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

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we heard Senator Kyl talk about the problem. The Woodstock Museum is not the problem; it is a symbol of the problem. Alan Gerry has done great things for the State of New York. He should be praised for what he has done. This isn't an attack on him. This is an attack on the process--the process where we inappropriately send money back on the basis not of priority but on the basis of a low-priority need.

Now, there was a historian by the name of Alexander Tyler. These words are attributed to him. Nobody can say for sure he is the author of them, but they bear a very important lesson for us. He wrote about the Athenian Empire which had collapsed, and he was writing this about the time that our Founders were writing our institutional documents. Here is what he said: All democracies eventually fail. They fail because people learn that they can vote themselves money from the public Treasury. Consequently, they only vote for people in elected office who will return them money from the public Treasury. Consequently, all democracies fail over a fiscal collapse.

Now, is that where we are headed? Have we walked into the trap of history which talks about how every other democracy in the world has, in fact, failed over fiscal issues? They haven't failed over the principles of their democracy. They haven't failed over their freedom. They failed over the financial collapse of their system because the political class used public monies to pay off private citizens.

This is a symbolic vote. It is not about going after Senator Schumer or Senator Clinton and this earmark. I have been going after Republican and Democratic earmarks for 2 1/2 years. But this is a great example. I am part of the hippie generation. I was a junior in college when Woodstock occurred. It may be great for upstate New York to empower and have this as an economic development tool. It is certainly a part of our history and ought to be remembered. There is no question about it. But the question is, should this be a priority for this body over the priority of women and children, of maternal-child health, which isn't funded adequately in this country? Should we fund $1 million to a worthwhile project but low priority? That is the question. It is not about whether great things have been done in this area or whether great things can continue to be done.

New York has a $1.6 billion surplus right now. If this is great, why shouldn't the State of New York fund it more, this $1 million? We have, according to the latest estimate if you use Enron accounting, a $160 million deficit. If you use real accounting, it is going to be about a $300 billion deficit. So why should we put the credit card in and charge another $1 million to our kids for something that is low priority? If we are going to charge another $1 million to our kids, why don't we do it for the kids, for maternal and child health? We will earn the 11 percent if we reject this amendment.

The problem is, this is a good thing to do. Senators have a right to do it. We know that. Even though, I disagree that, before we fix the major financial problems that face our country, we shouldn't be sending money home. I am in the minority on that issue. I understand that. You are not bad if you disagree with me. But according to the American public, you don't agree with them either because 85 percent of the American people in the latest poll think we ought to eliminate all earmarks until we get our house in order.

The question is, how will they ever trust us to fix Medicare or Social Security if they can't trust us on these small things? And they can't. We can't help ourselves. Surely, $1 million for a Woodstock museum and performance center is not a priority for this country at this time.

Mr. HARKIN. Would the Senator yield for a unanimous consent request? I hate to interrupt the Senator.

Mr. COBURN. I am happy to yield.

Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I think this has been cleared on the other side.

I ask unanimous consent that at 12:30 today, the Senate proceed to vote in relation to the DeMint amendment No. 3338, with no amendment in order to the amendment prior to the vote, and that there be 2 minutes of debate prior to the vote with the time equally divided and controlled between Senators DEMINT and SCHUMER or their designees; that upon disposition of the DeMint amendment, Senator Byrd be recognized to call up an amendment on the subject of mine safety.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, I would ask to modify that time on the provision that we be finished this debate. In other words, that being the first order of business after we finish this debate rather than setting a fixed time because I am not sure we will be through at 12:30. If the Senator would care to modify, so that at 12:30, or the soonest thereafter we finish this debate, I would be more than happy to agree.

Mr. HARKIN. If the Senator will yield, is there any chance that we could finish the debate after the vote? We are trying to get the vote in prior to some noon things that are happening around here.

Mr. COBURN. I guess we can do that. I would do that if that is what you want to do. I would love for us to finish this before the vote.

Mr. HARKIN. Mr. President, I modify my unanimous

consent request to say that if the pending debate is not finished at 12:30, that after the vote on amendment No. 3338, we would return to the debate on the Coburn amendment.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Is there objection?

Mr. COBURN. Is that OK with my colleague?

Mr. SCHUMER. I only intend to speak for 5 minutes.

Mr. COBURN. Then I think we should be finished. I have no objection to the original request.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. The Harkin request, as modified, is agreed to.

The Senator from Oklahoma is recognized.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, so here we have a bill, the Labor-HHS bill, and it has over $400 million in earmarks--some good, some priority, some are high priority, probably should be there, but many are not high priority.

When are we going to do what the American family has to do every year? What they have to do is say: Here is how much money we have coming in. Here is what we have needs for, and here is what we have available. What they do is make choices based on priorities. This debate is about making choices. If we had different rules, this debate would have been eliminating the earmark plainly, and several others. But because of the Senate rules, the money is going to be spent, so we have to figure out a higher priority place to spend it, and maternal and child health is certainly the place to do it.

The real question the American people are asking us, the 89 percent of the American people who don't have confidence in this institution are asking us is, when are we going to get it? When are we going to start doing what they want us to do? When are we going to start playing for them and their future, rather than playing for us and our future? That is the real question.

There is no question that the desirability of what this earmark supports is probably great. I don't have any problems with it. What I have a problem with is that we have a $9 trillion debt.

This Senator has never voted to raise the debt limit. We just raised the debt limit $850 billion, to almost $10 trillion, because we can't control ourselves.

So the question before us isn't whether this is good or bad. The question is, when are we going to change our behavior? When are we going to start doing $1 million here and $1 million here, up to $398,584,000 worth of earmarks in a bill? That is the question. This isn't conservatives who are asking this question; it is liberal Democrats; it is Independents; it is conservatives, because they know, in fact, this Government can run better, more efficiently, with less money than what we are doing now, if, in fact, we will stand up and do the oversight work we ought to be doing. But we refuse to do that.

So the vote will come. We will have a vote. If we don't enhance this amendment and pass it, we will go from 11 percent to 10.95 percent because, in fact, the American people will see, again, that we don't get it. We don't have to live by the rules they live by.

The tragedy is, in this bill, the Labor-HHS bill to help those most dependent in America, we are going to take money in the future from those who we are saying we are giving to now, through a decreased standard of living or an increased tax rate. If you don't believe that, read David Walker, the Comptroller General's report about what is getting ready to happen to us as a nation in terms of our finances, or read Peter Peterson's book, ``Running On Empty,'' about what is going to happen to us. Why in the world is the Euro at $1.42 when it was 83 cents 3 1/2 years ago? Why is that? Is there a beckoning call about our financial condition that the world financial markets recognize, and yet we refuse to pay attention to?

So I call on my colleagues. This isn't a partisan amendment. I have gone after just as many Republican amendments--as a matter of fact, one of the amendments I am going to be offering today goes after a Republican amendment. I also plan on offering an amendment to get rid of all earmarks in this bill before we finish this bill. So we will get to see whether this body gets it, whether the 80 percent to 85 percent of Americans who want us to change our behavior have any influence on us whatsoever. Will we listen?

There is a rumble. I said this a year and a half ago. There is a rumble in America, and the rumble is this: We don't have confidence in our Government anymore. Where is the legitimacy of our Government when our own people don't have confidence in us? It is a great question to ask about the
greatest Republic that there ever was. It is a problem we need to be about solving rather than ignoring.

With that, I yield for the moment.


Mr. COBURN. Will the Senator yield?


Mr. COBURN. Can the Senator recall a time that I voted for a tax cut?

Mr. SCHUMER. I don't know offhand.

Mr. COBURN. As a matter of fact, my public statements are that there should be no tax cuts unless you do spending cuts to pay for them.

Mr. SCHUMER. I respect my colleague for that. But the Senator from Arizona--I know of his record longer, and he does not have that record.

Mr. COBURN. I appreciate that.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have a couple points as to Senator Schumer's statement. First, with an unemployment rate six-tenths percent lower than the national average and lower than New York's average, by the way--lower than New York's average--it is hardly in the dire consequences of what we see around the rest of the country.

The second point is, we have 60-some million dollars out there for competitive grant competition on museums for which the museum administration does a great job. In other words, everybody in the country who wants to have a museum has to compete against everybody else, and the ones who are most meritorious--by the way, they are also audited to see that the money is actually spent in a proper way; this will never be audited--they have to compete.

The major problem with Senator Schumer's argument is that Sullivan County can never be healthy if the country as a whole is not healthy. That is the problem with the argument. We can say we want to make XYZ healthy. It is akin to saying your finger is healthy when you are having a heart attack.

The fact is, the country as a whole is at the precipice--D day comes January 1, 2008. That is the demographic day on which all the baby boomers, the ``Woodstockers'' start taking Social Security, and 3 years later they start taking Medicare, $79 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities. How in the world can the American people ever trust us to fix those big problems if we don't even get it on the small problems?

If this is a great idea, put it into the competition on competitive grants for museums. To say they are in hardship with an unemployment rate of 4.1 percent compared to the rest of New York and the rest of the country, that is hard to believe.

Again, we have to start listening to the rumble in America that says start being good stewards with our money, quit doing things that help you as politicians that hurt us as a country.

The fact is, although this may be very worthy, why shouldn't it have to compete against everybody else in the country who wants a museum? Why shouldn't it have to compete? Why is it that I can pick out and place--and I guess I am one of the derelict Senators because I don't believe Oklahoma can be healthy if our country isn't healthy. I believe Oklahoma will ultimately fail if our country fails. I believe that future generations will live a less standard of living with less opportunity and ultimately less freedom if we don't solve the financial problems in front of us as a nation.

This is a symptom of our sickness, and until we reject and get rid of this disease of parochialism and start fulfilling our oath--do you realize the oath we take when we come to the Senate never mentions our State? It says you will uphold the Constitution of these United States--these United States, all of us. So the will and the best well-being of all of us as a country has to be our most important goal.

Alexander Tyler will be right about us if we don't wake up and change what we are doing. We will collapse under our own fiscal insanity if we continue to do these things.

Senator Schumer is a great Senator for the State of New York, there is no question about it. He is going to fight and defend this old way of parochialism. He is going to fight and defend it until we as a country collapse. That is why we have an 11-percent confidence rating. We are collapsing already in terms of our real duty to build confidence, that we are looking out for the country as a whole, not for our own political careers or not for local parochial interests. That is why the Senate was created. It wasn't for parochial interests. If you read the Founders' writings, they never thought about the Senate being considered anything other than a body that looked at the long term, ensure the future, create opportunities, and protect the liberty, and we fall away from that as we go through this process.

Mr. President, I know we have a unanimous consent agreement. I ask that all the Members of this body read Comptroller General David Walker's report about what is getting ready to happen to us and read former Secretary Peter Peterson's book ``Running on Empty'' and what they will see is not a pretty picture.

The time to diagnose the disease is now, not when we are in ICU and we could have prevented it.

I yield the floor. I thank my colleagues for their debate.

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