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Making Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for the Fiscal Year Ending September 30, 2006

Location: Washington, DC




Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I send an amendment to the desk and ask for its consideration.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask that this point, division 1 of the original amendment, be pending, and I will withhold my time until I have noticed both Senators LOTT and COCHRAN--and I see Senator Cochran here--because I know they will want to be active on this debate. I would ask their guidance on when I should bring this up for consideration of this first amendment which has to do with the railroad and supplemental moneys for the movement of the CSX railroad in Mississippi.

I ask their advice and desire.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Division 1 is pending.

Mr. COCHRAN. Mr. President, if the Senator will yield, I have no advice to give him except to withdraw the amendment. I disagree with it, the part I have read, so that would be my advice.

Mr. COBURN. I thank the Senator from Mississippi.

I want to talk first about this. Our country is facing some pretty significant financial difficulties, and we find ourselves with a supplemental bill, as requested by the President. Basically, the whole idea of this supplemental is something the American people should reject. We have been in a war now going into the fourth year. We should have the money for funding this war as part of the regular budget. It should not be in an emergency supplemental. Of what we know about the Katrina results, that should have been budgeted this year as well, but it was not.

It is important for everybody to know why it was not. It is not budgeted because it becomes part and parcel of the debt your children and grandchildren will have to pay, without ever getting on the books of the Federal Government. So when you hear the deficit or the surplus--which it has not been for some time, as a matter of fact not since the early 1970s if you were honest in the accounting--you hear the budget numbers this year, for what the budget will be, and it will not count this money. This money will not be counted, although it will be added to the IOUs that our children and grandchildren will be paying back.

I am thankful for the leadership, in terms of giving us an opportunity this June to talk about budget process reform. Nobody would run their household this way. No business runs this way. This is a gimmicky way under which we can disguise how much we put this country in debt, and it ought not to be that way.

Most people understood that and would agree with it. Yet we find ourselves here. I am not happy we are doing a supplemental emergency bill in that regard.

The second thing is many of the things with Katrina we knew were coming before the budget came through the Senate and the House, and that should not be an emergency. Emergencies are supposed to be reserved for true emergencies, unexpected costs facing the Federal Government. This bill is loaded with things that are not unexpected. We knew the war was going to be expected. We knew some of these costs associated with Katrina and Rita and Wilma were expected. So we need to address the integrity of our process. It is my hope in June we will be able to do that.

I know this amendment will, in fact, not win when it comes to a floor vote on the Senate floor. But I want to give a little background. During Hurricane Katrina, large sections of the CSX railroad along the gulf coast of Mississippi were damaged or destroyed. One 40-mile stretch of track was completely destroyed. The railroad hugs the gulf coast and stretches from New Orleans to Mobile, AL. It is one of only two railroads that reach New Orleans from the east. The other passes over Lake Ponchartrain and runs parallel to the I-10 Twin Spans Bridge. Three railroads approach New Orleans from the west. Although the CSX railroad was significantly damaged by Katrina, it was repaired; $250 million in insurance proceeds and I believe somewhere between $30 million and $50 million from CSX to repair it and bring it back up to usable and safe status.

Governor Barber, following Hurricane Katrina, created a commission. My hat is off to him. I think he has done a wonderful job for the State of Mississippi and their response to this. This commission was to review and recommend options for recovery and rebuilding in the State of Mississippi. The report released by the Governor's commission recommended purchase of the CSX right-of-way in order to create a new east-west thoroughfare, relieve congestion on US 90, and to provide for light rail or rapid transport through Gulfport. The report also proposes to transform US 90, which runs directly along the gulf coast, into a scenic, pedestrian, friendly beach boulevard. One of the Commission's reports also states:

For many years, planners and local leaders have called for the removal of freight traffic on the CSX railway, which runs east-west through the region, roughly 800 feet from the coast.

I actually went to Mississippi and visited this area after the hurricane. You can see the hurricane damage, you can see this road, and then you can see the rail.

Numerous news outlets, including the Washington Post and ABC, have stated local developers and planners have wanted this railway relocated for years. I agree with that. I think this is a great development plan for the State of Mississippi to enhance the value of their beaches, their waterfront, and the wonderful coastal assets they have. I do not object to the plans behind this. I think it is very good from a developmental standpoint.

What is unknown at this point is where the existing CSX freight traffic will be transferred. While the Governor's commission recommends in some areas the relocation of the railroad somewhere north of I-10, which is 3 to 6 miles from the coast, the Commission's final report pegs the cost of that proposal at $795 million and states the idea is no longer seen as practical. If the entire railroad right-of-way of Mississippi is purchased by the State, rail traffic heading west from Alabama would have to be rerouted northwest from Mobile to Hattiesburg, into Mississippi, and then southwest into New Orleans and Lake Ponchartrain. The additional distance of this route relative to the CSX line along the coast is approximately 100 miles. There is currently a railroad that runs from Hattiesburg into Gulfport, but if the CSX right-of-way is surrendered, it would not be possible for a freight train traveling along that line to go from Gulfport to New Orleans.

There are a lot of other things I will not go into. I think the principles that we ought to be asking about are, is this a bad idea? No, it is not a bad idea. It is a good idea.

No. 2, is it an emergency? I would contend that this is not an emergency, especially on the fact that this has been planned and advocated for years in Mississippi in terms of the development--some for safety. Some will argue the railroad line now has 70-plus crossings. But the statistics on safety are that they are at a 5-year low in terms of injury. For 30 years it has been a declining number. It is not an emergency.

The railroad is vulnerable, where it currently lies, to hurricanes. There is no question about that. But so will a five- to seven-lane highway that is going to be put in its place be vulnerable.

The current budget resolution for 2006 explicitly defines what constitutes an emergency, and it should be noted that all of the following five criteria must be satisfied in order for something to be considered an emergency: necessary, essential, and violent; sudden, quickly coming into being and not building up over time; an urgent, pressing, and compelling need requiring immediate action; unforeseen, unpredictable, and unanticipated; and not permanent, temporary in nature.

The proposal to move this railroad does not meet the definition of emergency as defined by the Congress. The permanent removal of a railroad to make way for permanent construction of a highway does not qualify as an emergency either, as well. While the railroad may indeed be vulnerable to hurricanes because of its proximity to the coast, it makes no sense to replace it with a highway that is going to be just as vulnerable in its proximity to the coast.

Despite the vulnerability of the railroad, CSX and its insurers quickly repaired the lines such that it was fully operational within months of its destruction.

There is no desire, I believe, by CSX to move this line, and it would be good business sense if CSX thought it was vulnerable to the point it should make a business decision to move the line interior to the State of Mississippi.

According to Gary Sease, a spokesperson for CSX:

We rebuilt that line across the gulf coast as quickly as possible because it is a critical artery for us. It serves our purposes. It meets our customers' needs. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

Furthermore, at a time when it is important more than ever to have freight quickly delivered to devastated regions in New Orleans along the gulf coast, it is inadvisable to remove one of the only railroads into New Orleans from the east, one of two, thus forcing the remaining freight over Lake Pontchartrain.

Within the emergency spending bill, the railroad funding is provided through the Rail Line Relocation Capital Grant Program which was created in the 2005 highway bill. That program requires the Secretary of Transportation to analyze the effects of the railroad relocation on motor vehicle, pedestrian traffic, safety, community, quality of life, and area commerce. However, the language providing money for the railroad specifically prohibits the Secretary of Transportation from considering those factors as they apply to the CSX relocation.

If safety is a sufficient reason to relocate the rail, it is incredibly odd that the Secretary of Transportation would be prohibited from making judgments as to the effects of the railroad relocation on safety and traffic. We will hear today that hurricane evacuation is a reason to relocate the railroad so it will relieve congestion along U.S. 90 and allow for a better evacuation route in the potential of future hurricanes. They will also say at the same time that the railroad's current location is too vulnerable to future hurricanes. These claims are mutually exclusive and cannot be both true at the same time.

If the current location is too vulnerable to future damage, it makes no sense to build a brand new highway in exactly the same place. It will be wiped out in the next massive hurricane as well.

Both the railroad and the proposed new east-west thoroughfare are located half a mile from U.S. 90 and the gulf coast. A major interstate highway, I-10, is located only 3 to 6 miles farther to the north. Given that the railroad was completely destroyed by Katrina at least over a 40-mile section, the argument that a new road in its place would be safe is hard to fathom.

I have great respect for the Senators from Mississippi. They are great advocates for their State. They are accomplished legislators. They are experienced beyond all means in the operations of the Senate and how to accomplish the best goal that they perceive for their State and our country.

I have to say that at some point it has to stop. Americans have to ask the question:

No. 1, is something truly an emergency?

No. 2, is it truly the responsibility of the rest of the country to do an economical development project that was on the drawing table long before Katrina and to use Katrina as the justification to have the rest of us pay for it?

I don't believe that is fair for future generations of this country. I don't think it is fair for the process.

I think you can see in the wording of this bill that the very definition of emergency is not met. I think you can also see very clearly that blocking the Secretary of Transportation from making an evaluation on safety was designed because they may in fact not pass that test. It has to stop. Our children and grandchildren deserve for us to preserve the opportunities we have had. We cannot continue to borrow money from their future standard of living so we can do what we want to do today. The heritage of our country is one of sacrifice in the present generation to create opportunity for the future.

This is a good plan for Mississippi; it is just not a plan that the people of the rest of the country--especially on an emergency basis--ought to be asked to do.

If in fact it is brought back through the proper process and channels and looked at by the full committee and this body feels it should be done in a prudent and thoughtful way, that would be far better than putting it into this bill. Mississippi will win if this happens. But the future of our country loses if this kind of thing continues to happen.

This is called an earmark. It is placed in a bill to benefit one specific area at the expense of everyone else. It has legitimate value for the State of Mississippi. It is not an emergency. And it certainly will be paid for through lost opportunities for our kids and our grandkids. Think about what $700 million could do for everybody else in Katrina. How many classrooms can be rebuilt? How many hospitals to serve the poor and helpless can be made available? How much education can we offer up that will create future opportunities and earnings?

The progress we seek to secure for the future is being limited by our own inability to make the hard decisions that aren't pleasing, aren't fun, but that are necessary to secure that future.

If you assume an interest rate on our debt--which is going to be very soon 6 percent--this $700 million relocation will balloon to more than $4 billion by the time we start paying it back. The net present value of this isn't $700 million, it is $4 billion. That is what your grandchildren will have to pay back for what we are proposing to do today.

I respect a great deal the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. He has a very difficult job. Everybody asks and nobody wants to give when they come to see Chairman Cochran. Everybody has a need. He has the job to find the best way to get a bill out of his committee. This particular project just happens to lie within his home State, and he advised me that his best recommendation would be for me to withdraw the amendment. I understand why. But I cannot in good conscience withdraw what I perceive to be and many are willing to debate on the floor something that is truly not an emergency, and truly even though it will offer great benefits for Mississippi in terms of economic development is not something the rest of us in the country should be paying for.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will do this quickly.

First of all, what is the definition of ``emergency'' by our own budget rules? Necessary, essential, vital, suddenly, quickly coming into being, not building over time, urgent, pressing, compelling need, requiring immediate action, unforeseen, unpredictable, and unanticipated, not permanent, temporary in nature.

That is the first point I would make.

The second point is the committee's own report says:

Even prior to Katrina, Presidents, business leaders and local and State officials seriously considered relocating the rail line from its present location to alleviate burgeoning traffic which continually worsened as the region's tourism industry grew.

This is $700 million. It is a great project for Mississippi. I agree. It is probably something that should be done. The question is, Is it an emergency and should everybody else in this country pay for it?

I could go into all the details. I will not do it in deference to the chairman's request that I be brief.

But Mississippi people have spoken. This was planned long before this hurricane. The fact is, if we are going to replace this rail line with Federal money which is going to come in and build a new road, that is going to be susceptible to the same hurricane damage. We have to figure out how we should go through a regular process.

The final point I would make is the committee report eliminates the ability of the Department of Transportation to say whether it is a safety issue. They specifically take it out so they cannot stop it.

The point is, we are leaving the regular process to do something which is maybe a great idea, but our grandchildren shouldn't be paying for it. If we continue to do this, this is going to be costly. This $700 million will cost $4 billion by the time we start paying it back, if we want to sacrifice the next generation--not in terms of trying to take it away from Mississippi but setting a standard of which we can behave in a manner that secures the future. That is what I am asking for.

I am sorry it is against two Senators I really like. I want Mississippi to be a hit. This is not the way for us to conduct business in the Senate.

I yield the floor.

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