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Congressional Budget for the United States Government for Fiscal Year 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I am going to spend a few minutes tonight on some observations. My hope is over the next couple of days to outline something that has never been done on the Senate floor before, and that is to discuss where we as a body fail. We are all the time telling the American people what we do great or how bad the other side is, but rarely do we take a look at ourselves and say: What is going on? What are the problems we face?

I had a great weekend this weekend in Oklahoma. Part of Oklahoma got snow, part of it had 65 degrees and Sun and no wind. But I had some experiences I want to share because I think they are pertinent and also poignant to the issue we are discussing.

I also note I have been listening to the debate all afternoon, and the debate is nothing but finger-pointing--one budget, the other budget, how bad somebody is, what somebody didn't do, what somebody wants to do. It strikes me that as I reflect on the people whom I saw this weekend and their hopes and dreams, most of this debate does not have anything to do with them. Most of this debate has to do with us, which is exactly the opposite reason of why we were sent here. What we have heard is a partisan debate, partisanship based on parties, not partisanship based on principles, not partisanship based on children, not partisanship based on the future, but who can twang it, who can manipulate it, who can create doubt and undermine someone else's position.

I traveled to Oklahoma City. My brother has been in the hospital for 16 days. He had a major operation called Whipple--it takes a long time to get over it--for pancreatic carcinoma. That is what they do the operation for. He has four kids and four grandkids and one on the way. I got to thinking, as he lay there with an NG tube in him and a feeding tube through his jejunum, what would he like for his kids? What would he like for us to be talking about for the future? Down the hall were a whole lot of other people just like him. He is 61 years old. He is not thinking about himself as he lays there in the hospital. He is thinking about what is the future for his grandkids.

I visited with one of my longest term friends this weekend. He is not thinking about himself right now. He is thinking about his grandkids. He has one and one on the way, going to be delivered this next weekend. He didn't mention one thing about himself. He mentioned about what the future was for his kids.

I think about the ladies whom I saw this morning in my medical office about to have babies. Their hopes and their dreams are about the generation that is to come, about how this miracle birth is going to take place over the next couple of weeks for both these ladies. One is named Natalie and one is named Brooke; one is a first-time mom, the other is a second-time mom. The things they are looking forward to with their children are totally dependent on whether we act as adults in this body.

I have just been struck at how far off the mark we are.

I think Kent Conrad is a great guy. I looked at what he did last year. He is a pretty fiscally conservative guy. Kent sponsored less than $20 billion worth of new spending over the next 5 years, total sponsorships. Many times in the last 3 or 4 years, we have had debates about how we handle the problems. The differences between us are not that great. What guides us, though, and what is destroying our country, I fear, is the fact that we are putting political parties and the benefits of the political budget ahead of the best interests of our kids.

One of the things I hope to do tomorrow is to outline for the American public and this body everything I found in the last 3 years in terms of waste on an annualized basis. I want my colleagues to hear that again. Everything I have found in terms of waste where we do not do it right, where we are wasting taxpayers' dollars every year, and I can conservatively, just on what I found and I can fully document--I want you to understand that, Mr. President; it is not Tom Coburn's opinion, it is the opinion of the GAO, the CBO, oversight committees, and other committees of Congress that are documenting what I am about to share.

What I am going to share tomorrow is how we fail because we are talking about a budget today--I told Kent Conrad, I am not out to game his budget. It will spend more money. That is not a whole lot different from what we have been doing. But how dare we spend another penny when I can document, and none of my colleagues can refute, $366 billion a year of waste or fraud, $366 billion a year. Let me explain what that means to the average consumer.

If you are at home today and you are in the 25-percent tax bracket in terms of income tax, what that means is that about 9 percent of the money you pay, we blow. So that is one-third, that is 9 out of the 28 percent, one-third of all the money you pay to the Federal Government, not counting your Social Security and Medicare taxes, but of your income taxes, one-third of it, we blow.

The interesting thing is that not since 1995 has the Congress done any rescission spending. Let me explain what that is. That is the Congress looks at our budget and says: Are there any areas where we can save money, where we are not doing well, where we can be more efficient, where we can improve things? We haven't had a rescission package since 1995. That is 13 years that we have not had a rescission package. There are lots of reasons for that, none of them good. It does not matter which party is in control. There has not been a rescission package for 13 years. So it is not about parties. It is not about gaming somebody because somebody is a Democrat or somebody is a Republican. Our problems in our Nation today are much more serious than partisanship. They are much greater than the beneficial effects of winning an election based on how you can make somebody else look lousy.

One of the important things I hope will come out as we go through this in the next couple of days is whether we really care about what is going to happen. We can look at the stock market--it has weak knees today; look at the price of commodities--it is rising. There is no secret we are in a time of economic weakness. Depression is described as two quarters successively. We are probably there. Nobody knows. Nobody has a crystal ball to know that. But the fact is, it is what we are leaving right now for these two, Brooke and Natalie's children who are going to be born in the next 3 weeks. What do we leave them? We are leaving them a gift, and the gift is debtor's prison.

Let me say that again. I don't say that lightly. We are leaving them a gift. According to the Government Accountability Office, if you are born tomorrow, you inherit $400,000 of unfunded liabilities. Does anybody know anybody who is working and struggling and making a middle-class income or even an upper income who is going to be able to afford that amount? Just paying the interest on it is $28,000 a year, and you have to absorb that by the time you get old enough to work. So we are talking about another $6,000 worth of interest before they start paying off any principal. So, in essence, the heritage through our incompetence, our bickering, our partisanship because we have to show somebody up, the heritage is every kid who is born, by the time they get a chance to work, is going to be accumulating about $1 million worth of debt. The question we have to ask ourselves is, What happens to them? What happens to the dream of a Brooke or a Natalie and their children? What is going to happen to them?

We are about this far from losing the triple-A credit rating on our country, on our bonds. At the same time, we see that in the last 8 years, the price of gold relative to the dollar is fourfold. What does that tell us? Is there a shortage of gold? No. Is there a fourfold increase in the demand for gold for industrial uses? No. It is a flight to safety because many people in the world do not believe we are going to be able to pay back the $79 trillion of unfunded liabilities we have left.

So as we come to a budget for the United States and we pass one--which we will, probably--we do it absent the light of looking at $360 billion-plus that is wasted every year--$360 billion. People might say: What is that? It is pretty easy. How about Medicare fraud, $80 billion a year. How about Medicare improper payments? We pay people when they do not deserve to be paid--not fraud, just incompetency--$10 billion a year. There is $90 billion in one program. There is nothing in this budget that fixes that situation. There was nothing in the Republican budgets that fixed that. Why not? I know the answer to why not. The answer to why not is because we were too busy making political games, political strokes. We were too busy being partisan. The time for partisanship in our country is past. We may not believe that, but history is going to show it.

David Walker, the Comptroller General of the United States, one of the fairest, most openminded men I believe I have ever met in my life, on Wednesday is leaving that position. Why is he doing that? He has a guaranteed job until 2012, a great job, head of an agency that really is stellar in what it does in its performance. Why is he leaving that position? Because he is scared to death for our country because nobody is listening in positions of power.

Nobody is paying attention to the unsustainable course on which we find ourselves. We are not. We haven't in the budget. We didn't in our budget. We are not. We don't on the supplementals that come through here to ``fund the war'' because we load up $20 billion to $30 billion more debt right on top of our kids.

We hear all these false numbers. Yes, I said false. The budget numbers are games. The President's numbers about the deficit are wrong. The Budget Committee's numbers about the deficit are wrong. They are not realistic. They do not take into account the fact that we are going to steal about $170 billion worth of Social Security money this year--I think $163 billion is the accurate number. We are going to write an IOU, and then we are not going to tell the American public that we increased the debt another $163 billion. We are just going to pass that along to our kids.

I have some little things for you to think about as we outline this. There is $2.5 billion a year in Social Security disability fraud. There is another $1 billion in improper payments. Think about this. Just $2.5 billion. Just $2.5 billion. Just 2,500 millions. Just 2,500 millions or 2,500,000 thousands. They are pretty hard numbers to get our hands on.

So anyhow, in the next few days, I am going to list out one by one, I am going to go through everything we have seen in the last 3 years that continues daily in this Federal Government that this body won't attack. When we offer amendments in this body, they are either accepted so they can be thrown out in conference when they actually do something, such as the census amendment that was in the Senate. We are now going to be asked for about $2 billion more for the census even though we have been saying all along there was a problem there. We ignored it, the House conferees with the Senate conferees ignored it, and now we are going to spend $2 billion more.

What we are going to do is outline thoroughly what just one office, just one Senate office, has found over 3 years, and it is all going to be fully documented, with footnotes, so you can see exactly where it came from. It is going to be indisputable.

Now ask yourself, if you are an American out there struggling to pay your gas and things are not looking great for the next 6 months for you, what would you think if all the Senators did that and we really did get rid of all the waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Government, or at least a meaningful component of it, and that we really probably could cut $600 billion out of our budget, which would mean we could either--if you wanted a bigger Government, you could do more, or if you wanted to pay fewer taxes, you could pay less? But most importantly, we could live up to the heritage that is ours, which is creating an opportunity for our children and our grandchildren in the future.

I am convinced that Americans aren't really asking for higher taxes. What they are asking for is smart spending, hard work by us to make sure what we spend is worth it. What they are asking for is no more earmarks. That is what 85 percent of them are asking for. And they are asking for no more bridges to nowhere and what it symbolizes in terms of excess, in terms of a lack of common sense or a lack of caring. I don't know which it is, but the fact is, we are on a collision course that is going to undermine the future of this country.

Will Durant, a historian, said that democracies never fail and are never collapsed from without until they have moral decay that causes the collapse from within. When we are spending the money of our grandchildren today and not doing anything about the waste we have in our budget, the question has to be asked: Are we already there? Have we already risen to the point where the political class, the political elites care so much about their positions--both parties--that they are willing to throw the future of the next two generations of this great country under the bus?

The next year is critical for this Nation, as we see what happened today in the stock market, another lower earnings, as we see consumer confidence decline. Wouldn't it be nice if the Senate stood up to the challenge that is facing this country and did so without the first partisan word about parties and said: Let's fix it. Let's fix it.

I have had an ongoing study since I have been in Government to ask Federal employees this question, and I have never had a different answer. And the question is this: If you are a Federal employee, no matter where you work, what branch you work in, or what you do, if you had to, tomorrow, for the sake of our future, become 5 percent more efficient--in other words, not spend $1 out of $20--could you do it? Do you realize I have asked that question thousands of times, and I have never been told no. I have never been told no.

Well, if that is the case, why aren't we doing it, when we are going to have a $607 billion deficit? We are going to be at $10 trillion of debt at the end of this year. That is real debt. That doesn't talk about unfunded liabilities, which are $79 trillion. So we have $10 trillion worth of debt, $79 trillion under infinity, of unfunded liabilities, and we don't talk about that.

How is it that we find ourselves allowing such things as the military to continue to hang on to buildings they do not want to the tune of $2 billion to $3 billion a year just in maintenance costs? How is it that we have $18 billion worth of buildings we don't want but we can't sell because of the roadblocks we have put in the way to be able to sell them? How is it that the Pentagon pays performance bonuses of $8 billion a year to companies that don't meet the requirements of performance bonuses? How is it that we are allowing that to continue to happen? We have known of that for 3 years. Why is it happening?

By the way, what is the big stir right now? The big stir is Boeing didn't get the contract and Lockheed--or EADS did. Nobody is asking the right question on that. It doesn't matter who got the contract. It is a cost-plus contract. If we don't know what we want in a refueling tanker now after 8 years of studying it, we are never going to know. So a $35 billion contract is going to become a $45 billion contract, just like all the rest of them. Instead, we ought to be insisting, if you are doing business with the Federal Government and making money, you ought to take some risk. There ought to be no more cost-plus contracts on procurements like that. There ought to be none. Whoever has that contract ought to take part of the risk for the American people because they are having a great benefit in terms of the profits they are going to make.

So we have a lot in front of us. What is $350 billion in annual waste? What does that mean? Here is what it means. It means $3,000 for every family. That is what we are wasting. Three thousand dollars for every family in this country we are blowing, that we are throwing away because we care more about partisanship than we do the future. We care more about making the executive branch look bad than we do the future. We care more about our earmarks than we do the future.

There is a legitimate role for the Federal Government to have the Senate and the House direct spending. That is not the dispute. But the way you do it best is through oversight, not through earmarking. The way you do it best is to know exactly what is happening rather than earmarking it. The gateway drug to overspending since 1998 has been earmarks because when you earmark, you don't vote against bills. What happens is, the next time you earmark, the committee chairman comes up to you and says: You didn't vote for my bill last time. Sorry, I can't fill a thing. So we have this almost extortion-like process whereas earmarks are granted to you if you vote for a bill. You are not even looking at the total bill, you are looking at the earmarks.

Do our children deserve better? Are they worth our sacrifice? Is it really worth it for us to not necessarily get what we want if we can secure the future? I am having trouble knowing whether this body really believes that. We have outlined to appropriations committees, everybody has been sent a report of everything we have found in the last 3 years, and it has been essentially ignored because we are too interested in making sure we beat the path to looking good at home.

When you take an oath to be a U.S. Senator--and I don't think this is said often enough--there is nothing in that oath that says anything about your State. I am not here to represent the vital interests of Oklahoma. I was elected by Oklahomans to represent the vital interests of this country. And when I get confused about where my loyalties lie, our country suffers, and that is exactly what is happening to us right now.

We have gone from 600 earmarks in 1998 to a high of 14,870, almost 12,000 last year. What is going on? Where is the common sense? People from Vermont to Oklahoma to California to New Mexico to Montana, they know better. So the special interests of the few are being advantaged while we sacrifice those that come after us. Now, that is a firm indictment. But you can't continue to waste $360 billion a year, ignore oversight, not do anything about it, and then puff up and say--Republican and Democrat--I am going to pass a budget and I am never going to look at any of that.

Well, that is exactly what my party has done. That is exactly what the party in charge today is doing. We are ignoring the very real fact that this Government needs hands-on management, it needs aggressive oversight, and it needs this $360 billion worth of waste eliminated in this budget. And if we pass this budget or any other budget--whether my party offered one or not, even the President's budget--if we pass any budget that doesn't take this into account, what we are doing is spitting all over the hopes and dreams of the youngest Americans in our country. We are saying: You don't count. We got ours, you will have to worry about getting yours. We will take, you will have to give. And, oh, by the way, we are sorry there is not going to be enough resources left for you to have a college education or to own a home or for us to defend ourselves or for you to have health care like many of us are going to have as we wander off at 65, knowing that you are going to be working hard through increased payroll taxes just to pay for the promises that we couldn't make efficient and that we overpromised.

So, Mr. President, I know I have carried on some tonight, but I think our problems are much more severe than what our behavior would deem. I think the degree of difficulty we find ourselves in today is directly attributable to our lack of courage.

We are more interested in not offending somebody than we are securing our kids' and grandkids' future. That is not something I want to be accused of. So I will take the ridicule of this body for being ``Doctor No,'' for saying: We are not going to spend more money on new things, we are not going to have more programs until we can pay for the programs we have.

And if it takes one person saying: I am not going to agree to pass bills under unanimous consent, I am not going to agree to not have the opportunity to amend them, then so be it.

The $3,000 per family per year is enough to make a difference, a big difference, in their future. I think Brooke's and Natalie's babies are worth it. I do not know about you all. I am ready to give up something. Most of all, I am willing to give up my seat in the Senate for doing what I think is right in the long term for our country.

If I do what is politically expedient and win reelection, what good is it if I have not fixed the very real problems that are facing our country? It is time for a gut check in this country. It is time for the American people to look at you, us, and say: Are you really doing for us, or are you really doing for you? My accusation is too often we do for us and not for the generations to come.

I will be back to outline in detail where this $360 million--billion; let me make sure everyone understands--$360 billion worth of waste, fraud, and abuse occurs every year in our budget, and we have done nothing. Let me say it again: We have done nothing about it.

How dare we talk about raising taxes. How dare we talk about anything except doing the business that should be at hand, which is being good stewards of our children's future.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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