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Public Statements

Business As Usual

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

BUSINESS AS USUAL -- (Senate - November 15, 2007)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wanted to spend a few moments this morning talking about the business as usual in Washington.

As a nearly 60-year-old male baby boomer, I believe we face some of the most serious challenges we have ever faced as a nation, and certainly in my lifetime. The challenges are going to continue to grow unless Congress changes how it works, how it does business, and starts setting priorities. The last election was about change. We heard a lot of great promises, and I think they were well-intentioned. But let's look at what has happened.

After the last election, we were told we would have an earmark moratorium until we had a real reform process that was in place. We do not have a reform process; we have a faint claim for a reform process. Instead, we have seen thousands--the average is 2,000 earmarks per bill. The American people were told that the earmark process would be more transparent. Yet we have seen Congress backtrack on that at every opportunity.

The earmark reform has really been a triumph of ``business as usual.'' The original Senate version of S. 1 required Senators to publicly disclose the following within 48 hours of the committee receiving the information: the earmark recipient, the earmark's purpose, certification that neither they nor their spouse would directly benefit from the earmark. Now, what is in the real language? The real language was secretly changed. It no longer requires public disclosure of who is going to get the earmark or the earmark's purpose. That is the Senate's rules.

You know, there is a foundational principle; that is, you cannot have accountability in anything unless you have transparency. What we have is obfuscation of transparency.

We don't want the American people to see who is going to get an earmark or what its purpose is. Thankfully, we passed the transparency and accountability act that starts this January so the American people are going to see it anyway, except they are going to unfortunately have to see it after the fact.

Yesterday my office learned of another attack against transparency. The just-released conference report for the Transportation-HUD spending bill contains an earmark provision that attempts to prohibit the White House from releasing publicly its budget justifications. When they send up their budget, they send the reasons for why they want that money spent in certain ways. I worked last year to make sure that OMB agreed that the American people were entitled to see the justification for why they would want to spend money in certain areas. The appropriations process doesn't want that to be public. Why should it not be public? Why should we not want to know why the administration wants to spend certain money in certain ways and their reasoning and justification?

There is a reason why this was added. This was added so the authorizing committees won't have the same information the appropriations committees have. We are not supposed to be appropriating anything that isn't authorized, yet we continue to do so. This is a commonsense approach to make transparent to the American public as well as the rest of the Members of this body the justification and reasoning of the administration.

I agree, the broken promises we have seen have contributed to the 11-percent favorability rating of Congress. It isn't a Republican or Democratic issue. No Americans want their leaders to say one thing and then do another. The American people are tired of hearing the same defenses of the earmark favor factor. They didn't work when Republicans were in control, and they will not work today.

Let's talk about that for a minute. The earmark system exists to serve politicians, not local communities. Members earmark funds rather than advocate for grants because they want the political credit for spending money. Earmarks oftentimes are worthwhile, but the system under which they are propagated is not. Earmarks are the gateway drug to overspending, one of the No. 1 issues for which the American people have a problem with Congress. Our problem is, we refuse to make the tough choices families have to make every day, every week within their own budgets. Consequently, we now have this last week surpassed $9 trillion on the debt. We have $79 trillion worth of unfunded liability which is going to cause us to break the chain of heritage of this country. That heritage is one of sacrifice where one generation works hard, makes sacrifices to create at least the same or hopefully better opportunities for those generations to come.

We have heard complaints that it is illegitimate to single out or strike an earmark with an amendment. It is not our money. It is the American people's money. What is scandalous is how few of the special interest projects are ever challenged on the floor. Only one-tenth of 1 percent of the more than 60,000 earmarks passed since 1998 have ever received a vote. Where is the accountability with that? Where is the transparency?

Finally, we hear Senators complain that it is partisan to strike individual earmarks. I can't speak for anyone else, but I have been going after this process for a decade. No one has gone after more Republican earmarks than I. Plus, if you don't like my amendments, I ask the body to offer some of their own. I would appreciate the help. In spite of a lot of grand talk about earmark reform, we haven't seen anyone on the other side of the aisle attempt to strike an individual earmark. Does that mean all these projects are worthwhile? Is there not a single earmark in the 32,000 requests this year that should not be debated on the floor of the Senate?

The conference report on the Transportation-HUD bill includes a number of questionable earmarks, some of which I will try to eliminate when the bill comes through the Senate.

We developed a new rule that one can't earmark in conference. Yet in the new conference report on the Transportation-HUD bill, 18 new earmarks were air dropped, new earmarks violating the rules the Senate just set up. We can't help ourselves. Such earmarks as an international resource center, the Coffeyville Community Enhancement Foundation, Minihaha Park development, buses, upgrades to airports, may be good things to do, but are they good things to do when the projected budget deficit is around $300 billion? Are these the priorities we should have?

I won't spend a whole lot more time on this issue today, but I can tell my colleagues that the American people

are fed up with this process, not just the process of earmarking but the lack of accountability and the absolute lack of transparency when it comes to how we make priorities in spending their money, not ours, every year. I think preserving Social Security, fixing Medicare to where it is available for those after the baby boom generation, solving our budget deficit today might be greater priorities. The real balance is between us and our grandchildren, and we lack the courage to make the hard choices now because it impacts our political careers. We have taken our eye off the ball. The ball is what about the future of the country? What about the opportunity for those who follow us? What about the liberty and freedom they are going to have or not have as a consequence of us ducking the hard choices today?

I yield the floor.


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