 alone. So that is $ 1/2 billion.

The top 10 percent of direct payments in 2010 received 59 percent of the money under the program. In other words, the top 10 percent got 59 percent of the direct payment money. These 88,000 people got an average of $30,000. But if you look at those with adjusted gross income, they got far in excess of that. Some examples include 23 Members of Congress in the 112th Congress; 109 individuals living inside Washington, DC; 203 individuals in Miami; 179 individuals inside the city limits of San Francisco received over $1 million in payments; 290 New York City residents received $800,000 on average in payments.

President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget proposes to reduce the per-person cap on direct payments to wealthy farmers by 25 percent or more and reduce the adjusted gross income eligibility limit by $250,000 over 3 years. Well, what this amendment does is in the spirit of what the administration wants to do, but it goes further. It says if you are making over $1 million in adjusted gross income, you should not be eligible for direct payments through the farm program. It is straightforward. It is a way for us to change what we are doing. It is a way for us to save a significant amount of money, almost $ 1/2 billion.

I dare say that if you poll the average American and you said we are paying out hundreds of millions of dollars every year to people making more than $1 million who are farming, they would say, We don't agree with that. That can't be the original intent of that program.

That program is designed to help those people who are truly undercapitalized, who truly are having a difficult time even when we have great markets. And I am not opposed to the payment program. But the fact is, to have a significant percentage of that go to individuals who are making far in excess--33 times what the average individual in this country makes--I think is something we ought to end, and we ought to end right now.

AMENDMENT NO. 792 TO AMENDMENT NO. 738

Mr. President, I ask that the pending amendment be set aside and amendment No. 792 be called up.

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Mr. COBURN. This is another fairly straightforward amendment. We have significant housing for people who have
a need in our country. But inside that program, in HUD, there are payments being made for housing complexes with life-threatening conditions or in absolute poor physical condition. Yet people are trapped there. We keep sending the money. The money doesn't go to improve the housing; it goes into the pockets of those who own the housing through this subsidized housing.

Thousands of needy families have turned to the government for stable housing. They have been placed in properties with health and safety deficiencies, including some that are life-threatening. There are 3,847 properties with life-threatening deficiencies as determined by HUD--life-threatening--that are currently or previously designated as ``troubled'' by HUD during the past 5 years. Of those, 2,297 are in poor physical condition and were designated as ``troubled'' by HUD. Some of these are for the same properties that appear year after year on HUD's registration list of troubled properties. These numbers will not reflect all the deficient housing provided by HUD and other Federal departments and agencies. This is just a taste of a portion of what is out there.

What this amendment would do is cut off aid to the greedy slumlords, while protecting needy families by prohibiting HUD from making any payment to any person or entity with respect to a property assisted or insured by HUD, currently designated as ``troubled'' on the Online Property Integrated Information Suite for ``life-threatening deficiencies'' or ``poor'' physical condition and that has been on the Online Property Integrated Information Suite's troubled property list at least one time during the past 5 years.

What we are saying is, if someone has been taking advantage of this program as the owner of the property and not making it a safe property, not making it inhabitable, yet people have no choice but to live there, what we are saying is HUD should not be giving them any money. HUD should not be giving them any money.

Over the past several years, there have been far too many examples of slumlords receiving hundreds of millions of Federal tax dollars. In many cases, those without stable housing sought help but were put at health and safety risk by those entrusted to care for them with taxpayer funds. A recent ABC News ``Nightline'' reported that the Federal Government's low-income housing programs are plagued by theft, mismanagement, and corruption at local levels, including millions spent on housing for sex offenders and dead people, and all too often fail the 3 million families who rely on them for a clean, safe place to live.

Specifically, the report found the Philadelphia Housing Authority spent housing funds on lavish gifts for its executives, $500,000 to settle sexual harassment claims, $17,000 of housing funds to throw an extravagant party for the executives. The same month at a belly-dancer party, a 12-year-old girl living in Federally subsidized housing suffered a near-fatal asthma attack that left her unable to speak or walk, secondary to dangerous mold in that apartment complex because it was not taken care of with the dollars that were paid by American taxpayers to help those who are dependent on us.

The New York Daily News recently found some of the city's landlords received $81 million in Federal housing funds, even though their buildings were riddled with housing code violations. The report stated millions of dollars have been doled out to buildings where tenants have repeatedly complained about rats, roaches, nonworking elevators, lack of heat and flaky lead paint. The Federal Government provided $350 million to more than 60 housing authorities that have been repeatedly faulted by auditors for mishandling government aid. In Indiana, investigators found the poor forced to live in substandard housing that local authorities knew was unsafe, yet did not fix. In Indianapolis alone, more than $5.2 million a year has been spent on housing residents in unsafe conditions, according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.

About $2.2 million of the Federal funds intended to support low-income housing on the Navajo Nation Indian lands in New Mexico was spent on gaming, furs, jewelry, racehorse training, according to the Las Vegas Sun. There is no oversight at HUD to make sure the landlords will meet the eligibility requirements for receiving these funds. What we are actually doing is we are saying, if they do not meet the criteria, they should not get the money. That is hardly a novel idea. Yet we continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars supposedly to help those who are neediest among us. Yet it does not help them at all because the money is misdirected and not reinvested in the housing.

HUD continues to subsidize repeat offenders with a history of placing families in unsafe living conditions. There were 6,100 properties designated as ``troubled'' during the past 5 years. Some of these properties appear year after year on the same list. There is no change. They are still getting the money. These include properties in my own State of Oklahoma. Needy families should not be put in dangerous conditions as a result of neglect by the slumlords but, more importantly, as a result of neglect in our oversight of HUD.

What we would propose to do is to ensure the Federal housing benefits for the needy, rather than the greedy, and to prevent slumlords from abusing taxpayers and the disadvantaged and the aged. This amendment would bar HUD from paying landlords whose properties are in poor physical condition or have life-threatening deficiencies, according to their own analysis.

In other words, they already know it, but they are still paying it. What this amendment would say is: They are on the list; they do not qualify. It will send a great signal. Not only will we not pay as much money to properties and put people in better properties, but we will change the expectation of the people who are making all the money off the HUD moneys for the properties. We will make a big difference.

There may not be many who actually lose the money, but there will be many people who are depending on it, living in far better conditions, far safer conditions, if we pass this amendment.

I wish to take just a moment, if my colleague does not mind, to talk about where we are. I have a total of 12 amendments. I was allowed to bring up two. I understand they do not want to get in a hurry, but the fact is, these are all good-government amendments, every amendment I brought up. They may not pass, but that is our fault. But the fact is, we should not be limiting amendments. Let's get them out there. Let's do them. There are money savings, there are quality savings, there are ways to make the agencies work better, and we should not be afraid of that.

We stand right now as a nation in the worst shape we have ever been. The risks to our country are great. We need to quit thinking about partisanship. We need to quit thinking about advantage in the political arena and start doing what is necessary to fix our country. We passed a budget bill that allowed a debt increase that the average American does not realize actually did not save any money. Over the next 10 years, we are actually going to spend $800-some-odd billion more than what we spent last year on discretionary programs. It is time we start being honest with the American public. These 12 amendments are simple and straightforward. One of them copies the amendment of Senator Mikulski for CJS, that ties down and makes more responsible the agencies on their conference spending.

Conference spending is out of control. The Department of Agriculture is absolutely out of control on the money it spends. So we ought to be about moving things through that make a real difference so we can start rebuilding the confidence. Fifteen percent of the people have confidence in us, and I understand why. It is because we spend most of our time around here in quorum calls. I was prepared tonight to put up all these amendments, see which ones could be taken, not

necessarily have a vote on every one, but we are not going to allow that to happen. We are not going to allow that to happen not for any good reason; we are not going to allow it to happen for political reasons, and that is killing our country. Whether Republicans do it or Democrats, none of it is any good. The country is on to us.

Eighty-five percent think we are doing a lousy job. I wonder why it is that low. I cannot find anybody in the State of Oklahoma who thinks we are doing a good job. I can't find anybody around the country who thinks we are doing a good job. But I say to my colleagues, let's start moving stuff through that actually changes things, that is actually going to make a difference. One does not have to agree. Vote it down. None of these are trick amendments. None of these are meant to be political amendments. They are just straightforward, good-government amendments we ought to consider. If one disagrees, disagree. Fine. But let's not not vote on them and let's not quit making attempts to try to fix what is wrong in our government.

HUD's oversight of housing is a disaster. When we have this many properties year after year on this list, why would we not want to fix that? It is not that we don't want to fix it. It is we do not want to give somebody an opportunity to put out the real reason our country is in trouble. The real reason is us. We have not done our jobs. We have not done the oversight. We have not cleaned up things. We can have great arguments and great discussions and great debates but to not have the debate at all means we deserve every bit of that 85-percent lack of confidence in what we are doing.

Tomorrow, I hope I will be able to offer the rest of these amendments. I will work. I have talked with almost every one of the managers on the amendments. None of them are controversial. Some they may disagree with and want votes on, others can be accepted. But to not move forward and then say it is taking too long to get the bill, when we are here ready to work, is not an excuse the American people are going to buy anymore.

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