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Public Statements

Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007--Resumed

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I had asked for this time to spend a few minutes talking about what has happened in the last few weeks. One of the things that is going on in our country is that we have a little bit of a crisis of confidence in our legislative bodies. Some of it is well deserved.

We have had a bill on the floor under the guise of ethics reform. The bill is a statute. It is not a rule. It is going to become law. But I think the American people should be on guard. I was one of two people who voted against this bill and for some very good reasons.

What the American people would like to see is transparency. They would like to see clarity. They would like to see sunshine. Some of the amendments to this bill made it much better; there is no question about that. But some of the things that happened along the way did not allow the American people to really know what is going on in terms of what needs to change. A lot of the amendments tonight were accepted only on the basis that they would preclude debate. Now it is Thursday night. The Senate is not in session tomorrow. And the question people have to ask is, why didn't we debate those amendments? Why didn't we want to debate those amendments? The reason we didn't want to debate those amendments is because they are going to be discarded as soon as we get to conference.

Let me talk about one of them because I believe it is important. We have had hundreds of stories over the last 2 years of Members of Congress who have used the earmark process to enhance the well-being of either members of their office staff's families, personal family members, and even in the House a couple of occasions where they helped themselves. I am thinking particularly about a $1.2 million road that was built for properties owned by the Member of Congress. That fact is, that should have been debated. The American people need to know what the problems are, and there needs to be sunshine. There needs to be transparency about what we do.

The question the American people ought to ask is: What is going to happen when this bill goes to conference and what is going to come out? And is all the rhetoric we heard on the floor truly going to be reflected in an ethics bill that will change behavior?

A lot of effort has been concentrated on lobbyists. Lobbyists aren't the problem. Members of Congress are the problem. And transparency solves that problem. So we are not going to have transparency anymore. We are going to say you can't take a meal from somebody, but you certainly can deliver on a couple-million-dollar earmark. And we are going to create a situation where we say we are going to expose it, but you shouldn't count on that happening until the final bill comes.

My faith and my hope is that we put everything we have done away and don't do any of the things that have been accepted by the Senate tonight because of fear of political consequences, but that we do what the American people want, and that is to be transparent in both our actions and our deeds. The way to clean up ethical problems in Congress is for the Members to be transparent about what they do. So if this bill were to come back and we pass it just as it is, we are going to go through all these hoops that will have been created, and we are going to make sure people don't come to the Senate to serve. We are going to have a ``gotcha' system. That is what we just passed. Good, honorable people of integrity are going to make an innocent mistake, and they are going to be gotten. I am not talking about the things that were intentionally done that we have seen over the past 4 to 6 years from both parties. I am talking about good, honest people making an innocent mistake, and it is going to ruin them. Consequently, people are not going to come here. Only those who are shielded and armored, who are careerists and have enough money that no matter what happens, they can defend themselves with the trial lawyers they are going to need to defend themselves after we pass all these rules that are going to come.

I know this sounds a bit negative now that we have passed supposedly an ethics reform bill. But my warning to the American people and to this body is, we should measure that when we see the final product. And we should measure the final product against Senator DeMint's amendment for true transparency on earmarks, my amendment on true lack of ethical bias in terms of monetary gain for staff members' families or Members' families in terms of earmarks. My faith will be renewed if, in fact, we come out with a great ethics bill. I wait and remain to be convinced that that will be the case.

The final point I want to make is process. Why did we not want to debate in front of the American people the idea that it is unethical for somebody to gain monetarily, directly or indirectly, staff member or staff member's family, Member's family or Member, from an earmark? Why did we not want to debate that? That is a question the press ought to be asking. That is a question we all ought to be asking, as the conference comes back.

The way we solve the problems with ethics in the Senate is through complete and total transparency about what we do. And if we are not ashamed of what we are doing, we should not be ashamed of putting up what we are doing and how we are doing it.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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