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Public Statements

Legislative and Appropriations Process

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, let me, first of all, take a minute to talk about this bill for which unanimous consent was just requested. I think it is important in light of what the majority leader just said. Here we have a bill for which unanimous consent was requested. The American people need to understand what it means to get unanimous consent. It means all of us agree to it. It does not need to be further amended, it does not need to be changed, and it should be passed without ever having a vote on it.

This bill has a section in it that so far has lost over $3.5 billion of your money doing venture capital investing by the Small Business Administration. The OMB analysis says there is absolutely no need for this venture capital investment, especially because of the fact it has lost such a great amount of money. And venture capital investing itself is a highly risky business that requires tremendously acute knowledge and people of great acumen in terms of investing, and they lose lots of money investing.

The last thing we ought to be doing at the end of a session is passing a bill without vetting it, without debating it, without talking about the problems that are in the bill. This portion of the bill, the portion that is the Small Business Venture Capital Act, if anything, should come out of this bill. We should not reauthorize something that has lost already in excess of $3 billion, and something for which we do not get to look at the results until 10 years after it happens.

The last thing we ought to be doing is investing the American people's money in venture capital when we cannot pay for the things we need to be paying for that the American people are dependent on. I look forward to working with Senator Kerry. I have had a good relationship with him. We will sit down and talk about this bill. But I think it highlights what we need to be doing and not spending time in quorum calls but spending time debating bills.

I also want to spend a minute on this issue. I think the American people ought to be asking us about this. Here we sit, and we have one appropriations bill passed for the year that started October 1. I think I am correct. Other than the THUD bill, there has been no objection raised by the minority to proceeding to any of the appropriations bills. As a matter of fact, the choice was made not to bring up the appropriations bills in a timely manner and debate them because of the choice it was not a priority.

I do recall the tremendous criticism we rightly received for what happened last year in the appropriations process. What is going to happen? I am happy to be here for Christmas to do the business we should have already done. But let me lay out what will happen, and then let me also give a warning. At the end of sessions, what happens is we get the request to pass all sorts of legislation--much like this bill to which I just objected. Committees do good work on legislation. But a bill that has passed committee has to be agreed to by a majority of the Senators to be able to become law.

When we do unanimous consents, that means we are going to let it pass without looking at it, without amending it, and without voting on it. Well, at the end of the year, the time pressure comes. Everybody wants to get something passed. So what happens is we do a poor job of legislating because we do not look at it. We do not amend it. We do not have a debate so the American people can know about it. We just pass it.

I sent a letter to all of my colleagues today outlining and reinforcing four statements I made at the first of this year. I will object to any bill coming forward by unanimous consent at the end of the session unless it meets the requirements I laid out. That means no new authorizations unless you deauthorize something else. We are not going to grow the Government any more when we cannot pay for the Government we have. No. 2, it has to be constitutional. It has to be a true duty of the Federal Government, not an obligation of the State governments that we are going to stand up for, when they have a $6 billion to $7 billion surplus. Easily, when you look at any combination of any 10 States, they have an over $36 billion surplus totally, and we are running, in real numbers--non-Enron accounting but real numbers--a $250 billion surplus.

I am not going to allow--unless we want to put it on the Senate floor, unless we want to debate it--I am not going to allow us to pass bills at the end of the session by unanimous consent. So if you have a bill that you want to try to pass by unanimous consent, I would suggest we sit down and talk about it now, not 2 weeks from tomorrow but now. If they come in the last week, we will not have the time to look at them. So not agreeing to unanimously consider the bill as passed will be the standard fare.

Now, let's talk about the appropriations process. What we have is $23 billion more than what we agreed we are going to pass in total for the appropriations bills, not counting the emergency things we have already done that we have charged to our grandchildren. As the game is played in Washington, what will come is the pressure of chicken. We are going to play chicken because we chose not to do the appropriations bills at the appropriate time, and lots of Members have lots of earmarks in bills.

So they do not want us to continue to fund where we are. They want us to have an omnibus bill where we can have all these earmarks, about $26 billion worth of earmarks, so we can look good at home--not competitively bid, not based on priorities but based on our political priorities individually as Senators. We are going to spend about $23 billion more than what we said we are going to spend. That $23 billion is almost $300 billion over the next 10 years. And we are fighting about $80 billion on an AMT fix for 1 year. But we are not concentrating on the fact we are going to institute $300 billion worth of more spending.

I will remind my colleagues again, we do not have to raise taxes. We can eliminate the AMT. What we do not want to do, and what we fail to do, is get rid of the waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication that numbers in excess of $250 billion every year--every year--because we will not do the hard work of oversight.

So we are going to line up, and we are going to get a package from the House, and we are going to get a chance to vote on it, and the President has already said he is going to veto it if it has this excess number and all these earmarks in it. I would think this would be better than playing chicken: Why don't we live within our means like every family has to? That $250 billion comes to 20 percent of everything we spend in the discretionary budget. If you ask homeowners and families who are having a lot of pressure now, would they dare waste 20 percent of their budget, would they dare not look and reconsider how they are spending their money when it comes to their family budget, they would not. Yet we continuously refuse to do the hard work of oversight. We do not want to offend anybody. In the process we are offending the next two generations.

My hope is we don't end up here at Christmas, but I was dead serious when I took my oath. I am going to defend the Constitution and I am going to work to make sure bills that are outside of that Constitution don't pass this body. I am going to defend my obligation to the next two generations and the heritage this country was built on--one generation sacrificing for the next--so future opportunity is there. I am going to do everything in my power to not let $23 billion of extra spending go through this Senate at the end of the year. Now, I may not be successful in that, but at the end of the day, I am going to sleep real well knowing I am fulfilling my oath, knowing that I know what the Constitution says. When we get outside the bounds of the Constitution, in terms of Federal responsibility, what we do is we say in name we are helping somebody and we are charging it to our grandchildren and undermining the very opportunity we all experience.

My hope is we can come together during this season and say: Let's get it right. Let's not spend a bunch of extra money. Let's put it back. We could be facing some pretty severe economic times in this country in terms of how things look, especially people who were sold homes and mortgages they didn't qualify for and now are struggling. How are we going to address that? How are we going to help them through that? How are we going to accomplish that which empowers people, not Government? We need to be working on those things. We do not need to be spending the extra money now that we may, in fact, need to spend later. We may, in fact, need to borrow money later. So we should be doing the job right the first time, staying within our means, doing what is necessary, even though it offends people who might not get something from the Federal Government through an earmark.

I believe the people of the Senate are great people. I believe, ultimately, they want what is great for this country. I know all of those who have children and grandchildren wish and hope for the very best for their lives and to experience the kind of opportunities we have had. But I wish to tell my colleagues it is at risk. It is not a small risk, it is a great risk. Mr. President, 2012 is coming fast; 2012, that day when the baby boomers are taking both Social Security and Medicare, when we start down this road of $79 trillion worth of unfunded mandates. How can we be trusted to fix those problems when we can't even live within our own budget?

I said before, about a year and a half ago on this floor, that there is a rumble in America and it is real. The American people are sick and tired of the partisan games we play. They don't want to see Republicans pointing their fingers at Democrats. They don't want to see Democrats pointing their fingers at Republicans. What they want us to do is the job of governing within our means.

Our problem is we have difficulty identifying what is most important: Our political careers or the future of the country. What gets in front of us too often is how do we look good at home rather than how do we look good in the future so we secure the promise America stands for. My hope is we will work together.

One final comment on the farm bill. We need a farm bill, but we don't need a farm bill that continues to have programs that wealthy people who aren't real farmers take advantage of--people who aren't farmers, yet suck the money out of the farm program. Twenty percent of our farmers produce 80 percent of our goods, but a large portion of the farm program goes to gentlemen farmers--doctors, lawyers, who happen to own a small acreage and then suck the programs dry for their own benefit for things they could very well afford to pay for. So the farm bill isn't going to go forward until we have an open amendment process.

I agree with the majority leader. We shouldn't have all of these votes that aren't necessarily related to the farm bill, but we should certainly fix the crop insurance program. We should certainly mandate that if you are getting a government benefit as a farmer, you ought to be a farmer. You shouldn't be an investor who is investing in making money off the hard-earned tax dollars of middle-class America. That is what too much of the farm program is. We shouldn't be setting about saying that if we are going to incentivize to get greater production, and then all of a sudden if somebody is successful at it, then you can't do it anymore. If an incentive is put in place to work, then let's make it work. We haven't done that with ethanol. We haven't said you can only produce so much ethanol. So if an incentive works, we ought to use it. But we ought to make sure the people getting those incentives are real farmers.

Again, I thank the Chair for his indulgence and I yield back the remainder of my time.


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