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Departments of Labor , Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. COBURN] proposes an amendment numbered 3358 to amendment No. 3325.

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

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To require Congress to provide health care for all children in the U.S. before funding special interest pork projects)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

Sec. __. (a) This section may be cited as the ``Children's Health Care First Act of 2007''.

(b) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, none of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any congressionally directed spending item, as defined by Sec. 521 of Public Law 110-81, until the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services certifies that all children in the U.S. under the age of 18 years are insured by a private or public health insurance plan.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment, for myself and my colleague Senator Burr, is about the topic of the Children's Health Care First Act of 2007.

There has been a lot of debate, a lot of politics on children's health care. The House failed to override what I think was a poor solution to take care of children in this country by expanding children's health care through the SCHIP program and spending $4,000 to get $2,300 worth of coverage for our kids.

What we do know is we do have problems with health care. We need to be debating health care. We need to figure out how we are going to do this. Myself and Senator Burr have an amendment that solves the health care problem, which has not been considered yet but which we are soliciting and for which we have received a number of cosponsors. This amendment, however, redirects us toward priorities. It is something we need to talk about. It is something the Senate doesn't talk about.

We had numerous quotes in this body about how important it is to make sure kids in this country have access to care. What we do know--and I used the number $2,300 because that is the high end if we were to buy every kid in this country a health insurance policy. It is probably more like $1,700. So if you take the $2,300 that we have as a high-end number to buy kids health insurance, and not put them in something that has a Medicaid stamp or a SCHIP stamp on their forehead but real health insurance, and you look at the earmarks in this bill, which are $398 million, you could, in fact, buy insurance for 173,000 kids, in this bill alone. So 173,000 children could be covered for health care from the earmarks alone in this bill.

Now, this amendment is real simple. If everybody in this body claims they want to take care of kids and their health care, they ought to be willing to give up their earmarks to cover kids. So what this bill says is, let's have no earmarks, no directed spending until such time as we have covered the kids in this country. We put kids ahead of us. We put kids ahead of our political interests. We put children's health care ahead of the politics and the consequential action of using politics in terms of earmark spending.

Now, $400 million is a lot of money, and $400 million is out of the priorities of what this country ought to be doing that are in this bill that is Member-directed spending. This amendment simply says: We don't direct any of that money--none of it, zero, not one earmark--until we have cared for the kids, until we are caring for the kids. So in essence, what we are doing by accepting this amendment is saying, instead of rhetoric, we are going to say kids count. We are going to start putting the priorities back. If access to care for children is important, is it less important than your favorite earmark?

I know if you total up certain of the earmarks of one certain State which has $72 million worth of earmarks, you have enough to cover all the uninsured kids in that State--all the uninsured kids in that State from the earmarks in this bill. So what are our priorities? Are our priorities children? Are our priorities the health care of kids?

This amendment is going to be a fun vote because what it is going to tell your constituency is: Kids aren't important if you vote to keep your earmarks, but if you say I am willing to abate on the earmarks, and I am going to do what is right. This amendment says none of this directed spending goes until the Secretary of HHS certifies that kids under 18 in this country have access and have care. We have had months of debate about the children's SCHIP. We are going to have more because another bill is coming. But it seems to me the American public might want to ask: Why are you earmarking special money for special projects when you have a chance to make sure it will go toward children and solving the problem?

So this is going to be a tough vote: kids versus my political career, kids
versus my political power, kids versus my political earmarks. We are going to see. We are going to begin to see what the real priorities of the Senate are. Is it our ability to direct funds without competition, without oversight to special projects all across this country, or is it to truly solve the health care needs of the kids in this country? It is real simple, real straightforward. It is either yes or no, kids are important, and directed, unaccountable, noncompetitive earmarks aren't or political power, political earmarks, noncompetitive grants, no oversight is more important than kids having access to health care.

The $400 million in earmarks will be set aside for children's health care in this bill with this amendment. So the reason it is called the Children's Health Care First Act is because children ought to come first. As parents, we put our kids first, or at least we should. Should the Senate not put the kids first? Should we not put them out in front to make sure they are our priority or are we going to play the game: Well, this isn't the way to do it, Senator Coburn.

This is going to speak volumes to the American public about our priorities. I have challenged this body on our priorities. I am going to continue to challenge the body on our priorities. As we vote on this amendment, the American people are going to see what our priorities are. It is either going to be kids or it is going to be us.

Let's talk about what is in this bill. This is the bill through which Congress can and should provide funding for health care for children. Yet it diverts $400 million away from children's health in order to pay for earmarks.

Here is a little ``smitling'' of what the earmarks are: $350,000 for an art center, $100,000 for a celebration around a lake, $500,000 for field trips, $500,000 for a virtual herbarium, $50,000 for an ice center. How can we spend money on those things when kids in this country don't have access to care?

So we are going to debate this again on Monday when we come back in, but it is going to be a test of our true priorities. You are going to see all the rhetoric in the world on the repeat SCHIP bill. You have seen it. You have seen it in television advertisements against people who didn't think that was the best way to do it, and now is the chance to put your words into action. Either kids are important or they are not. But it would seem they are going to be less important than our political power, our political expediency, and our ability to empower the select and the well-connected and the well-heeled in this country.

With that, I yield the floor and ask the cosponsor of this amendment to speak.



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be set aside and I call up amendment No. 3399.

The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The clerk will report.

The assistant legislative clerk read as follows.

The Senator from Oklahoma [Mr. COBURN] proposes an amendment numbered 3399.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: To eliminate wasteful spending by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

At the appropriate place, insert the following: Section. __. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used--

(1) for the Ombudsman Program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and

(2) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide additional rotating paste lights, zero-gravity chairs, or dry-heat saunas for its fitness center.

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