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Public Statements

Increasing the Statutory Limit on the Public Debt

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this evening we have a choice to make that is a true reflection of whether this body has been listening to the American public. We are about to increase the amount of money we can borrow against our children's future by $850 billion. That is almost $1 trillion. What does that say about us? That we can't do what we ask every other American family to do, which is live within our means. It is not about parties. Both parties are guilty. But it is about priorities, and it is about choices.

Many of us know that our approval rating is at an alltime low--11 percent. We have a chance tonight to change that. We have a chance tonight to raise that. We have a chance tonight to prove to the American people that we are listening.

A new Gallup Poll put it this way:

Americans now express less trust in the Federal Government than at any time in the past decade and trust in many Federal Government institutions is now lower than it was during the Watergate era, generally recognized as the low point in American history for trust in the Federal Government.

Think about that. How is it that we got ourselves to that position? How did we slip to a level below the Watergate era?

Mr. SANDERS. Will my friend yield?

Mr. COBURN. I would like to finish my statement, and then I am be happy to yield to the Senator from Vermont.

One reason is Americans believe we are totally out of touch with the realities they live with every day in terms of budgeting and spending. What I often hear in this body, both by statement and by action, is that we really do not have to choose between two priorities because we can do both. The American people can't do both, but we can do both. How can we do both? What we do is we ignore the choices we have and lay our responsibility on generations to come. That is how we do both. We do not do what is required of us in terms of oversight, eliminating fraud, eliminating duplicative programs, eliminating programs that do not work, that have no metrics. That, by the way, comes to $200 billion worth of fraud, waste, and abuse which has been documented, every year, that we spend, that we are not working on, we are not trying to eliminate. But what we are about to do, because we failed to do that, we are about to increase the amount which our children and grandchildren are going to have to repay.

The problem is there is nobody outside this body who thinks that way--only inside. In the real world, people have budgets they have to live within. Their choices have consequences, and we choose to make the consequences happen to our children and grandchildren rather than accept the consequences. What has made this country great has been the heritage of sacrifice we have seen by multiple generations that have come before us. We are now denying that heritage, as we in this body refuse to accept the responsibility placed on us to make hard choices.

Tonight, we are going to have a vote and we are going to raise the debt limit and we are going to really say: Children, we don't have the courage to do what we need to do, whether it is raise taxes or cut spending or both. We don't have the courage to do that. But we are cowardly enough to shift it off onto you.

That is what it really is. We don't want to go against interest groups that are invested in something that isn't working. We don't want to eliminate the $53 billion a year that is estimated to be fraud in Medicare and Medicaid. We don't want to do anything with the excess 41,000 properties the Federal Government owns that cost us $18 billion a year but we won't do anything with them. We will not do what is necessary and sacrifice so that we can secure the future.

We are going to raise the debt limit because both parties, mine and the leadership party, have refused to restrain spending.

This will be the sixth time since 1997 that the debt limit has been raised. At the same time, earmark spending has skyrocketed. It is over half a trillion dollars in the last 10 years. There are no competitive bids on earmarks, no accountability, no followup, just gifts. Some are great priorities, but there is no system of economic controls.

My own party did a lot to create this mess. In 2005, 82 of my colleagues said building a bridge in Alaska was more important than repairing the bridges in Louisiana.

We said that. This body said that. Last week I asked my colleagues to make a number of choices. I offered an amendment that said until we fix our at-risk bridges and our high-risk highways that will account for 13,000 deaths a year, we ought to delay earmarks until we make that a priority. We lost that vote 82 to 14.

I offered an amendment to prohibit funding on bike paths and horse trails until we have done the same thing. We lost that amendment 80 to 18. I also attempted to strike funding for a peace garden, construction of a new baseball stadium, and a visitor's center, bipartisan amendments. We chose to say, no, we can do that rather than build and restore our highways and bridges.

What is as bad as the choices we make are the choices we ignore. And that is the very real need to do extremely heavyhanded oversight on the waste, fraud, and abuse that occurs every day within the Government that we supposedly have our hands on.

I know we could cut discretionary spending by at least 10 percent. Okay? That is $100 billion a year if we got together and said we are going to work on these programs together. But we are not going to do that. What we are going to do is keep pointing fingers at one another rather than at ourselves and raise the debt limit.

We are not going to do that hard work. I believe the American people are sick of it. Families across America do not have the luxury of loaning themselves new money when they have maxed out their credit. But that is what we are going to do. There is no credit limit for us. One is coming. It is coming as we have seen the price of the dollar fall recently. We will certainly see it fall further in the future. There is going to be a cost.

What this vote means is, instead of using this year's appropriations cycle to trim waste, to decrease spending, reduce the national debt, all we have done is made the problem worse.

First, we have not passed any bills through Congress. The bills that are in conference, with the exception of one, are at 5 to 6 to 7 percent above last year's spending level. So we have admitted we cannot do it. Only weeks after passing a brandnew ethics law, the Senate has now decided it is okay to add new earmarks in authorizing bills. We have also decided that instead of making sure we know the identity of earmarks, how much money it is, what is it going for, and who is going to get it, we only say: I am offering it, and I do not have any pecuniary interest in it. What we told the American people was a sham. We are not doing what we said we were going to do.

Instead of spending our time trying to figure out how to continue to raid the Federal Treasury without getting caught, I believe we ought to be doing our job. Congress should pass individual appropriations bills at a level less than last year, with the waste, the fraud, abuse, and duplication out of them. But we are not going to do that.

The vote on the debt limit gives Congress another opportunity to demonstrate to the American public that we do have the courage and the ability to fix what is wrong with this ship. By voting for this debt limit, what you are telling the American people is, you do not have the courage to fix what is wrong here. We do not have the courage to do the oversight that is necessary.

Whether it is the $40 billion worth of waste, at least, a year in the Pentagon, or the $43 billion a year wasted on Medicare and Medicaid through fraud, or the $18 billion we are spending on buildings that we do not want, we do not have the courage to do that.

What we should be doing is tearing up the credit card and, through not passing an expansion or extension of the debt limit, start acting like every other American family has to do and start making the hard choices even if it offends some of our constituents, because the constituents who matter the most, as we continue the heritage of this country of creating opportunity, are our children and grandchildren.

My real hope is this debt limit expansion does not pass tonight, that we all get to reflect on that; we come together, Democrat and Republican, and say: We have not done a good job. Let's make a pact that we are going to do the oversight, that we are going to cut the programs, that we are going to lower spending. It does not matter what President Bush wanted. We have the power of the purse. We can decrease spending.

Will we do that? Unfortunately, my belief is we will not because, quite frankly, we are interested in the next election more than we are interested in the next generation, and to that, shame on us.

I yield the floor.


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