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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to make a few comments about what is in the bill and what is going to happen if we don't accept Senator Enzi's amendment.

When we crafted the Ryan White Act, the goal was to make sure the dollars followed the disease and to make sure people who were infected with HIV who had no other means of seeking treatment and having a life that is not the scourge of this disease with the modern medicines that have come about, to create a platform where we could have fair availability for medicines and treatment and care to where the disease is growing.

What has come out of the House, with Speaker Pelosi's direction, is to actually take money from African-American women and the medicines they need to stay alive, or medicines to treat their newborn infants, and send it to San Francisco, which in the last few years has not even spent the entire amount of money that has gone to it.

Senator Enzi is right in the fact that this violates the very agreement we made over a long period of time to get Ryan White funds to start following the disease. By taking an extra $6.2 million and sending it to San Francisco, it violates, No. 1, the agreement on that bill, but most importantly, it takes away the opportunity for health for minority women, which is where the disease is growing the greatest amount. We have all these women throughout the country who have been on waiting lists for drugs for treatment. They are getting some, but they are not getting what is going to save their lives. And we are going to steal that opportunity for minority women to be adequately and fairly treated under this bill.

The Ryan White bill we passed last year was a good compromise, knowing that we needed to shift money to where the disease is. What happened in the House bill is we have actually reneged on that commitment. What we are actually saying is that the establishment age groups in northern California deserve more money than a single African-American woman who was infected with HIV and cannot get the medicines to treat her disease. That is the choice.

For the first time, the Ryan White Act changed the direction of where the money went. The Ryan White Act, as we passed it, had the money following the disease, going to those who need treatment rather than to established organizations that are used to a certain budget. So the tragedy will be that if we don't pass the Enzi amendment, we are taking a step backward from the very principle--a public health principle, by the way--that you put the money where the epidemic is. What is in the House bill negates that.

What we are doing is playing politics with the lives of African-American women, who are the fastest growing numbers of people who have HIV in this country. We are taking $6.2 million away from them and we are putting it in facilities that, quite frankly, have done quite well under the Ryan White Act. The availability, the access, and the programs are at the greatest level in San Francisco as compared to any other place in this country. Yet we choose, if we do not accept the Enzi amendment, to say that is a higher priority than a poor African-American woman in the South. That is the choice.

I support this amendment. I think the Senate, in good conscience, ought to live up to its agreement on the Ryan White Act.

I yield back my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to make a couple of points.

I know this is a large step down for San Francisco EMA and a smaller step down for some of the others. But the thing that needs to be kept in mind is the amount of dollars spent per HIV patient in those areas is 2 1/2 times what the average is around the rest of the country--2 1/2 times. We spend 2 1/2 times more per HIV case in those areas than we do in North Carolina or Florida or Mississippi or Michigan or Kansas or Texas or Arizona. So what we are talking about is proportionality; giving the same opportunities to everybody who has HIV, not more opportunities.

So with the 30-percent cut, you are still going to be spending 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 times more per HIV case in San Francisco as you are in the rest of the country. So I appreciate the work of the Senator in the HIV area, which is exemplary, and I understand she would want to protect this, but it is not fair to the rest of the country. It is not fair to tell somebody that you are going to spend 2 1/2 times as much on somebody with HIV in San Francisco as you are in Dallas, TX, or Miami, FL. That is what this amendment is about--keeping the fairness that was in the Ryan White Act.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, amendment No. 3358 is a pending amendment we discussed this last Friday. I believe under the unanimous consent agreement I have 10 minutes, and those in opposition do also. I am going to speak a few moments, if I may.

What the country is looking for us to do is to choose priorities, to make good choices about the priorities of what we do with their money. Quite frankly, there has not been a top-down review on all the Government programs, ever. We have had very limited oversight hearings, which should be the No. 1 part of our job. And we have in front of us a bill that has $400 million in directed earmarks, which we think, through what the appropriations process has brought to us, is an important priority.

What this amendment says is that we are going to give the Members of the Senate an opportunity to vote on whether those are the most important priorities or whether we ought to have children's health care because what this amendment does is redirects this money in abeyance until we say we have the kids in this country covered.

There is a large debate over the SCHIP bill that the President recently vetoed. There are a lot of things wrong with it. It is not wrong to help poor kids get health care. Nobody in the Senate opposed that. What they did oppose is changing, under the guise of a debate for children, a debate of having the Government start running all of the health care for kids. What it did do is spend $4,000 to buy $2,300 worth of care, and a lot of other things.

So what this amendment is about is asking the Senate to choose--choose your directed earmarks for back home or make a statement that says: We really believe kids health care is important, and we are not going to spend the money on directed earmarks until we have solved that problem.

I know this makes some of my colleagues bristle, that we would challenge the direction. This is not saying specific earmarks are not good ideas. A lot of the earmarks in this bill are good ideas. What it does say is: Should they be a priority before we take care of one of the greatest problems this country is facing, which is health care? Are we going to go after and really change health care to where we get value, we get controllable costs, we get freedom of choice, or are we going to continue to do the same thing of putting earmarks into bills and ignoring the big problems that are in front of us?

So what this amendment says is that until the Secretary of HHS, whoever they may be, certifies that we have the kids under 18 in this country covered, we should not be spending money on directed political benefits for ourselves and our careers; instead, we should be spending our time solving the health care needs of the kids in our country.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. I thank the Chair.

I stand somewhat amused that we are so powerless that the bureaucracy is going to decide where everything goes. Earmarks are not the only way to decide how the budget is put out, and the fact that we use the excuse that we don't have any control, it is called oversight. Last year in the last Congress more oversight hearings were held by myself and TOM CARPER, true oversight hearings, than all the rest of the Senate. The fact is, we don't want to do the hard work of oversight because it is easy to earmark something. But in fact, in dredging, you can hold the Corps of Engineers to a priority list. You can bring them before Congress and say: Why aren't you dredging this? How is this a priority against something else? We don't do the hard work of oversight. That is our problem. Instead, we want to do it the easy way.

I don't deny these are good projects. They are. I am not saying they are not. What I am saying is, what about the long term? What about the fact that a child born today is inheriting $400,000 in unfunded liabilities and that earmarks happen to be the tool that allows us to spend more than we should, not directly through the earmarks but by voting for bills that should not be voted on? But because we have an earmark in the bill, we vote for the bill.

We have an unfunded liability right now on Medicare of $34 billion. We are never going to be trusted to fix that problem when we can't be trusted to have an arm's-length separate allocation and look at what the problems are in front of us in terms of labor, health, and human services.

I don't deny what people want to do in this bill could be prioritized. But the number of requests were 36,000 this year. The fact is, can we get what are priorities for this country if we continue the process of using earmarks?

How about children's health? Yes, we passed a bill. We passed a bill that truly wasn't paid for unless we want 22 million Americans to start smoking. We passed a bill that said: We are going to pay $4,000 to buy $2,300 worth of care. We are great stewards when it comes to the American taxpayers' money on this new SCHIP bill. There is no question we are going to get an SCHIP bill. That SCHIP bill is going to truly reflect the needs of the poor people who are not eligible for Medicaid. We are going to put the money there we need to accomplish that. But to confuse that bill with a process which has got us $9.5 trillion in debt and hung every one of our kids out to dry, that is what this amendment is about. It is the process I am attacking.

I am not attacking individual Senators. I am saying if we are going to get control of the spending, at some point in the future we have to look at the process and how it works. For us to say it is easier for us to earmark than to hold the bureaucracy accountable means we are not doing our job. We can hold the bureaucracies accountable. All we have to do is have an oversight hearing three times a week and make them come up here and explain how they are spending their money. They will start spending on priorities Americans want. We don't have our hands tied behind us just because we don't do earmarks.

The real question America is asking is, are we going to change our ways about real priorities, the real future for our country, or are we going to continue the same old process that has brought us all the corruption we have seen come through the House in the past that leads to conflicts of interest?

We talk about transparency. We gutted the transparency rules as far as appropriations are concerned in this bill and in our ethics bill, because no longer do you say who is getting it or what it is for. You only say where it is going. The very things that are in the House bill in terms of transparency are not available to us in the Senate, so we can't claim transparency. We are going to get transparency in September of next year when the transparency bill comes about.

Senator Harkin mentioned that we didn't offer an option. Senator Burr and I both did, the Every American Kid Insured Act. We talked about it on this floor during the debate on the SCHIP bill. There are other ways to do this. Give them all a tax credit. Let them buy the insurance. We have 9 million kids out there uninsured, 3 million more within 1 year. There are ways for us to solve that. But this is not a farce amendment. This is an amendment about a very real problem. Will we have the right priorities when it comes to this country or are we going to send $42 million to international labor organizations with no accountability whatsoever from the United Nations? That is what we are doing. That is what this bill does. We have another $400 million worth of earmarks that are not competitively bid and will never be overseen, and you will never see where the money goes. So the question on the amendment is, will we change the process.

It is a serious amendment. We should not be earmarking things until we do our business of taking care of kids' insurance.

With that, I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is a straightforward amendment. It is an amendment about where our priorities lie. Do they lie in our directed spending or do they lie with the children of this country who aren't covered?

It is a very simple amendment. I know there are things in the bill for children, but the fact is out of the 9.5 million who are uncovered, we have 3.6 million who have not been covered for a year.

So this amendment simply states we are not going to spend any money on the directed spending until the HHS Secretary certifies that we have done our job in terms of taking care of the kids. Whether that is the SCHIP bill, negotiations with the administration or whatever it is, we are not going to spend the money.

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