BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I somewhat associate myself with the remarks of the Senator from Louisiana. We have unwound because we don't want to have real debates and real votes. We just fixed the flood insurance program. We didn't fix it well enough, and if Senator Landrieu is allowed her amendment, I will vote against it, but I think she ought to be able to have her amendment.
The reason the Senate isn't working is because we want to use a procedure that has never before been used except in the last 2 or 3 years in this body, and that is to limit the rights of Senators to offer amendments.
The fact is that Senator Landrieu may, in fact, win her amendment, but there is another chance. The House may not go along with it. There will be a conference committee. It may not go anywhere. She didn't win this when we fixed the flood insurance. She wasn't for us raising it to the extent we did. We didn't raise it nearly enough to make it healthy yet. And delaying the 3 years will markedly hurt the Flood Insurance Program, which is operated through FEMA, and I am the ranking member on that subcommittee. But the fact is that she ought to be able to offer her amendment. I agree with that.
So what I am going to do is painfully go through and talk about every amendment I have for the farm bill. I understand there will be objections. If there are objections to mine--and even if the Landrieu amendment gets cleared, I am going to object to everybody else's until mine are cleared.
So we can either keep going around in this circle or we can start acting like grownups and have debate. Even if a Member doesn't like an amendment, we can vote on it. And if a Member is not capable of defending their vote on any issue, they don't have any business being here in the first place.
But to not vote, to not allow the managers of the bill to operate the bill the way they want to operate it and put it on the table--because the majority leader is going to file cloture, and so all of these amendments are going to fall, which may be pleasing to the managers--I don't know--and only the germane amendments are going to be available, and they are going to be under a time constraint.
So the American people are actually going to get cheated out of a full and rigorous debate on what ought to be changed in this bill.
So I am going to act as though the amendments are approved even though they are not, and I am going to debate the amendments. I am going to propose every one of them, and I am going to let the Senator from Louisiana object, and then she can explain to her constituents the dysfunction of the Senate. It does not just happen on the Republican side, I would remind my colleague from Louisiana. There are plenty of unilateral objections on the other side. And if we are going to operate this way, then nothing is going to happen in the Senate.
With that, I will begin.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I am going to talk about this amendment. This is an amendment that prohibits--let me set the stage for it. We are going to have somewhere between a $500 billion and $700 billion deficit. We have $17.5 trillion worth of debt today. What this amendment does is it prohibits people who are tax evaders from receiving government assistance, including grants, contracts, loans, and tax credits provided in the farm bill, with the exception of SNAP. So we are still going to take care of the food provision. Even if they refuse to pay their taxes, we are going to still provide them food. But we are not going to allow them, with this amendment, to take advantage of other programs within the farm bill or any other area that is associated with direct grants or associated with the Agriculture bill.
The most critical issues facing our country today--and everybody knows how to solve it. We know what has to be done to save Medicare. We know what has to be done to save Social Security. We know we need to reform the Tax Code so we generate more jobs, we generate more income to the Federal Government. We know all that. But we have billions of dollars that are owed--it is not being contested; it is owed--and then we turn around to those same people who owe us billions of dollars and give them programs and benefits. Whether it be conservation payments or whether it be crop insurance or whatever it is, we turn around and give them money. I think the average tax-paying American does not agree with that.
Part of being a responsible citizen is paying the taxes you owe. We are not talking about things that are in dispute. We are talking about settled agreements that are not paid, and they continue to not be paid, and it is billions of dollars.
This provision would not apply if the individual is currently paying the taxes, interest, and penalties that are owed to the IRS: if the individual and the IRS have worked out a compromise on the amount of taxes, interest, and penalties and it is in the process of being repaid; if the individual has not exhausted his or her right to due process under the law; if the individual has filed a joint return and successfully contends that he or she should not be fully liable for the taxes in a joint return because of something the other party to the return did or did not do. Further, this provision would not apply to SNAP payments provided in the bill.
Farm income is subject to very little scrutiny and reporting requirements. In fact, there was a 78-percent reporting gap in farm income reported to the IRS just last year--a 78-percent gap. This is by far the largest gap in individual income reporting to the IRS.
In a time of strict budgets and when many in Washington are calling for an increase in revenue, it is inappropriate for us to continue to provide funding to individuals who owe back taxes and are not in compliance with their obligations. Total taxes owed in the United States in 2006 were $2.66 trillion. The gross tax gap for that year--taxes owed but not collected--was $450 billion. The net tax gap in 2006--taxes still not paid after late payments enforced--was still $385 billion. Now the President wants another $600 billion or $800 billion. What we have to do is start figuring out ways to collect the taxes that are owed.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, the difference between the amount legally owed in taxes and the amount actually collected was this $385 billion. That is the most recent year the IRS can give us--5-year-old data. Mr. President, $28 billion that was owed was because people failed to file. Underpayment was $46 billion, and intentional underreporting of income was $376 billion.
So what this amendment does is it just puts a prohibition in place. It says: You cannot have this money if you owe X money and it is settled, it is not under dispute. So it is not about not giving people their rights. It has already been adjudicated. Why would we not want to do that with the farm bill? Can you think of a reason why we would not want the people who owe taxes, who already have agreed they owe the taxes--that we are going to give them money, and they are not going to pay the taxes they owe the Federal Government?
It is a commonsense amendment. We are not going to get a vote on that, and we are not going to get a vote on it because we have cowardly Members of the Senate--and I am not talking about the Senator from Louisiana--who refuse to come down here and voice their objections to bills and refuse to debate why they will not allow an amendment that does something for the future, that actually will make a difference in a kid's life in the future, that will actually increase some income so we can afford the Flood Insurance Program we have. They will not come down and debate it and express an opinion why they will not allow a vote on it. It dishonors the Senate.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and amendment No. 1004 be called up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment ends conservation payments to millionaires--people who make a million bucks a year.
We have a rule at the USDA that says people making $1 million a year are not supposed to get these payments. But guess what the USDA does. They waive the rule. What this amendment would do is say you cannot waive the rule.
If you, again, are talking about our debt, the very well-heeled, the very well-connected are getting a majority of the conservation payments in this country. They are the ones most capable of doing conservation on their own land, and do, but now they do it with the assistance of my or the President pro tempore's grandchildren because what we are actually doing is paying them dollars that our grandkids are going to have to pay back. What we are doing with this program is incentivizing people to do what they are already going to do in their best interests.
All I am saying is, enforce the rule, the law today. Do not give the Department of Agriculture the ability to waive. If somebody is making $1 million a year, they do not need our help right now. Our kids need that help, our grandkids need that help, our schools need that help. They do not need that help.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Well, Mr. President, I thank the chairman of the committee. I will double-check that with my staff. This excludes something that was in the bill, so I will have to look at what the old bill said to be able to concur with that. If that is the case, then there should not be any problem with accepting this amendment if, in fact, it is not complete because it is the intent of the authors--both the chair and the ranking member--that this limitation be a part of this farm bill.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, 3 1/2 years ago, with the debt limit increase, my colleagues and I overwhelmingly voted to ask the GAO to study duplicative programs in the Federal Government. This last April they gave the third in what will be a continuing rollout of the programs in the Federal Government.
I will say that the Director of the OMB followed another amendment that I offered directing that all the programs of the Federal Government be published. They made their first stab at that. This was last week. Director Burwell, in whom I have the utmost confidence at OMB--a stellar individual--made the first attempt. The problem is, what is a program in the Federal Government? There is no definition. So we have a rough start in an attempt to do that.
But what the GAO has done--and they are magnificent employees--over the last 3 1/2 years is identified at least $250 billion of waste and duplication that we ought to be getting rid of.
Here is an amendment that is not highly prescriptive but recognizes what GAO told us about food assistance programs--domestic food assistance programs. We did not make any attempt in this bill to streamline those or consolidate them or put metrics on them. So this amendment tries to bring that together through the USDA to put, No. 1, metrics on them; and, No. 2, combine the ones that are duplicative so we can actually be effective in what we intend them to be, but also be efficient.
Those are two words that hardly ever happen in Washington, ``efficiency'' and ``effectiveness.'' GAO found signs of overlap and inefficient use of the resources within the 18 different programs. Now, we have 18 different programs. Three of them are outside of the Department of Agriculture. One of them is in Homeland Security.
First of all, there should not be a food assistance program in the Department of Homeland Security. Two of them are at HHS. We should not have duplicative bureaucracies in those other two departments when we have a bureaucracy in Agriculture. But of those 18 programs, what they found was the following: In 11 of the 18 programs, there was not enough research to even determine whether the programs were effective.
We do not know if what we are doing is working because never when we pass these programs do we require a metric or some type of method to assess their effectiveness. So that is one of the things this amendment will do. It allows the Department of Agriculture to do that. As a matter of fact, it mandates it. Is it effective? What parameters are you using to say it is effective? In other words, if the American taxpayers are going to spend money on this program, ought they to know whether it works? I mean, only in Washington do we do programs and not know whether they work and not ask whether they work.
So in 11 of the 18 programs there is not enough knowledge even at the Department of Agriculture to know whether they are working. This amendment requires the Department of Agriculture to evaluate the following 10 programs: Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program, the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, the Grants to the American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Program, the Organizations for Nutrition and Support Services Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Program, the Senior Farmer Market Nutrition Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Emergency Food Assistance Program, and the WIC Farmers Nutritional Program.
Now, let me just mention one of these. The Summer Food Service Program, as announced by KOTV in Tulsa, OK, just last night, no matter who you are they are going to feed you two meals a day in the summer, whether you make $100,000 a year or whether you are in need of a meal. So, first of all, we have a problem with that program. We ought to be supplying food for people who need food, not for people who do not need food. Smart people are going to take advantage of that and say: Man, I can get two meals a day. I am not in need, but since it is free I am going to take it.
Last summer we served 180,000 meals in Tulsa. A large proportion of those were not people in need. So I have no objection to helping people who have need, but here is a program that has no limits on it and no metrics on it. It is a wide open program--well intentioned, but there is not a metric and there is not a limitation.
So here is all we are saying with this amendment: Here are 10 programs, Department of Agriculture. Determine whether they are effective. And, by the way, how did you determine that? What were the parameters you used to do that?
That is just common sense. Why would we not want to know if the programs are working? Why would we not want to know if they are efficient and effective? Why shouldn't we look at it when we are running--we are down to 24 cents on the dollar that we are just borrowing against our kids' future from 48. That is because of the economy growing last year to the tune of $360 billion coming in, and $620 billion over the next 10 years in tax increases on the very wealthy in this country. So we are down to 24 cents, but we are still borrowing 24 cents out of every dollar we spend. Why would we not want to spend the time to make sure these programs are effective and efficient?
It is very straightforward. This amendment also eliminates one program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and moves any incomplete or ongoing projects to the appropriate USDA programs. USDA proposed eliminating this program which targets low-income pregnant women, children, persons age 60 or over, but Congress continued to fund the program. The reason they wanted to get rid of it is because there are already programs that duplicate this one. Yet here we find it is still going to get funded. It is going to get authorized. Even USDA says we do not need this program.
It is the only program we have--in 2012, the program was funded at $177 million, and it duplicates SNAP, Grants to Native Americans, the Home Delivered Nutrition Program. In other words, USDA already recognizes it is a duplicative program. They have asked for it to be eliminated. We did not eliminate it. So this amendment would eliminate it.
This amendment also eliminates the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and moves the nonduplicate function to the WIC Farmers Nutrition Program. Both of these programs do exactly the same thing. They provide grants to participating States to offer vouchers and coupons and electronic benefit cards to low-income participants that may be used in farmers' markets, roadside stands, and other approved venues to purchase fresh produce.
They provide exactly the same assistance to women, children, and seniors and should be combined. GAO says they should be combined. USDA says they should be combined. But they are not combined in the bill. All cost savings from the elimination of those consolidations and three eliminations are directed toward providing food assistance. In other words, none of the money comes back out. It goes back into programs that have proven to be effective.
This amendment also directs the USDA to coordinate with the Health and Human Services Administration on Aging to identify and address fragmentation, overlap, and duplication between the programs providing food services on Indian reservations where we have a real need. So we are not just looking for duplication, we are looking for gaps in service.
It also requires them to report their recommendations back to Congress. Since I do not want to use my big slides today I will use my small slides.
Here are the food assistance programs, all 18 of them. Fifteen are run at the Department of Agriculture, two are run through HHS, and one through Homeland Security. Yet GAO says we can collapse these 18 into 10 and be more effective and get better nutrition to the people in at-risk groups. We have not done it. So it is like we asked GAO to do all of this work, and then we did not pay any attention to it.
I ask that the pending amendment be set aside and amendment No. 1006 be called up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. I would respond to the Senator from Louisiana, I have no ill will toward her objection. I stated it plainly before. I believe the Senate ought to have any and all amendments prior to cloture. I think Senators have the right to offer anything they think is pertinent to this country on any bill that is going through here. I used that tactic for the first 3 years I was in the Senate. Nobody objected. Now that we have become so partisan and so cowardly that we are afraid to vote on issues, and that we abuse the rights in the Senate to the detriment of the whole body, I hold no ill will against the Senator for objecting.
The point is, is the country worse off for it? I am sure some of my colleagues do not want to have to vote on some of my amendments. I understand that. There are amendments I do not like voting on either, but I have no problem going home and taking a stand. The fact is we can figure out what we are for and what we are against. You know, the fact is, when it goes through here it does not mean it is law. What it means is it has to be conferenced with the House. We ought to let it roll. We ought to open the spigot and let things roll in the Senate, have the votes.
We used to have 10 and 12 votes at a time. We used to do bills. Come down and all morning long we would be offering amendments. We would have committee hearings and other things in the afternoon. At 4 o'clock we would come down and vote, 9, 10, 8 amendments. The next day we would do the same thing. The next day we would do the same thing.
So the fact is, if we really want to get our country back, if we really want the confidence of the American people to return to those who represent them in Washington, we have to start saying, you know, you cannot win everything. I am going to try. If I lose, I lose. But I tried hard. That is how we ought to play the game.
The fact that we have people abusing the process on both sides, not just one side--I will never forget, former Senator Akaka, one of the loveliest men I have ever met in my life, when I first came to the Senate and offered an amendment that was not germane, he objected to it. One of my colleagues stood up and said: Senator Akaka, do you really mean that? You have to understand where that starts. If you object to his amendment, that means in the future I am going to be objecting to your amendment, and we have not done that. What we actually want is a free-wheeling, open amendment process so people can be heard.
The fact is I represent 4 million people. The Senators from California represent 37 million. Everybody's voice ought to be heard. We each ought to be able to have our voice heard. We each ought to be able to offer amendments. We ought to be able to get votes on those amendments. What are we afraid of? Is the next election really that important that we do not want to allow people to offer their ideas, in what used to be the greatest deliberative body? It certainly is not now. It is not anywhere close. Do we really not want ideas to be offered and debated and the American people to understand what is at stake?
I mean, what I have offered today maybe not everybody would agree with, but you cannot disagree that it does not make sense; that it is not common sense; that we should not be more efficient and more effective; that we should worry about the future as we worry about the present; that we ought not to be spending 24 cents out of every dollar by borrowing it from other people in the world or having Ben Bernanke print it at the Federal Reserve.
We can solve these problems. The grown-ups need to stand and say we are going to have debate, we are going to have amendments, even if we do not like them.
So I have no ill will toward the Senator from Louisiana. I have ill will for the process that has devolved. I think the shame is that the American people are being shortchanged by the lack of debate and lack of votes.
I think this amendment, even though objected to, is another critical area where we do not have our eye on the ball. This is an amendment that relates to the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. What it does is in this bill it has been increased, the amount of money has been increased to $70 million a year. It was at $55 million in 2012. There is nothing wrong with having this block grant program, but I want to show you how we can save $75 million over the next 5 years. And $75 million is not chump change, it is $75 million.
The amendment freezes spending for the specialty crop block grant at $55 million authorized by the bill. The amendment prioritizes food safety and access to affordable foods for schoolchildren and low-income families. One-third of the projects funded by the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program last year were for marketing and promotion. They were not for kids, they were not for seniors, they were spending money to promote.
Let me show you who got the money. Let's see. We spent money to promote the emotional benefits of real flowers and plants in the home. That has to be a priority right now; is it not? We are going to borrow $500 billion this year. We are going to spend money to make sure everyone in America knows the emotional value of having real flowers and plants in the home. That is a priority right now.
How about grant funds for floats that travel to fairs and festivals and encourage people to eat more fruits and vegetables? That has to be a priority. We are going to pay for a float that goes around to all these festivals so we can promote eating. People know about eating properly. Could we spend that dollar in a better way and get a better effect?
How about wine receptions and tasting? By the way, the Market Access Program already covers it, but we take money from this block grant program and promote wines in China and in Taiwan. We do it also with the Market Access Program. Here is an absolute direct duplication. We are spending millions of dollars promoting something that another program is designed to promote, and we didn't do anything about that.
How about a short video showcasing pear growers and promoting State wines in Mexico and in India? Again, duplication of what the Market Access Program does, but we take from the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. We have one program for market access and promotion and then we take a different program and use it for exactly the same thing.
Specifically, the amendment requires that no less than 80 percent of the total funding appropriated for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program be spent on the following: increasing access, availability and affordability of specialty crops for children, youth, families and others at risk, including but not limited to specialty crops for meals served at schools and food banks; ensuring food safety; protecting crops from plant pests and disease; and production of specialty crops.
That is what it was originally set up for, by the way. It wasn't set up to promote wines in India or China or Taiwan or Brazil or Mexico. So part of it is the way we wrote the bill that allows USDA to give grants that go outside the original purposes of it. Funds could still be spent on marketing promotion but not at the expense of crops and consumers.
I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and Coburn amendment No. 1007 be called up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I think I am starting to hear the Senate starting to work the way it should, and so I am going to offer a unanimous consent request that the list she presently has, with the ranking member, the Senator from Mississippi, of a large number of amendments be considered as read and in order; that the list the Senator proffered, which went through both cloakrooms this afternoon, I ask unanimous consent that be agreed to and those be filed and considered.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Failing that, what I would propose, based on what I have heard out here this afternoon, is that the chairman put it together and let's try it and let's ask unanimous consent.
The fact is the chairman and ranking member of this committee have worked hard to get this bill. We can do this bill. But one thing the Senator said in her statement is she wants a finite list. That is fine. What we want to do is have an open amendment process. So as the Senator considers that, let's move it.
Here is what will happen, and here is what used to happen in the Senate, for my colleagues who are new. People file all sorts of amendments, including me, and about half of them we wouldn't bring up. So we don't know in this universe of 150 how many are truly serious, how many are done filing an amendment and made a statement, such as I did on one amendment changing the name of SNAP. I have no intention of calling that up, but I wished to make a statement about whether it is really nutrition--the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program. So I would suggest the chairman and ranking member put that out there. Give it to me and let me offer a unanimous consent request on the floor live. We have had a great debate. We understand what the problems are. Let's start voting. Let's start debating and voting.
When we consider all the time huddled in a group of staffers, we don't do anything. We don't debate the bill, we don't vote the bill, and so, consequently, the American people get shortchanged. So I will offer that unanimous consent request. I will not even participate in what is in the mix. I believe the process ought to move forward, whether I win or not. The fact is it is selfishness on the part of our colleagues, because they do not want to vote on something, that keeps us from doing the country's work.
I believe we are at a seminal moment right now in the Senate where we can change what is happening in this body if, in fact, we will lead in doing that. I know the President pro tempore wants to see that happen. I believe my colleague from Michigan wants to see that happen. I know the ranking member has had that philosophy for years in the Senate. He taught it to me. I learned that from him.
I offered a lot of amendments that he opposed and didn't like, some of them affecting Mississippi, and he beat me every time. But he never said, You can't offer the amendment.
I think we are at a seminal moment. Let's start moving things. What I will do is call on the ranking member and the chairman: Give me that list. Let me go fight for it. Let's break this beaver dam in the Senate, and let's start acting like grownups here.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. That is correct.
Mr. President, I have a unanimous consent, and I want to preface this unanimous consent. There are 150 amendments, I think the chairman said, or thereabouts. A lot of those aren't going to require votes; some are. I ask unanimous consent that every amendment that has been filed at this point be considered as read and considered debatable and votable.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Let me make this point. If the Senator from Michigan wouldn't have objected, we could start voting tonight, we could vote tomorrow, we could get through those. Half of those will be pulled, and we would be almost to the same number of votes you would have had, that you did have, the last time the bill came to the floor. So do we really want to break this logjam? Let me offer it again. We can move this thing. Let's just do it. Let's go out and vote. Let's take the tough votes. Some of us are going to get bruised. Big deal. We are all grownups. Let's have the votes. Let's move amendments. Let's debate in the Senate. Let's do the country's business. Instead, we are not going to do it.
There is a compromise. More than half of those will be withdrawn. My colleagues know that. Let's put them all in order. Let's vote them, let's take care of it, and let's be grown up and get the Senate back to where it is supposed to be.
I am going to offer my unanimous consent one more time, that every amendment that has been filed today as of now be considered as read and pending.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, fair and balanced consideration to our colleagues is allowing them to have amendments, and the Senator just objected to that. So that is where we are. That doesn't keep her from managing the bill. The Senator still gets to set the priorities of what comes up when. But here lies the problem in the Senate: There are obviously some amendments in there they don't want to vote on; otherwise, we would not have heard an objection. So it is not just Senator Toomey, who has now said he would not object to Senator Landrieu's amendment, it is other objections of people who won't come down here to the floor and show their constituency what they are objecting to. In other words, it is darkness. It is not light, it is not transparency, it is not of good character, it is not of good moral fiber. What it is, is the least of these, the lowest of these, who refuse to participate in an open and honest debate about what is going to happen in our country.
I call on all my colleagues, Republican and Democrat alike. We know what has to happen to open the Senate. Let's vote. Let's vote. For my colleagues on the Republican side objecting, I disagree. Go ahead and vote. For my colleagues on the Democratic side, let's vote. Let the chips fall. The American people decide who is to come up here. Gaming this system by hiding behind an anonymous objection, putting it through the chairman--I am proud to see the Senator from Louisiana. She came down here, she showed courage and said, Here is why I am doing it. She spoke honestly to her constituents back home and also to the Members of this body. We don't have enough of that.
We had an opportunity just then to move this bill, restore the Senate to the way it should function, and we chose not to do it. The American people have got to be shaking their head right now in disgust, because had the time been spent, instead of figuring out what is OK and what is not OK, actually debating and then voting amendments, we could have voted 30 or 40 amendments by now on this bill. But we chose not to do it. Some of us chose not to do it.
Kindergarten is out around most of the rest of the country, except in the Senate, and it is still in session here. We ought to be disgusted with ourselves, and the American people ought to be disgusted with us as well, because we are not allowing this body to do what our Founders intended it to do. I am going to spend a minute talking about that.
This place is very different than the House. No matter who is in charge, the tendency is to overuse the power of the majority. But what our Founders intended was the Senate to be totally different than the House. The reason 6-year terms were put there was so you wouldn't be susceptible to the political influence of reelection, so you would become a long-term thinker, and that your motivation would be primarily a motivation for the best will of this country and not your State or your political career.
The assessment of the Senate today is that we have lost our focus. It is about politics, not our country. It is about the short term, not the long term. It is about anything but the best interests of the country.
Here we have commonsense amendments. I appreciate the fact that the chairman and ranking member have included some of mine in what they were proffering, but let's include them all. What is so bad about voting on a stupid amendment? If it is really stupid, they are either going to withdraw it or lose big. If it is really controversial, the American people want to see us debate and vote on controversial topics. They do not want to see us duck our responsibilities.
We have met the enemy. The enemy is us.
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, since I have an objection to that amendment 1007, I ask unanimous consent that amendment No. 1008 be called up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, even though the amendment has been objected to, I am going to talk about it.
The amendment is to require the Rural Utilities Service of the Department of Agriculture to ensure that the grants and loans it makes to provide access to broadband telecommunications services in rural areas are made to rural areas that don't already have access to broadband.
Wait a minute. Why would we want an amendment to do that? This is an amendment to tell them to do what they are supposed to be doing.
Over the years, the rural broadband program has seen a large amount of Federal funding. In 2009, the Department of Agriculture broadband program received $2.5 billion from the stimulus bill. The inspector general examined the Rural Utilities Service broadband loan and guarantee program, and what he found was that a large majority of the funds went to areas that already had broadband services. In other words, they didn't spend the money where we don't have broadband; they spent the money where we already do.
Specifically, this inspector general found that 148 communities that received broadband service funded by this program were within 30 miles of cities with more than 200,000 people--including the cities of Chicago and Las Vegas.
Some of the Federal funds going to broadband programs originate from the Department of Commerce as well. So we have the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Commerce both doing the same thing.
The issue is highlighted by the problems with the broadband program that occurred in West Virginia, the President pro tempore's State. Specifically, the State could not handle nor had the use for the routers that were delivered to them. Put simply, the libraries and schools didn't have the need for the powerful stuff that was sent to them. So we wasted the money. It was a $24 million error.
You get to $1 billion $1 million at a time, and you get to $1 trillion $1 billion at a time.
What this amendment does is make them spend the money where we don't have broadband, not where we do. In other words, it prioritizes--which most of us would agree to--that broadband funds through this grant program go to areas that don't have broadband rather than areas that already do. So let's wire the whole country first before we upgrade everybody else.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside, and amendment No. 1010 be brought up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment is very controversial, I know, amongst my colleagues. But I have practiced medicine for 25 years, and before that I ran a pretty successful business.
The Department of Health and Human Services delayed the implementation of ICD-10. Let me explain what that is. ICD-10 is a new diagnostic code book. Why is that important? Well, we use ICD-9 now, which helps us write the diagnostic codes. Whether you are in a hospital, a clinic, a doctor's office, an outpatient surgery center, a home health, whatever it is, those diagnostic codes categorize what we actually did for you. Well-intentioned public health experts thought we aren't broad enough in what we do with the ICD-9, International Classification of Diseases, so as a part of the Affordable Care Act, ICD-10 was implemented.
There is nothing wrong with updating it, but let me explain to you what we did. We went from 18,000 codes of diseases to 140,000 codes, the cost of which, at a minimum, in the health care system under various studies will be at least $5 billion a year in added costs.
Will there be some benefit? Yes, to the public health experts who study disease patterns there will be some limited benefit. The question we have to ask is, What is our biggest problem with health care? Our biggest problem with health care is it costs too much. What we have done with ICD-10 is, just the implementation--I am talking $5 billion a year from here on. The implementation is going to cost $10 to $15 billion to put it in. What this amendment would do is make a significant delay in the implementation of ICD-10.
The implementation of the Affordable Care Act is going to cost enough as it is. This would refocus us on what is important. It is important that providers spend time with patients, not spend time trying to figure out how they fill out a disease code. For any of you who doubt the significance of this now, if there are 18,000 codes now--most doctors write the disease code. They don't have a staff to do that. When you go from 18,000 to 140,000, what are your doctors going to be doing? They are not going to take care of you, they are going to be spending time looking at a book that has 140,000 diagnostic codes and listing that. So we are going to take time away from patient care.
Why is it important that the doctors get it right? Because the penalties under Medicare for mislabeling are severe and the sanctions are severe--penalties of 1 percent to 2 percent payment per year on your total billing to Medicare or Medicaid. So the costs associated with ICD-10 are enormous. So it is not only hard and costly to implement it, but it takes people away, the very doctors we want spending time with patients. It limits that because they are going to be spending more time filling out paperwork for the Federal Government.
The other thing it will do is it will not improve health care outcomes at all. It does nothing to improve health care outcomes. It will not improve the first patient, so there is no positive benefit in the short run or medium term to the patient. The only limited benefit would be to long-term studies of public health.
Let me give some diagnostic codes to think about how foolish this is.
The new codes account for injury sites ranging from opera houses to chicken coops to squash courts. Not only do you have to list what an injury was, you then have to go through this book and find out where it was. Was it on a ranch? Was it in the coral? Was it in the chicken coop? If you mislabel it, you are under threat of penalty from CMS.
How about nine different codes where you got hurt around a mobile home? How about a burn due to water skis? How about walking into a lamp post? If you hit your head it is important for public health officials to know that you walked into a lamp post.
It includes 300 different codes related to every different animal. So if you got a bite from a rat or a chipmunk or a squirrel, there are 312 different codes around each one of those animals.
It has 72 codes pertaining to birds. You got pooped on, you got pecked at, you got bit--72 separate codes.
How about bitten by a turtle or, the second one, struck by a turtle? Or walked on a turtle? Or kicked a turtle? That is how much foolishness is in ICD-10. We are going to ask our doctors to spend time figuring out 160,000 different codes, disease related, when 18,000 does it just fine right now. What this would do would forego the implementation of ICD-10.
I ask the present amendment be set aside and amendment No. 1076 be called up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. I understand the objection. I have no ill will toward my chairman or ranking member for their objection.
What this amendment does is during sequester, it prohibits performance awards in the Senior Executive Service. We are paying performance bonuses right now during sequester. The Office of Management and Budget has ordered a freeze on most bonuses for Federal workers during sequestration, but the current law provides an exemption for members of the Senior Executive Service who are among the most highly paid Federal Government employees. This amendment closes that exemption loophole. If we are all going to suffer, everybody is going to suffer. Just because you work in the Senior Executive Service doesn't mean you should not have to participate and lead on the sacrifice this country is going to have to be making and is making. This treats SES personnel just like every other Federal employee.
I ask the pending amendment be set aside--actually, I think I will stop with that--one other.
Mr. President, I ask amendment No. 1152 be called up.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. I will tell you how I go through looking at the farm bill. I believe farmers ought to farm. I don't believe they ought to farm the government. I think you all, over the last few years, have done a good job changing that scenario.
I believe food security is an important part of what America can do for both our country and our world. I also know our farmers are some of our hardest working people.
Having said all of that, there are a ton of programs in here that do not directly benefit food security in this country or the American public. When we still have the well-heeled, well-connected in this country taking advantage of farm programs, from pro athletes to everything else, who use the farm program as a method, as a tax hedge, and use the supplemental systems, by eliminating direct payments, you have done a great deal.
I am all for crop insurance. I think it ought to be a little more costly and spread around. I think crop insurance in terms of the commissions paid to the people who sell it are a little too rich. There are a lot of people who would like to have that book of business for a whole lot less money. We have not done that. It will be a balance to me as I look at improvements.
I congratulate the chairman and ranking member for making progress on the farm bill. We have a long way to go. This amendment relates to one of those, which is how do we
I make sure, if we are going to take taxpayer money and help people with their needs under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, how do we make sure we are doing it in a way that actually gives them nutritious food?
As a physician who has cared for obesity and heart disease and cancer and high blood pressure for years, diet is a big factor on that. Senator Harkin and I have an amendment together, this amendment, which would create a pilot project in two States to allow States to use a nutrition assessment for setting what can be brought with SNAP. That is what this amendment does.
A lot of the companies do not like it. A lot of people say: How can you do that? But I remind our colleagues, for many of the people who do not buy nutritious food when we are helping them, we are paying for it twice. That is because when they make poor choices with our money to buy their food, they are creating disease categories that we are going to pay for in the future, with our money, for their disease.
So the idea of trying a pilot project in two States where they use nutritional value to make a determination of what food products are eligible and what are not for the SNAP program, this is a try that most people out in the country would like to see.
Most Americans want to help anybody who needs help, but I hear it all the time when people say: I see people buying stuff I don't buy or I can't afford to buy with their SNAP card.
There is no good way to do that other than do it on a nutritional basis. That is the only way we should look at that. If we are going to help somebody we ought to help them.
There is a great book by Marvin Olasky. It is called ``The Tragedy of American Compassion.'' He talks about how to help people. You do not help people by giving them a blank check. You help people in short term. You help them as long as they have a need. But you help them in a way that they get to help themselves and by that they get to help themselves and get their dignity back.
Senator Harkin and I have agreed that this is a pilot project that will have to be evaluated at the end of 2 years. All the costs of it have to be borne by the States. We have checked out all the computer companies. There is no problem in putting limitations on UPC codes or anything on all the checkout items. It is not an issue. We have done all the homework on it.
It would be interesting to see, once we do a nutritional evaluation and a limitation on SNAP products, what would happen to the health of the people we are helping. That is the amendment he and I have worked on together. We would love to see it go. We think it is time for that to happen. It certainty will be good.
The key is, can we help people get back to being self-reliant? I don't want us to be a big brother, but I also want to make sure the money we are stealing from our kids, from their future, actually does help somebody and doesn't hurt them.
With that, I again congratulate both the chairman and ranking member for the bill they brought. It has marked improvements. I thank them for their patience dealing with me today on the floor. I very much regret that you have objected to a way to move this bill forward because it doesn't just have implications for this bill. The courage to stand up and say let's do that will have great implications for how this body functions for the next 16 months. I think we are going to miss a big opportunity if we do not do that.
I would love to see the Senate go back to operating the way it did when I first came here. My hopes were dashed, however, with that objection.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT