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Public Statements

Restoring Highway Trust Fund Balance

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

RESTORING HIGHWAY TRUST FUND BALANCE -- (Senate - September 10, 2008)


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have listened to the debate today and the majority leader's remarks this morning, and I do appreciate the job my senior Senator has done in trying to secure funds for infrastructure through the trust fund. I intend to support passing this. Begrudgingly I will support it because I think it is the wrong way to do it. It is not wrong to put the additional money in there; it is wrong to not pay for it.

I can't help but note that the Senator from Washington stated that this is an emergency. Well, you haven't seen anything when you start talking about the emergencies we are getting ready to face. What about the emergency when, by law, Social Security benefits get cut, when we can't make Medicare trust fund payments? What emergency are we going to have? How is this going to compare to that? We are not allowed to do anything on this bill except debate.

I wonder what the American people would think, that we are going to spend an additional $8 billion that we don't have--whether it is owed to the trust fund or not, we don't have it--that we are going to collect that money but we are not going to pay for it out of some of the $300 billion-plus waste we now know exists every year in the Federal Government? Imagine if you applied that to your own situation. You have a family. You have an emergency, as the Senator from Washington said, but you know that about 12 percent of everything you spend in your household is wasted. Are you going to go out and make a note at the bank and have your kids be responsible for paying for it or are you as a family going to get rid of some of the 11 percent or 12 percent of pure waste, pure fraud that you have going on in your family budget? None of us in America are going to do that. We wouldn't do that to our kids. We wouldn't do that in our family budget. But that is exactly what we are doing here today. This is a small one. This is a small one we are facing.

We didn't have an amendment on the floor to say we will pay for this $8 billion by reducing the fraud in Medicare from $80 billion to $72 billion. There is $80 billion a year in fraud in Medicare. We weren't offered the opportunity to offer that amendment to get rid of the fraud in Medicare so we could afford to do this. It was just released 2 weeks ago that 31 percent of the payments Medicare makes are improper payments, with 80 percent of them overpayments. That is not included in the $80 billion worth of fraud. There is not any opportunity for us to offer an amendment to offset that incompetence and clean that up so we can pay for this.

There are similar projects in Medicaid. The Social Security disability trust fund--the GAO tells us there is $2.5 billion a year in fraud in the Social Security disability trust fund. We didn't have an opportunity to offer an amendment to get rid of that fraud to help pay for some of this $8 billion shortfall.

The American people are going to be scratching their heads. We are going to borrow more, and we are not going to eliminate any of the other problems, any of the other excess, or any of the other waste or fraud, which came to over $382 billion this past year of American taxpayers' money that was unwisely spent.

We weren't given an opportunity to get rid of the performance bonuses at the Pentagon that are $8 billion that they pay every year to Pentagon contractors who do not meet the performance requirements of their contracts but they pay them anyway. There was no opportunity for us to offer that amendment, to be able to pay for this rather than charge it to our children.

There is $15 billion worth of excess costs associated with no-bid contracts at the Department of Homeland Security. There is no opportunity to offer an amendment to change the discipline in the contracting at Homeland Security, which we could have easily done and mandated to pay for this. There is no opportunity to do that.

There is $4 billion in wasted excess payments for crop insurance every year. We, in fact, passed a farm bill, but we didn't fix that.

That is $4 billion a year of hard-earned taxpayer money that goes out the window, which doesn't benefit anybody. Yet we are not given an opportunity to try to grab that to pay for this, and $10 billion is wasted a year, at a minimum, on IT contracts in the Federal Government. There is no opportunity to offer to save that money to pay for the highways.

The American people have to be scratching their heads and saying: What are we doing? Why aren't we addressing the real issues? We need to build infrastructure, take care of our highways and bridges and our roads. That is what the trust fund is for. Why would we not pay for it when we have such a large amount of fraud, waste, and duplication in the Federal budget?

I could go on and on. There is mismanagement of U.N. contributions. We know at least $2 billion out of the $6 billion we send to U.N. is pure waste every year. There is no opportunity to offer that amendment against this. There is no opportunity whatsoever to say we are not going to send another penny to the U.N. until they show us how they are spending American taxpayers' money. The only government that is less efficient than ours is the U.N. The only one that obfuscates more of the numbers than ours is the U.N. The only one with less transparency than ours is the U.N. There is no opportunity to do that.

We wanted to offer an amendment because part of the problem with the highway trust fund is that too much of the money doesn't go for bridges, roads, and highways. My senior Senator is committed to making sure we get back on that with the next Transportation bill. We have 242,000 bridges in disrepair in this country--242,000. This body rejected fixing that. Instead, we went on to build bike trails. Which do you think is more of a safety concern, building bike trails or building bridges?

I hope the American people are paying attention to what we are doing and that they become very dissatisfied with what we are doing. We have earned our 11-percent approval rating. How we are handling this bill today exactly fits the expectations of the American people--that Congress doesn't get it, that we are different, that we don't have to meet the expectations that every small business and every family does. We don't have to eliminate waste because it may be hard to do or we may have to take a hard vote. We just fit the mold of their expectations. It is time for us to change that, not just for us but for the generations that follow.

I will state to you today that the estimates for next year's budget deficit are far under what it will actually be. We will be much closer to $1 trillion than we will be to $500 billion. Think about $1 trillion. That is $3,300 for every man, woman, and child we are going to spend next year that we don't have. We are not going to add it to the seniors because they are never going to pay it back. If you are born today, instead of owing $410,000, which you will ultimately be responsible for in terms of unfunded liabilities, we are going to move you to about $500,000. None of our kids can afford that. We are stealing America away from our children. The process--not the goal; the goal is a worthy one--under which we are doing this is something that cannot continue if our Republic is to survive.

Of every republic in the history of the world that has failed, none of them failed because they were conquered from without. Every one of them failed on fiscal issues. We should wake up. We should start addressing the waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication in the Federal budget before we ask the next child or grandchild to take on debt for our benefit.

Like I said, I support that we are putting the $8 billion in there. What I don't support is the process under which we cannot eliminate other waste, fraud, and other duplication to be able to pay for it. We do a disservice to our country and to ourselves, and we do a disservice to the body of the Senate.

With that, I yield the floor.


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