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America Competes Act--Continued

Location: Washington, DC

AMERICA COMPETES ACT--Continued -- (Senate - April 24, 2007)


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, the bill we have before us today is a well-intentioned, thoughtful exercise to try to change the future for our country. The Commission this bill is based on, the work and experience of those who have helped coauthor the bill, is rightly so in their concern for the future of our competitiveness. There is one problem, however. The biggest dole on our competitiveness today has to be the largesse of the Federal Government. Let me give a few examples.

Last year, the American people spent $224 billion paying interest on the national debt. Last year, the American people, through our actions, spent $350 billion more than we had, which further increased that debt. In the last 6 years, the individual debt owned by American citizens--what they are required to pay--has risen from $21,000 to almost $30,000. At the same time, the average wage in those same 6 years increased by less than $5,000. So when we think about competitiveness, we ought to pay close attention to the drags on what will be our competitive situation.

The No. 1 drag today is the Federal Government. That is not to demean this bill. I would have loved to have seen a different bill, a bill that says: Here is what we are doing right. Here is what we are doing wrong. Here are some new ideas on how to fix what we are doing wrong and, by the way, here are some things we need to do to keep us competitive. We didn't do that.

The Department of Education right now has 10 percent of its programs that are totally ineffective. The Department of Energy, with its $5 billion budget, has 10 percent of its programs that are highly ineffective. In other words, they are not accomplishing anything. None of that was looked at, deauthorized, or eliminated in this bill. Consequently, according to OMB, we have approximately $80 billion that is going to be authorized to be spent--some of that is reauthorization, I understand--over the next 4 years that is going to be added to the debt.

People will say: This is an authorization. That doesn't mean we are going to spend the money.

Why are we passing the bill if we don't intend to spend the money? We are going to spend the money. The problem with the way we spend money is we don't make the same choices the average American makes. We just chalk it up to our kids and grandkids. So I don't know where the money is going to come from.

This bill is obviously going to pass. It is going to be conferenced, and it is probably going to be signed. But we will have missed a great opportunity to fix many major programs that are not working well today. This bill creates 20 new Federal programs. It doesn't eliminate one Federal program that isn't working well today. It doesn't modify, to a significant extent, those programs which are deemed ineffective and not working.

What we have is great intention and great legislation, save for the fact that we are not looking at the whole story. We are not looking at the whole picture. Should Congress have to do what every family in this country does every month--make a choice? Where do we prioritize our spending for this month? Where do we spend more? What are the things on which we can't afford to spend because we don't have the money? We don't do that. We authorize programs. Then we appropriate funds.

By the way, the discretionary portion of the Federal Government has grown about $600 billion in the last 7 years. Senator Carper and myself held 48 hearings in the last Congress in the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. What we found was an astounding $200 billion of waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication. There was great opportunity to take that information and do something about it. We have not done it.

The Department of Education is not compliant in terms of improper payments. They don't know where they are paying things wrong or paying things right. The Department of Energy is noncompliant in terms of improper payments. They don't know where they are paying things right and paying things wrong. We have at least 20 percent of the Department of Energy's budget that is earmarks. They don't get to decide where they spend the money; the Members of Congress tell them where they have to spend the money. There is not a sense of prioritizing what our energy needs are, what our education needs are within the Department of Energy. There is no commonsense approach to what we are doing. Consequently, the biggest problem we have in terms of competitiveness, which this bill won't solve, is more government. It creates more government rather than less government or the same amount of government that is more efficient and more effective.

I don't intend to impugn the desires or the sincerity of the Members of this body who helped put this bill together. There is no question we need to address the issues that are encompassed in the legislation. That is not my criticism. My criticism is that when we have an opportunity to fix things with a bill such as this which cuts across multiple agencies, we don't do it. What we do is set up a system where more programs will be created without eliminating the ones that are not working.

As a matter of fact, in this bill, in the National Science Foundation, we have a setaside. Where before the National Science Foundation did everything on peer review--everything on peer review, there was no politics saying what you have to do--we are taking $1 billion and setting it aside and we are going to tell them what to do. We know better than the scientists where we ought to be spending our money? I seriously doubt that.

We claim that what we want to do is reestablish the competitiveness of the United States. I have no doubt that certain segments of this bill will go a long way in doing that. I am not critical of the intent of the bill. But I believe--and I raised this on the last bill we considered--we continue to authorize new spending. We continue to put at risk, in the name of competitiveness, the future.

The No. 1 risk for competitiveness is our debt. The fact is, we are sucking capital out of the capital markets like crazy, making it very difficult for small businesses that compete in the capital markets on ideas, innovation, and sole-proprietorships and people who want to take a risk on their own.

The other thing we didn't do is fix IDEA. One of our problems with education is, we passed a law that said school districts will do this for individuals with disabilities. What we promised when we passed that law--much as we will hear in 2 or 3 years as to what we promise with this law--was that we would fund 40 percent of the costs in education for IDEA. That would be the Federal load. This last year, we funded 18 percent. So we wonder why the schools can't compete, why they can't put the money into math and science, the money into competitiveness, when $16 billion a year is being absorbed by the school districts to do something we mandated them to do, which means $16 billion isn't available for them to teach and mentor math and science, for them to create greater opportunities to raise interest in the sciences.

So I think if our past actions speak at all about what the future will bring, you will see we will not keep our word with this bill either. We will say things, we will do things, we will put at risk the next two generations, and we will have felt good because we did something, but we did less than what we could do.

That is what we are doing with this bill. We are doing less than what we could do. We could, in fact, fix what is wrong in many of those programs in the Department of Education and in the Department of Energy today with this bill. It could have been done. It could have been done, but it was not. So, consequently, we are going to fund ineffective programs as we authorize and create and fund new programs, many of which are designed to do the exact same things, but we are not going to eliminate the programs that are not working.

And lest you think I am an alarmist and known as ``Dr. No,'' think about what the obligations are of every child who is born in this country today--just today. What is it? April 24, 2007. When that baby is delivered and placed in its mother's arms, you are going to see smiles of joy and tears--none of them with a realization the child who just came into this world is faced with $453,000 in unfunded liabilities the moment they take their first breath.

The contrast should be, we are talking about competitiveness. How do we create a future? What kind of future is it when we create a bill but do not address the underlying problems that are limiting our competitiveness in the first place? No. 2, even if we are trained in math and science, we are going to be so debt ridden we won't have the money to put into it.

According to the Government Accounting Office, that 8 percent in interest, that $224 billion we spend now, in the year 2025--a mere 18 years from now--will be 25 percent of the budget and close to $1 trillion. Now, think about that. Should we do the hard work of eliminating the wasteful and duplicative programs before we create another?

It is easy to pass legislation that does something good. It is very hard to get rid of programs that are ineffective and highly inefficient. The reason is because everybody has an interest group that supports that program, and we find ourselves adverse to challenging that group.

But the real choice is between our grandchildren and today's present inefficiencies. The real choice is whether we are truly going to be competitive and create an opportunity for the next two generations to experience the same kind of blessings we have been fortunate enough to experience as a nation.

The real question is, will we leave a heritage that is similar to the heritage that was left with us? I tell you, my feelings and my thoughts are I do not see movement in this body or in the Congress as a whole to start addressing the underlying problems that are facing us. It is not a question of partisanship, Democrats or Republicans. It is a question of expediency. It is hard to tell people no when something is not working well. It is easy to ignore it.


The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. Coburn] proposes an amendment numbered 917.

Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To express the sense of the Senate that Congress has a moral obligation to offset the cost of new Government programs and initiatives)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:


(a) Findings.--The Senate finds that--

(1) The national debt of the United States of America now exceeds $8,500,000,000,000.

(2) Each United States citizen's share of this debt exceeds $29,000.

(3) Every cent that the United States Government borrows and adds to this debt is money stolen from future generations of Americans and from important programs, including Social Security and Medicare on which our senior citizens depend for their retirement security.

(4) The power of the purse belongs to Congress.

(5) Congress authorizes and appropriates all Federal discretionary spending and creates new mandatory spending programs.

(6) For too long, Congress has simply borrowed more and more money to pay for new spending, while Americans want Congress to live within its means, using the same set of common sense rules and restraints Americans face everyday; because in the real world, families cannot follow Congress's example and must make difficult decisions and set priorities on how to spend their limited financial resources.

(7) Last year, the interest costs of the Federal debt the government must pay to those who buy U.S. Treasury bonds were about 8 percent of the total Federal budget. In total, the Federal government spent $226 billion on interest costs alone last year.

(8) According to the Government Accountability Office, interest costs will consume 25 percent of the entire Federal budget by 2035. By way of comparison, the Department of Education's share of Federal spending in 2005 was approximately 3 percent of all Federal spending. The Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for approximately 23 percent of all Federal spending. Spending by the Social Security Administration was responsible for about 20 percent of all Federal spending. Spending on Medicare was about 12 percent of all Federal spending. Spending in 2005 by the Department of Defense--in the midst of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a global war against terrorism--comprised about 19 percent of all Federal spending. Thus, if we do not change our current spending habits, GAO estimates that as a percentage of Federal spending, interest costs in 2035 will be larger than defense costs today, Social Security costs today, Medicare costs today, and education costs today.

(9) The Federal debt undermines United States competitiveness by consuming capital that would otherwise be available for private enterprise and innovation.

(10) It is irresponsible for Congress to create or expand government programs that will result in borrowing from Social Security, Medicare, foreign nations, or future generations of Americans without reductions in spending elsewhere within the Federal budget.

(b) Sense of the Senate.--It is the sense of the Senate that Congress has a moral obligation to offset the cost of new Government programs and initiatives.

Mr. COBURN. Madam President, it is a simple amendment. We are going to find out what your Senator believes with this amendment. We offered this amendment on the last bill. We had some inside baseball excuses why they would not vote for it. This is a sense-of-the-Senate amendment. It does not carry any force of law or anything. All it says is the Senate agrees that before we spend new money, we ought to get rid of the wasteful programs, we ought to get rid of the ones that are not working well, or we ought to make them better before we spend another $60 billion to $80 billion on another set of programs.

That last amendment got 59 votes against it. Only 38 people in the Senate thought we ought to do that. I will tell you, I think the vast majority--greater than 95 percent--of the American public thinks we ought to do that.

So this is a simple amendment. The catch with the amendment is, if you vote for the amendment and then do not change this bill to do what needs to be done to eliminate the other programs, you are going to have a tough time explaining that you agreed to this and then did something else when you voted for the passage of this bill.

There is a day coming when we will not have the luxury to wait around. The financial markets will tell us what we will do. We will not have the freedom within the Senate to make those choices. We will do it under the duress of extreme financial conditions that will affect our country.

So this is a simple amendment, very similar to the last one. I took the authorizing language out of it that some of the appropriators objected to, so it is very simple.

The final statement in the amendment is:

Sense Of The Senate.--

It is the sense of the Senate that Congress has a moral obligation to offset the cost of new Government programs and initiatives.

Now, with a budget deficit last year that was claimed to be $160 billion, under Enron accounting--which was truly $350 billion, if you looked at what happened to the addition to our debt, what our kids are going to pay--it is going to be pretty hard to say we should not add more to the debt. We have a lot of people who will say the debt does not matter; whatever the debt is, is a percentage of GDP. That is fine if the underlying assumption is we have great economics, and we are not going to have contractions of the economy, we are always going to be able to compete, we are always going to be able to finance our debt. The fact is, as the Government Accounting Office says, we cannot, and the interest costs associated with that will be massive.

Why would I come out here and fight friends and foes alike all the time to do this? Because I think the one shortfall of our body is that overall we are not looking at the big picture and the long run. This looks at the long run, but it does not look at the big picture.

Unless we do that, we are going to find ourselves very apologetic to the next two generations because what, in essence, we will have said is we cared more about us, we cared more about our comfort, we cared more about our next election than we did any of the next two generations.

So I put it to my colleagues: Vote against this and vote for the bill and be honest. But if you think if we create new programs we ought to eliminate other programs so we do not continue to expand the Federal Government running a deficit, then you ought to vote for this amendment and not vote for this bill, until it is made right, until it has captured the opportunities that are inherent within it to fix what is wrong in the Department of Energy, to fix what is wrong in the Department of Education, to fix what is wrong with all these grant programs that need to be fixed today.

Let's hold us accountable. That is what the American people are expecting from us. I want to leave the Senate not being known for anything other than knowing what I did was to try to create and make sure we maintain the heritage this country has given to us.

With that, Madam President, I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the reason you ought to vote for this sense of the Senate--it doesn't say anything about authorizing. What it says is, and the American people expect, if we are going to create new programs, we ought to get rid of the programs that are not working. We spend $84,000 a second. We spent $350 billion we didn't have last year, and we charged it to the next generation. We have 10 percent of the Department of Energy that is ineffective, we have 10 percent of the Department of Education that is ineffective, and you offset none of the programs as you reauthorize this bill. We doubled up. This says, sense of the Senate, if we are going to spend more money and create new programs, we ought to go after the ones that do not work.

Vote against it at your own peril.

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