THE CALENDAR -- (Senate - September 29, 2006)
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Mr. COBURN. I do not intend to object in the final analysis on this, but I think the American public needs to hear how this bill got here and the associated processes with it. I want to share my concerns over it. It will take me a few minutes to do that, but I think it is important that we do this.
Before I lift my objection to the authorization in this package, I think it is important to know that this obligates the American people for $1.5 billion. The majority leader originally sought consent for this package in May and again in July. After carefully reviewing the package, considering the oath that I took in January of 2005, I could not give that consent.
I immediately sat down with the chairman of the Energy Committee. I outlined in detail my concerns with him.
And I am committed by putting my objections in writing, and I did so.
I ask unanimous consent that the letter be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
UNITED STATES SENATE,
Washington, DC, May 25, 2006.
Hon. PETE DOMENICI,
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
DEAR CHAIRMAN DOMENICI: I want to thank you for agreeing to meet with me late last week. As follow-up to our conversation and per my commitment to you, I am providing a more thorough review of the concerns that prompted me to place a hold on the committee package.
First and foremost, as we discussed during our meeting, I want to underscore my concern that the package gives very little consideration to the future impact on spending and the growing deficit. With rare exception, each bill in the package creates or expands' authorized spending levels, with no consideration for finding similarly authorized programs that have failed to meet Congressional intent or which have outlived their
usefulness. In other words, in creating these authorizations--eventual recommendations for appropriations--we have given little or no thought to finding offsets or attempted to prioritize diminishing federal resources.
For example, S. 1913, ``the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center'' would authorize the National Park Service to lease space and construct a gift shop and theater at an estimated cost of $1.2 million. H.R. 318, ``the Castle Nugent Farms study'' would spend an estimated $500,000 to determine the feasibility of designating the area a unit of the National Park Service (NPS). Similarly, H.R. 1728 would study the feasibility of establishing a NPS unit to preserve historic homes in Ste Genevieve, Missouri. S. 200, S. 204, S 163, and S 249 would establish National Heritage Areas (NHA) at an estimated initial cost of $40 million. I am very concerned about authorizing new spending on parks and associated buildings when our nation already is more than $8 trillion in debt and when we already have millions of acres of federal lands that we are already unable to maintain properly.
I specifically question why there has been no attempt to offset the new authorizations, or in any way review the priorities of agency spending. The Department of the Interior--where each of these new programs will be administered--is replete with wasteful and ineffective spending, and provides ample opportunity for this Congress to prioritize its spending. Consider the following: In adding to the 672 million acres that it currently. owns, the Department of the Interior and related land management agencies have spent over $1.1 billion on land acquisition since 2002, and an estimated $113 million last year alone. Additionally, the Administration estimates that the agency carries over $4.5 billion in unobligated balances. Surely, we can find a way to prioritize spending in these agencies, and to ensure that these new authorizations don't add to the already crushing debt that our children will inherit.
Furthermore, I am concerned that many of the bills lack sufficient justification for federal involvement. For example, S 1346 ``the Michigan Lighthouse and Maritime Heritage Act'' would authorize $500,000 for the Department of the Interior ``to study and report on Michigan maritime heritage resource preservation and interpretation, including: potential economic and tourism benefits of preservation of these resources .....'' The tourism industry in Michigan already generates an estimated $16 billion, and while I do not question the importance of these local preservation and promotion efforts, I fail to see a federal responsibility.
Finally, I am concerned that a bill (S 1970) that I offered to amend the Trail of Tears Historic Trail Act, was modified from its original version. In the bill that I introduced, I specifically prohibited any new federal appropriations for the update of the trail study. First, the bulk of the study has already been completed by researchers, and simply needs updating. Second, I felt it was important that any expenditures for the trail come from existing trail funding, and not burden other NPS resources. In amending my bill, the committee undermined a basic condition of my support for the bill and opened up the possibility for new spending--something I will aggressively oppose.
I am prepared to drop my objections to the hotlined package if the committee is willing to consider other measures to offset the proposed new authorizations. In briefly reviewing offsetting measures within the Department of the Interior, I have identified several billion dollars in potential offsets. I am including an overview below:
The President has proposed the elimination or reduction of several programs within the Department of the Interior. Total savings are projected to be $260,000,000. http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2007/pdf/savings.pdf. These savings will pay for all but one of the bills contained in the hotlined package.
The Department of the Interior spent $218.7 million on conferences and travel in FY 2004, up $12 million since FY 2000; Reducing these expenditures by 10% will entirely pay for 9 of the bills included in this package.
The Department of the Inteior has over $4.5 billion in unobligated funds already appropriated by Congress. We can pay for the entire authorization package simply by requiring that all future appropriations be paid for from the agency's unobligated balances.
These suggestions are by no means exhaustive, and I am certainly open to other alternative offsets. We can and we should find a way to prioritize spending in these areas, and I look forward to working with you to accomplish this goal.
Again, I want to thank: you for taking the time to meet with me to hear my concerns, and for this opportunity to work with you to preserve and protect the great heritage of sacrifice that was given to us by our forefathers.
Tom A. Coburn,
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will repeat today what I said in person and in writing. It authorizes $1.5 billion spending with not one offset and zero consideration for prioritization of how we spend money in this country.