PRESIDENT'S BUDGET -- (House of Representatives - February 08, 2005)
The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 4, 2005, the gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Blackburn) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the majority leader.
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, it is certainly a privilege to stand here tonight and to talk with my colleagues
and discuss what we have going on with the President's budget that has been submitted, and also with the desire of the President and of our leadership to begin to get their hands around the spending issue and to address the spending issue.
Mr. Speaker, one of the things I hear regularly from my constituents in Tennessee is it is time to stop spending so much of the taxpayers' money. And one of the things that people in my district constantly remind me of, and a message they want me to bring to Washington is: it is not the government's money. The government is not creating a product; the government is not selling a product. It is the taxpayers' money, and they want accountability with that money.
Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, this morning I think that the taxpayers across this country woke to the kickoff of a national scare campaign, and it is aimed squarely at the President's budget and at this Congress' efforts to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in government. Listen to some of these headlines that we found in the newspapers out there.
This one from Illinois: "Bush Budget Includes Steep Cuts." In Tennessee a paper said: "Bush Budget Axes Scores of Programs." In Oregon, news sources said: "Domestic Programs Sacrificed in the Budget." And in California, newspapers declared: "The President's Budget Proposal Cuts Vital Funds For Safety Net."
Now, all of this is coming about, Mr. Speaker, because finally, finally this Congress and this President are answering a need and a desire the American people have, and that is to reform government, to reduce the amount of money that we are spending, and for us to come up with a 21st-century delivery of government services that is more effective and more efficient, that is going to meet the needs of government, that is going to avail itself of new technologies, and that is going to be fair to the taxpayer.
That is what they want. They want to be certain that we, the Members of the U.S. House, are going to be good stewards of the tax dollars that they send here. Because they want to see a system that is more fair to the taxpayers, to the working men and women that every single day get up and leave their homes and go to work; and who, with every single paycheck, look at that paycheck and look at the amount of money that is withheld from that paycheck to do, what? To fund government services.
Mr. Speaker, since when did eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse in government become a bad thing? And to listen to some of my colleagues here on the floor this evening, one would begin to think that trying to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Government is a bad thing. But my constituents and millions of Americans think this is the right thing to do and now is the right time to do it.
Listening to my colleagues speak tonight, one would begin to think that demanding results, demanding positive outcomes of government programs is a negative. But I hear from constituents and Tennesseans every single day that say let us demand results. Let us be certain that programs are producing the right outcomes that we expect from them. That is a positive, not a negative; and the American people are ready to see that kind of accountability. Why, Mr. Speaker? Because it is their money. It is their money that they have earned that is coming into the government coffers and is being spent on programs that are to benefit the American people.
I would like for every American to know that President Bush and this Republican Congress are not content to sit idly by while even a penny of taxpayer dollars is wasted, and let me tell Members there is significantly more than a penny of waste that we can target in this budget.
I am proud of the leadership of this House, the Senate, and the President and his team for saying we are going to roll the spending back. I agree with them. We can save America one dollar at a time, and that is what we are going to do. We are going to take these first steps and put it on the road, saving America one dollar at a time.
What those headlines should be saying is this: President Bush and the Republican Congress believe taxpayer dollars ought to be spent wisely or not spent at all. Sounds like something ours grandmothers probably told us. If you are going to do it, do it right. If you are going to do it, do it right the first time. If you are going to make some money, save it. If you are going to spend it, spend it wisely or do not spend it. In Tennessee we call that good old common sense. It makes sense, but I guess that is why a lot of the liberals do not like it, because it is good old common sense.
That is what this is all about. It is about our firm belief that the American people work far too hard and far too long to have half their earnings taken in taxes and then squandered by the government. Taxes, that is the single largest part of a family budget. They spend more on taxes than they do for food, for education, or for transportation. Taxes, and it is an imperative that we be good stewards of that money, that we be accountable for that money, and that we look for every single possible opportunity to save and manage wisely those taxpayer dollars.
Mr. Speaker, according to the Congressional Research Service, there are approximately 1,200 Federal Government programs, and I hope Members heard me say approximately because that is exactly what I meant to say. There are so many programs out there, we do not even know how many programs we have. We know we have approximately 1,200 programs.
So what our President is saying is, all right, folks, let us look at 150 of these, the really egregious examples of waste, and let us find some savings. Let us start to whittle away and find what works and what does not work. Let us look at the programs that have outlived their purpose, their usefulness, let us find the things that are duplicative, let us find the things that have turned out to be failures and are not producing the outcomes that we want and have not yielded an acceptable return for the investment of taxpayer dollars that have gone into those programs.
There is not a single thing radical here. As I said earlier, it is common sense, it is fiscal responsibility and the Republicans are committed to it. Why should an agency have its budget automatically increased year after year? Most people do not get automatic increases every year. Ask a lot of the folks working in my district. It is not a given that they are going to get a raise every single year, so why should an underperforming Federal Department get a budget boost every 12 months?
For too long in Washington, a Federal spending increase has been a certain thing. It has been as certain as the sun rises and that it is going to set in the evening. It is time to reform that process.
Here are some great examples of things that we need to get behind: the Forest Service. They could not figure out for what purpose it spent $215 million out of its $3.4 billion operating budget in fiscal year 1995. They could not figure it out. They did not know what they spent $215 million on.
Has anyone mentioned that since 1992 the Rural Utility Services Electricity Loan Program has canceled $4.9 billion in debt? That essentially means it loaned $4.9 billion of taxpayer money and then said do not worry about paying us back. CEOs go to prison for things like that.
Did Members know that the State Children's Health Insurance Program, the SCHIP program, is currently insuring childless adults in two States at a cost to taxpayers of at least $330 million? The program, a good program, was created to provide health insurance to uninsured children, not uninsured adults.
This is not an isolated problem. We have other examples, and it is not a rare thing that programs waste taxpayer money. In fact, the Committee on Government Reform where I served last Congress found that the Office of Personnel and Management's Inspector General recovers $12 in fraudulent spending for every $1 spent by its office. That is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Veterans Administration, we know there are $3 billion in outstanding loans and that processing errors and program fraud account for $125 million annually in VA pension overpayments. These overpayments comprise about 4 percent of the $2.9 billion in total pension benefits that the VA paid out in fiscal year 2001.
Mr. Speaker, given this information, how can we not work to reduce spending and insert accountability? How can we not say to these agencies no more funding increases until you prove you can handle what you have already got?
Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to have an expert on some of these issues join us this evening here on the floor. The gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Wicker) is out of Mississippi's first district and he is a part of the Republican leadership here in Congress. He does a wonderful job for the people of Mississippi and does a wonderful job for our leadership. He is a deputy majority whip, a member of the Committee on Appropriations; and he knows a lot about our budget and what we can do to work on being more accountable in our government budget system.
Mr. WICKER. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Blackburn) for that kind word of introduction.
I have to observe what a refreshing contrast we have seen tonight between the gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Blackburn) and those who occupied the previous hour of Special Orders on this floor tonight because of the great difference in the philosophy of government evidenced by all of the speakers tonight.
The gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Blackburn) has outlined a conservative philosophy of efficiency with the taxpayer dollars, not taking the first answer at face value but looking for savings wherever we can find them because that is what the taxpayers expect us to do.
What we witnessed in the previous hour was an example of what we hear from our liberal Democrat friends year after year. I had to think as I was listening to them that these are the same arguments that we hear over and over again from the other side of the aisle. They say we are not spending enough. Regardless of the fact that Federal spending almost always increases, it is never high enough for our friends on the Democrat side of the aisle. They always, always want to spend even more.
Whatever tax level the President and the Republicans propose, the Democrats always want to tax more. They want to raise taxes on the American people. However high taxes might be, we can always count on our friends to make the argument year in and year out that they want tax rates to be higher. They may shed crocodile tears about deficits, but their solution to deficits is always higher taxes, always higher taxation, and their solution to deficits is never ever to find a way to make savings for the American people.
Their arguments are always the same, and I must admit more often than not their predictions are off the mark too, Mr. Speaker, their predictions about how the President's budget will affect the poor, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the economy as a whole. We heard those predictions, those same dire predictions last year, and what has happened? As a matter of fact, what has happened is exactly what we on the Republican side of the aisle predicted: healthy growth in our economy, the gross domestic product of a sustained rate of now 4 percent continuing on now for several months, and the unemployment rate falling. Job creation is at a record high in the United States of America, and I am proud of that. It has come in spite of the dire warnings we had from our friends on the left who predicted last year when we tried to hold the line on budgeting that we would have all sorts of dire consequences for the American people.
One argument that was made previously that cannot go unchallenged is this argument about the term "withering on the vine." I think some people in this town believe if you say something often enough, it will take on truth. As a matter of fact, no Representative on this side of the aisle has ever advocated Social Security withering on the vine. It is just factually inaccurate to say such a thing. We were actually accused of saying that not with regard to Social Security but with regard to Medicare, and it was not true about Medicare.
What a Speaker of the House at one time said should wither on the vine is this HCFA program which we have now renamed CMA that could command and control a health care system where government tries to manage each and every aspect of it. That is what he said should wither on the vine so Americans could have more choices about the way they get their health care.
Mr. Speaker, I am going to challenge every time I can this allegation that Republicans wanted either Social Security or Medicare to wither on the vine; it did not.
I want to applaud the President and my colleagues for saying tonight that we believe government can do better. We know there is waste and fraud and abuse in government spending.
And every single penny that is wasted, every single penny that is subject to fraud is money that could go to programs that actually do benefit Americans. And it is money that could go to tax reduction. It is money that could go to deficit reduction.
So central to the President's budget that he submitted to us this week is the fact that the President and Republicans in Congress are dedicated to providing stronger financial management and oversight for Federal programs. This should not be controversial. It ought to be a common-sense, bipartisan approach to Federal spending, and we invite all Americans to help us.
I hope that Americans will be contacting Members of this Special Order after tonight's Special Order, Mr. Speaker, and I hope that the phones will be ringing off the walls in congressional offices with Americans giving us examples of the way they know we can save money. My constituents instinctively know that this Federal Government is so big, so large, so unmanageable that there have got to be ways that we can effect savings.
So I look forward to this Special Order tonight. We have got, I guess, around 40 or 45 more minutes. I intend to stick around, Mr. Speaker, and if the gentlewoman from Tennessee will recognize me again, we might be able to cite some very specific examples that I think she might find interesting about ways in which we believe that we can begin to look for additional savings for the American people.
I thank the gentlewoman for yielding to me.
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, reclaiming my time, I appreciate the gentleman's comments so very much, and I appreciate his insights and his wisdom that he brings to the discussion.
And he is exactly right. Government can do better, and it is our responsibility to challenge government to do better, to challenge our systems of accounting, to challenge our systems that we are using to track the agencies and the outcomes that are there. Everything is funded by the taxpayer's dollar, and we do want to invite the American people and our constituents to join us and be a part of this team as we look for ways to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in our system. We want to be certain that for future generations, for my children, for my grandchildren, that this is a healthy, vibrant nation where hope and opportunity continue to live and continue to be realized by every American man, woman, and child who seeks to find that American Dream.
And I agree with the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Wicker) that all too often some of the liberal elites, those that are government elitists, their answer to everything is, just give us a little more money and we can make it right. And we know that does not work. Higher taxes do not yield greater outcomes. What yields greater outcomes is finding ways to do things better, constantly challenging ourselves to do things better, constantly working to find ways to root out that waste, fraud, and abuse that have become so rampant in our governmental entities.
Mr. Speaker, we are joined tonight by the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Hensarling), who joined me in our freshman class in the 108th Congress, and he has been a leader in the effort to target waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal system. He has done a tremendous amount of work on this issue. He has made it his cause and his challenge. He is a member of the Committee on the Budget and lends to that committee much of his expertise on how we can go about creating a better budget process and strengthening our government and strengthening our freedom for future generations.
Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Hensarling) for his thoughts.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Hensarling) for being here to talk with us this evening and reminding us of some points that are so very important. I hear from my constituents, as he does, about that language of Washington and understanding when something is actually a reduction and when something is just slowed growth when some of the spending has been moderated. The gentleman is so exactly right.
What we would like to do, what the American people would like for us to do, is root out that waste, that fraud, that abuse of the system; get rid of the duplication of programs; eliminate the bureaucracy here that soaks up the money and allow that money to go to the local programs where the rubber meets the road and be certain that the dollars are spent wisely. As I said earlier, spend them wisely, or not at all; make sure we are making good decisions and being good stewards.
The gentleman mentioned a little bit about economic development and tax relief. As the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Wicker) said earlier, it is the reduction in taxes that has helped to spur economic growth, which is such a vitally important part of working on waste, fraud and abuse; the fact that we have a growing economy.
The other part, that we reduce spending; that we take a good solid commonsense approach to this; that we create the right environment for business to be successful; and that we continue to reduce programs that are not helpful to that, that add to the cost of free enterprise, that slow down the process of delivering government services. These are good, commonsense approaches.
I do applaud our President and our leadership for taking a stand and moving us in this direction.
Mr. Speaker, we are joined also tonight by a new Member of this body, the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Conaway), and we are so pleased to have him here with us. He is out of Texas' Eleventh District. I particularly like the fact that he has brought a lot of common sense to Congress with him. He is a good old Texas Aggie from Texas A&M, spent some time in the U.S. military, has appreciation for freedom, for protecting freedom, and understands the importance of protecting individual freedom and free enterprise.
At this time I yield to the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Conaway).
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Mr. WICKER. Mr. Speaker, I wonder if I could interject one other thing at this point. We are about to run out of time, and I do not know if we have complimented the leader of this Special Order quite enough. She has been very generous in her remarks about us.
Actually, the gentlewoman from Tennessee (Mrs. Blackburn) has been quite a champion in the area, particularly, of credit card fraud within the Federal Government. I understand this amounts to almost $100 million a year in lost taxpayers' money. The gentlewoman, I think, has introduced, along with the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Wilson), legislation to address this problem; is that not correct?
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Yes, that is correct. I thank the gentleman from Mississippi for bringing that point up, because we were concerned about the use of credit cards, primarily looking at what was taking place in DOD, and knowing that there was an opportunity there to rein that spending in.
Last year, the gentleman from South Carolina (Mr. Wilson) and I worked with Senator Grassley, and we did introduce a piece of legislation that would bring that into line, because we feel like there is an opportunity to save about $100 million annually by putting some proper controls and working to be certain that there is not waste and that there is not fraud in the use of government credit cards by employees. That is just one of the many ways, just one of the small ways.
As I said earlier, we can go about this one dollar at a time, because those dollars mount up to hundreds, to thousands, to millions, to billions of dollars. And over a period of 5 years or 10 years, which is really not that long a period of time, it is substantial savings for the American taxpayer as they are working to fund government.
It is so important, I say to the gentleman, as he has pointed out, that government can do better and that we realize that and that we challenge our constituents to work with us on this.
It is also important that we participate by being certain that we stop funding things that do not work. If it is not working, if it is a program that is not working or has outlived its usefulness or is duplicated in other ways, then we need to look for ways to be certain that we are not funding things that are not working.
Mr. WICKER. Mr. Speaker, I know also, I would say to the gentlewoman, that she finds as refreshing as I do the remarks of our new Member who came to us from a business background and who is determined to work with us on this type legislation, someone who knows of what he speaks when he says he has taken other people's money and had to invest it wisely and make sure that it was used efficiently.
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, if the gentleman will yield for just a quick point, it is so refreshing to see members of the freshman class come in and join us on this issue. My freshman class made waste, fraud, and abuse its class project.
The gentleman from Texas (Mr. Hensarling), who was just here, was one of the founders of a group that we call the Washington Waste Watchers to draw attention to this subject. So we are so pleased, after having put a tremendous amount of work over the past couple of years on this.
Also, the gentleman from Virginia (Chairman Davis), who chairs the Committee on Government Reform, has put an incredible amount of time over the past 2 years with that committee, holding hearings and having reports, getting things on paper so that we are beginning to find out what is and is not working; who is and is not accountable for their money, what agencies are producing results, what agencies are not producing results. We can go back and look at the Treasury books from the year 2001 to see that the Federal Government cannot account for $17.3 billion. Now, to my constituents and for all of us, that is not acceptable.
Mr. WICKER. Mr. Speaker, if the gentlewoman would yield on that point, the Federal Government could not account for $17.3 billion, with a "b". That means that $17.3 billion is just gone and the Federal Government cannot say what happened to it. Can we imagine? But this comes not from some story in some newspaper of doubtful authenticity, this comes from a report of the Department of the Treasury, the 2001 financial report of the United States Government.
Mr. Speaker, $17.3 billion with a "b", and we do not know where it went.
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, that is right. The Office of Management and Budget in their budget of the United States Government, fiscal year 2003, people can go to page 48 in that report and they will see how the OMB shows us that 21 of 26 departments and major agencies received the lowest possible rating for their financial management, meaning that the auditors cannot even express an opinion on their financial statements. Our colleague from Texas, who is a CPA, understands exactly what that means. We had 21 of 26 departments and major agencies that got the lowest possible rating.
Now, what we are saying, as the gentleman from Mississippi (Mr. Wicker) said, government can do better, we can do better. The American people, as taxpayers, expect us to do better. It is our responsibility, being a good steward of those dollars, that we do a better job, that we require government to do a better job. That is the purpose that we are setting forth.
I agree and I join each of the gentlemen who has spoken tonight in commending our President and our leadership in saying, the time has come to address this. We have to rein the spending in because we need to know what we are spending, where it is going, and what the American taxpayers' dollars are being used for.
Mr. WICKER. Well, let me just say, and these will be my final remarks and then I will yield back to the two of my colleagues for whatever they might want to say; I just look forward to working with my three fellow Representatives who have spoken on this Special Order tonight, and with the President, to say that we can be more diligent in the way that we spend the taxpayers' money, we can be more efficient, and we can continue in our effort
to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in our government.
Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Mississippi for joining us tonight.
I yield to my colleague from Texas for any final remarks that he may have.
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Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Texas for joining us this evening.
Mr. Speaker, before I came to Congress, I had the opportunity to represent Tennessee's 23rd State senate district. While I was in that body, I had worked on government reform issues and came up with a plan that would have called for across-the-board spending cuts. I certainly believed that State agencies could get in there and find waste, fraud, and abuse within their operations, and they could cut it and better serve the taxpayers of my State.
Of course, at the time that I came up with my plan, the 5 Percent Solution, it was criticized by so many as being too harsh. The word was, well, people will not accept that kind of accountability. A few years later, many of those reductions were actually put in place. And do my colleagues know what? Things started working a little bit better in Tennessee.
Today, we see some of that same press in Tennessee calling the taxpayers and the President's plan, Congress' plan far too harsh. I read some of those headlines earlier. But I do not think that some of the media, the liberal media has been paying attention to what has been taking place in some of our States.
According to the National Association of State Budget Officers, in fiscal year 2002, 26 States implemented across-the-board spending cuts, 15 States downsized State government employment, and 13 States streamlined government programs. We hear all the time that our State governments are great laboratories for new programs and new projects and creative government solutions, and this should be a lesson to us here at the Federal level, because it is not impossible to root out waste, fraud, and abuse. It is our responsibility to do so.
Here are some of the headlines that we have found of what is going on in some of the States. In Alaska where Governor McCaskey proposed cutting 21 State programs and 200 jobs; in Colorado where the legislature passed an $809 million budget-balancing package which eliminated some 200 State employees.
We are looking forward, Mr. Speaker, to working with the leadership in rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse.
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