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Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will respond to a couple points my colleague from Vermont referred to. If one looks at the votes on everything that has come to the Senate thus far, I think the lowest vote total was 221, which is a majority of the House. A majority of the House spoke. What we do with it is our business here in the Senate. So it is not necessarily a minority of the minority. If it were, you would not have 221 votes. That is the first point I make.

The second: I do not know what the Texas Republican Party's platform is. But yours truly has thought that one of the things we ought to do for veterans is to give them real health care rather than promise them health care and then make them travel 200 miles to get it.

So part of privatization is giving veterans who have service-connected health care available to them a card that says you can go wherever you want so you do not have to travel--like in Oklahoma, if you are going to have a knee operation--145 miles to the VA center in Oklahoma City. You can actually get it done by an orthopedist who has a whole lot more experience than a local hospital, paid for at Medicare rates.

So the point is, there are options that will give our veterans better access than they have now. I do not know if that is what they are talking about. But that was part of the Patient's Choice Act that was never considered by the Senate.

I want to spend some time talking about where we are and why we are here, and then I want to talk about the continuing resolution, whether it has something attached to it or not.

As I look at the process, what I see us stuck on has to do with a principle that has been true throughout our Nation. When you do big things in government, the only way those things are successful is when they are done in a bipartisan manner. To quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Historic laws don't pass barely. They pass 70-to-30 or they fail. They either fail in implementation or they fail in acceptance by the American public.

I applaud the vigor of my friends in opposing the Affordable Care Act. As a practicing physician, I see what this is ultimately going to do. As the majority leader has spoken, the whole idea behind this--and I think my colleague from Vermont would concur--is for a single-payer government system as a better solution.

Certainly what we had was not working well. I would not disagree with that. But not having a bipartisan health care bill, rather than a strictly partisan health care bill, has probably instigated a lot of the problems we have with this bill, besides the fact that over 62 percent of the American public do not favor this bill. They do not want the Government shutdown over it. That is obvious. But we are where we are.

One of the reasons we are where we are is failed leadership, both by Republicans and Democrats, and a polarization in our country that is not healthy.

So we have now said--with 800,000 employees on furlough, having a real but small negative effect on our economy--what has to happen when you have people far apart? What you have to have is leadership that says: I am going to try to solve this problem by brokering toward the middle. I do not know what that middle is. But what I have not seen yet in the leadership, including the President, is a willingness to find the common ground that will move us in a direction that puts us where we need to be.

The thing we forget too often in the Senate is that we are all Americans, every one of us. What we do up here matters. It has a profound effect on individual lives. The fact that we find ourselves unable to come to a consensus on this very difficult subject is what happens when you have an absence of leadership.

So it is great that the President is meeting or has met with the leaders of the House and the Senate. It would be great if they spent time working on a solution rather than giving press reports after the meeting. It would be good for all Americans if we were not in a government shutdown.

The very premise that you can get the President and those who have foisted the Affordable Care Act--which I think will be highly unaffordable for our children and us--to change this law at this time is probably not going to happen.

But there has to be a way for a continuation of dialog rather than to say: We will not consider anything. So the House today is going to offer up several bills that will actually take care of very great necessities of this country. It will be unfortunate if we do not consider them. We can vote them down. But not considering is not talking. It is not reaching across and trying to find a solution. It is hardening positions.

I would think the American people would want us to take a timeout and say: What are you doing? What is your job? I recently got a letter from the Liberty Foundation of America, from a man I greatly respect, Dr. David Brown, a renowned orthopedist in Oklahoma. What he is saying to people in America today is a recognition of the failure of our leadership.

I ask unanimous consent his letter be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

THE LIBERTY FOUNDATION OF AMERICA,

Oklahoma City, OK, September 30, 2013.
Subject: An Open Letter to the Leadership of the United States of America.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The vast majority of the American people oppose the Affordable Care Act, many because the measure is proving to be quite unaffordable. We have a nation falling off the edge of the fiscal cliff, and the best our government can do is have our President assure the people that our deficit has decreased in its growth rate--meaning we are still going broke but luckily at a slower pace than before. We have an extremely dysfunctional federal government; the two legislative branches can't put aside differences to accomplish anything positive for the country, the executive is merely interested in popularity and amassing power, and the judiciary has forgotten how to read the Constitution. It has been stated, and surely was intended, that we have a representative form of democracy--one ``Of the People, For the People and By the People''--something for which many men and women greater than us made the ultimate sacrifice. Therefore, when the government reaches such a level of dysfunction and incompetence as present, it becomes imperative that the people take over responsibility and monitor that government with essential diligence. Today, our nation has reached a necessary impasse, with countless Washington-based solutions that solve little, if anything. Therefore, it behooves each and every state to monitor their representation in Washington--to the tune of each and every vote--and publicize this information, unedited, so the people can ensure their interests and that of their state are truly represented, as opposed to the vested Washington interests that currently enjoy splendor. The status of our country's ineffective leadership from all three branches and the unsatisfactory biased reporting needs to be bypassed for America to solve her problems.

To those elected officials in our nation's capital: Do not follow; lead or get the hell out of the way.

To my colleagues in each state-based organization: You are the closest to the grassroots--the people, the voters. Do your duty for the United States of America.

Respectfully,

David R. Brown, M.D.,
Trustee; The Liberty Foundation of America, Chairman Emeritus; The Heritage Foundation, Chairman & Founder; The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

Mr. COBURN. He makes some profound observations about where we are and the lack of leadership. Here is a practicing orthopedist who loves his country, who wants us to solve the problems, who wants us to take back control of our government and do what is in the best long-term interests of the country, not what is in the best long-term interests of a politician or a political party. I think that is where we have gotten off. Everything is measured by the next election rather than by the next generation.

Although I do not always agree with my colleagues, as most of them know, I am willing to work and compromise and meet as long as we are attaining long-term good goals for our fellow countrymen and for our children.

The other issue I want to talk about is the CR itself, because lost in all of this battle is a CR that plays a lot of games on the American people. It is disappointing for me to see that we play games with mandatory spending by moving numbers from one year to the next year so we can actually spend more money in a present year.

I did not vote to have a sequester because I think it is an idiotic way to cut spending. But I do support trimming the spending of the Federal Government. As a matter of fact, nobody in the last 9 years has done more to offer amendments, to outline duplication, to outline fraud, to outline abuse than I have on the floor of the Senate.

So it is one thing to do it stupidly. It is wholly another to actually keep your commitments to the American people. The vast majority of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle voted for the Budget Control Act, as did most Republicans. So we have a commitment to keep our word.

I will outline to you that--first of all, I will make two points. One is that we are not keeping our word with the continuing resolution coming from the House. It actually will spend $38 billion more than what we promised the American people we would spend. I know in Washington $38 billion is not a large amount of money. But the way you get rid of trillion-dollar deficits is a billion dollars at a time--or $38 billion at a time.

I am disheartened we are playing the green-eyeshade and walnut-shell game on the American people with this bill.

To make my point, I would like to outline some of the spending and some of the false maneuvers that have been done in what is called CHIMPS, which are changes in mandatory program spending.

We have a program in the United States called the DOJ Assets Forfeiture Fund. These are funds that the Justice Department collects that are forfeited by criminals, by people breaking the law, whether it be a car in a drug bust or the money from a drug bust. So what we are going to do is take that money out of that fund, which goes toward things that actually enforce our law enforcement, and plus that down--in other words, steal that money--so we can spend more money somewhere else. That is just $723 million. It is almost $1 billion.

More concerning to me is the fact that there is a victims compensation fund in this country--and that is where criminals pay into a fund to compensate victims--there is $8.9 billion in that fund, supposedly. But last year the appropriators did exactly the same. They took that $8.9 billion and said they would pay it back next year--this year--and they were allowed to spend almost $9 billion more on other things, taking that money that should have been given to victims and spending it through the Federal Government.

Lo and behold, they did not add the $8.9 billion back this year. They counted the same thing again. So now we have $18 billion of not taxpayer money but criminal money that should be going to victims that is now going to be spent on other things, and the victims will not receive the money that is due them through either court orders or judgments.

Finally, there is a lot of spending in the bill that most Americans would see as foolish. I thought I would outline just a little bit of it.

One other point I would make. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office collects fees when you file a patent. For years they have been falling further and further behind. Thankfully, they got caught up. But the money that is paid for a patent application has been siphoned off, not for patent applications but for spending on other things. It is a user fee. Consequently, now it is over 8 months if you file a patent before someone ever even looks at that at the Patent Office. It is 27 months before you get a response. If we are going to get ahead and compete in this competitive world, we have to allow our Patent Office to work. They are taking hundreds of millions of dollars from the Patent and Trademark Office.

What does the CR spend money on that we really should not? Here are some examples for last year when we spent money that we should not have: funding for the National Science Foundation for the development of a Snooki, a robot bird that impersonates a female sage grouse; funding an NSF grant that studies American attitudes toward the filibuster in the Senate; an NSF grant, sitegrabber.com, a new Web site to rate the trustworthiness of other Web sites; an NSF grant funding ecoATM, a company commercializing an ATM to give out cash if you give them your old cell phone--that is totally a private separate sector venture, yet we are funding that, in an era when we have a $750 billion deficit this year and a $17 trillion debt--an NSF grant paying for participant expenses to attend an annual snowmobile competition in Michigan through 2015.

I do not think that is a priority when we are struggling to pay our bills.

I have a list of Department of Agriculture grants. I will put those in the Record.

We are still spending $30 billion a year for 47 job training programs, none of which have a metric on them. All but three, according to the Government Accountability Office, overlap one another, in other words, do the same thing.

There are 20 Federal programs across 12 different Federal agencies for the study of invasive species. I think we should study invasive species, but I do not think we should have 12 agencies studying them. I think we should have one agency study them. We ought to concentrate the dollars so we get good value out of that.

We are still sending unemployment checks to people who make more than $1 million a year.

We have 15 different financial literacy programs, a new one being created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is across 15 different agencies. We are spending millions on that.

We are spending $1 million for NASA to test food that can be eaten on Mars 30 years from now. I would not think that is a priority.

We are spending $4 billion for 250 different grant programs at the Department of Justice which, as GAO says, has the worst record of any agency in terms of monitoring their grants and the veracity and the compliance of those grants.

We are spending $3 billion on 209 different programs for science, technology, engineering, and math across 13 different Federal agencies. I think it is fine if we want to incentivize that, but do we really need over 200 programs to do that? No, we do not. But we have not addressed any of that. It has been known.

We have the GAO out with a report, their third report this year, and they will come with another one next year, outlining at least $250 billion that could be saved by the Federal Government on duplicative services; in other words, multiple agencies doing the same thing, stepping on each other.

Not one bill has come before this body that addresses that $250 billion expenditure that could be saved every year, not one bill in this session of Congress. So we are having a fight over spending. Yet Congress is the very real problem we are having on spending. We need to look at what the real problem is. The real problem is the failure to do our job, the failure to look at programs and see if they are effective, the failure to look at programs and see if they are truly a role for the Federal Government as far as the Constitution and as far as common sense, a failure to offer substantive changes or have the ability to offer substantive changes to those bills.

I will conclude with one final remark. The Appropriations Committee did a good job this year, even though at higher levels above the Budget Control Act, of getting their bills in order. Only one of those bills was offered on the floor. It was withdrawn when Members of my caucus were not allowed to offer amendments, because it was not going anywhere if we were not allowed minority rights to offer amendments to change an appropriations bill. So we are doing a continuing resolution to fund the government and handicapping the very employees we are going to ask to make good decisions for our country, because we will not pass appropriation bills on time. We do not need a budget to pass appropriations bills, because we have the Budget Control Act that spells out where we are going to be on discretionary spending for the next 10 years. We know what the levels are.

Consequently, we end up at an impasse over a continuing resolution--over a continuing resolution that says we have not done our job anyway. I think what Dr. David Brown says in his letter is quite accurate. There is a total lack of leadership in this city, sitting at the executive branch, in the House and in the Senate. Only America can change that. I hope it does.

I yield the floor.

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