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American Recovery And Reinvestment Act Of 2009 - Conference Report

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have been sitting here for about an hour. I have to think the American people are pretty sick of what they have been hearing. We heard the Senator from New York talk about how bad the Republicans were. We heard the Senator from Utah talk in Hobson fashion. It doesn't come anywhere close to solving the problem. I think we ought to have a discussion about how we got here. How do we find ourselves in the mess we are in? I think we can look at history.

There was a great historian named Alexander Tytler. He looked at the ancient Greeks and looked at what happened to them as they fell. He said this about republics. He said: All republics fail. They fail as soon as the people figure out they can vote themselves money from the public treasury.

There is no question we are in hard times. There is no question we need to do a stimulus package. There is no question the Federal Government has the power to make a big difference in a lot of people's lives who are hurting right now. I don't think it would be fair to say that there is anybody in this Chamber who doesn't want to try to accomplish that. The difference is, how do you do it? In doing so, what kind of problems do you create?

The way we got here is abandoning this little booklet. If you read article I, section 8 of the Constitution and then read what the Founders had to say about article I, section 8, it is called the enumerated powers. They were very clear in the role of the Federal Government. We are in trouble today, this Nation is in trouble today--not something we can't get out of, we can; not something that the American spirit won't overcome--because we let the politicians abandon the very clear rules and wisdom that was given to us by a unique, almost ordained group of individuals over 200 years ago who saw a vision and said: How do we keep this?

When we abandon this book, as we have and as we did, and we get into trouble, it is important to recognize what we did wrong, if we are going to try to fix it.

The other thing I am tired of hearing about--and I think the American people are too--this isn't a Bush, Clinton, or Obama thing. This is a Congress thing. No President can spend money without us allowing it to happen. I almost laughed when I heard the claims on the Senate floor from both sides about the trouble we are in and how we got there and deficits and the Senator from Vermont and his claim of a trillion dollars.

I think the CBO cost on that was $60 billion on estate taxes. But the idea that we would put a blame on anybody other than ourselves, the truth of that is, go look at the votes on appropriations bills for the last 8 years. It is nearly 100 percent on one side and almost 95 percent on this side of people voting to spend money we didn't have for things we didn't need.

It is important the American people, as they see us trying to work through a process, No. 1, reject any partisanship they will hear. When somebody starts being partisan, turn the TV off because what it means is, they don't have anything substantive to talk about if they are pointing their finger at somebody else.

The second question we ought to ask is, is what we are doing going to fix the problem? Here is the problem. The problem goes back to this. We set up two agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, to socialize the risk for homeownership, a total violation of what is in this book. It is a total violation. Then we said: Maybe we can help people a little more, so let's go to subprime mortgages and let's bonus the people who work at the GSEs, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The more subprime mortgages they take, the more money they make.

If I remember, one former leader of Fannie Mae made $140 million because we bought mortgages he knew people weren't going to be able to pay for, but the incentive was there, in a quasi government-owned agency, to do something that is outside of the enumerated powers of the Constitution.

So as we abandon principles, the best way for us to solve the problems in front of us is to go back and look at the principles.

The other concern is, do we have the potential to make things worse? Nobody has talked about that today. Does what we are doing have a potential downside? You can't talk to one economist who doesn't say yes. As a matter of fact, by CBO's own score, 10 years from now this will either have zero effect or anywhere from a minus 2 to a plus three-tenths effect on the economy. The reason for that is we are going to borrow so much money, as we do in this bill, we are going to crowd out private investment. The Government is going to have all the money, and people will not be able to borrow money to invest in new ideas which create opportunity, which create jobs, which create increased standards of living.

So going back, how did we get here and what is the real problem for us to create a stimulus bill right now, before we have a way to solve the housing and mortgage crisis--because the bank problem wouldn't be there if the mortgage and housing crisis wasn't there, for us to fix those first before we do this and for us to have a plan to do that--as a physician, one of the things I notice is, if somebody comes into the emergency room with chest pain, it is one of three or four things. Either they have an esophageal spasm or their esophagus is irritated or they have terrible reflux where the fluid from the stomach acid is burning the esophagus or they are having angina, heart pain, due to lack of blood supply. If you treat the symptoms, you can make that angina go away, but they still have a vascular abnormality around the heart that could kill them.

My worry with this bill is that we are treating symptoms. We are not treating the disease. We are arguing, partisan arguing: Was this a bipartisan bill, wasn't it a bipartisan bill; you did this over the last 8 years, you did this. We need the country thinking forward, not backward. The guide for that has to be the Constitution, which every Member of this body is sworn to uphold but violates daily. We are in this trouble because the Congress put us in this trouble. The blame lies solely here.

Let me talk about the bill for a minute. This is the bill. I won't pick it up and wave it around for fear I would be called into account of using theatrics. But do the American people realize nobody who is going to vote on this bill has read it? There is $727 million worth of spending on every page of this bill. That is what it averages out. So not counting interest, we have a less than $800 billion bill that had 30 amendments in the Senate before it went to conference. We hear they are accepted. Some of them were accepted. We voted on one unanimously, and it got thrown out in conference, just a simple little thing like maybe we ought to make sure that contracting is competitively bid. Now the language reads we ought to try to do that, but we will not make sure that happens.

I brought along with me, thanks to somebody down in the Senate gift shop, this little green item. It is called a thimble. In Oklahoma, we have a statement for that kind of thinking. It is called ``there is not any more commonsense than what can fit in a thimble.'' So when we take out something that is agreed to unanimously in the Senate to mandate competitive bidding so even if we are wasting money, we waste it efficiently, you have to wonder what is going on.

Let me tell you what is going on. This is a massive bill. Supposedly, it doesn't have any earmarks, which is laughable, if you have been around here any period of time.

The conference did clean it up so you can't truly find out where the earmarking is. You could find it out a little bit before it went to conference. Now you can't pinpoint it all. But we are going to move from earmarking to a concept called ``phone marking.'' It is a new concept. It is more powerful than earmarking. Phone marking is this: This bill gets signed, $500 billion of it is going to be disbursed through the agencies. Guess what is the first thing that is going to happen after President Obama signs this bill. Members of Congress and Senators are going to be on the phone saying: I want this money spent here and here and here, and if you don't, in your appropriations next year, you are going to suffer.

That is exactly what will happen with the money in this bill. Everybody who works inside Washington knows exactly that will be what happens.

We have heard talk about the earmarks. I won't try to repeat some of the things that are in this bill. But I will talk about one. We have a private company that was developed. It has spent several million dollars developing a railroad from California to Las Vegas.

Do you know what this bill does? It wipes them out. They invested private capital to develop a railway. In excess of $10 million has already been invested in that, and with the wisp of one earmark, we are going to bankrupt people who invested their life savings to try to do something good because the Government is now going to do it through an earmark and going to try to accomplish something that has only been done in one country and not effectively. It costs $100 million a mile to build a maglev train, and we are not going to see any of that money spent for 4 or 5 years because the technology is not here.

That aside, there also was an amendment that truly would have done something to fix the real problem: housing--the Isakson amendment, with a $15,000 tax credit, if you are buying a primary residence, whether it is a foreclosed home or a new one. It would have done something magnificent in terms of lessening the crisis in housing.

What did we do? Out. It had an overwhelming vote in the Senate, but it is out. How do you explain that? What is going on here? What is going on here is the initiation of what Alexander Tytler talked about: the failure of a republic. And it is about short-term politically, expedient thinking to the benefit of politicians, instead of what is the best right thing we can do for our country.

The very claim that Senator McCain did not offer a substantive bill that would have significantly increased the number of jobs created, at a significantly lower cost, as scored by CBO and as scored by outside economists, is a spurious claim.

Another thing that got added into the bill is the most dangerous precedent for health care in this country we have ever seen. We are now, with this bill, embracing Great Britain's health care system. What we are saying is that we are going to allow the Government in the future to decide what care you will get. It is called comparative effectiveness, and it is going to be based on cost, not clinical outcomes. We are going to abandon the knowledge of physicians, the experience they have with their patients, the 8 to 12 years of additional training they have and the lives that have been dedicated to improving the health of their patients. We are going to abandon that to a bureaucracy where the Government says: We know best.

We are going to do that because we cannot afford Medicare in the future, and we are going to say, just like England says, if you only get 1 more year of life, then the most we can spend on you is $49,000. If you are 75 years of age and you are a Medicare patient and you fall and break your hip, we are sorry, we are not going to do it because it is not cost-effective.

The first leg of you losing a doctor-patient relationship and the freedom to have health care decisions made by you and your caregiver is buried within this bill and will kill health care in America as far as its quality. You will get access--you will get to wait just like Canada and England do--but you will kill the quality and will kill medical innovation in this country. This country leads the world. Mr. President, 7 out of every 10 major breakthroughs in medicine occur in this country. And the reason? It does not mean we have a good system now. It needs to be improved.

Here is the theory as I have observed it in the 10 years I have been in Congress: Never do what is best when you can do what is safe. That is how it operates in Washington and throughout the Federal agencies. They are risk averse, just like the politicians are risk averse to challenging priorities in this bill, that we ought to have priorities to spend the money for what would get the most jobs, the most economic benefit.

I had an amendment that was adopted. It had 73 or 74 votes. It got watered down and divided in conference because a lot of special interest groups said: Oh, no. You can't do that. So what did we do? They are not a priority as far as what we should be doing right now. As a matter of fact, 80 percent of--most of the groups that were complaining about it get their funds from private sources. The best way to get them funded back up is getting private sources moving again in terms of the economy. But what did we do? We chose the politically expedient path. Again, it was not often thought of--political expediency--by the people who created this country who risked their lives and their fortunes to make sure we have the freedom we have today. But yet we are abandoning that.

It comes back to: What is our heritage as a nation? What is the heritage we as a nation have been brought forward with? I will tell you what I think it is. I think the heritage we have is that one generation was willing to make hard choices and hard sacrifices so the generation that followed would have greater opportunity--greater opportunity--a higher standard of living, more freedom, more liberty.

What have we done? We are going in reverse. What we have been doing for the last 10 to 15 years in this country, what we have been saying is we will take it now. Kids, you lump it. As an example of that, if you look at 2008, the Federal Government spent $25,000 per household of your money. A good portion of it--a third of it--was borrowed. But we spent $25,000 as a Federal government per household. With this bill, we are going to spend $38,000 per family--just with this one bill. And we are hurrying it up. We have to get it done right now because there are CODELs, trips, and junkets waiting for Members to go on, including the Speaker of the House.

So we have a bill that nobody has read, that has some real questions about whether it is going to be stimulative, that has taken out good financial controls such as competitive bidding, taken out listing priorities, and we are going to vote on it tonight, with nobody ever having read it. That is about as bad as the partisan bickering we have heard.

Does it serve us well to hurry and do something when we do not know what we are doing? Now, there are some staff members who know some of what is in here. But there is not one person who knows the full extent. Mark my words, within a month, we will be back in here passing a bill to do all the corrections to this bill that we do not have right and correct at this time. That is how sloppy we do our work. So it is not only sloppy in terms of our effort, it is sloppy in terms of our theory.

I would also add we are going to move from $2,000 per family in interest costs to $4,817 per family this next year. Now, in my State, the average family income is below what the Federal Government is going to spend with this bill. In my State, average family income is under $36,000. Yet we are going to spend $38,000 this next year per family in this country, and we are going to justify we had to do it to get us out of trouble. And we are going to do it because we did not fix the real problem, we are treating the symptoms. We are all going to feel good, and we are all going to take the invite of the Senator from New York to come on over and join us.

The fact is, my oath as a Senator should disallow me from ever voting for this bill. Anybody who votes for this bill will be violating their oath to this Constitution. America demands something be done. They are right. We need to do something. Should we do it sloppily? Should we do it without focus? Should we do it without temperance? And should we do it in a timely manner to make sure we are not treating the symptoms as reflux or esophageal spasm, but we actually go in and take the clot or the plaque out of the artery that surrounds the heart? Isn't that what we should be doing? Shouldn't we be fixing the real problem?

While we are at it, we ought to be fixing us because we are the cocommitters of the real problem. Shouldn't we all be thinking long-term rather than short-term political benefit? Shouldn't we be realizing what is expected of us?

I would hope Americans tonight, if they have children, will go and look into the eyes of their children. There is something you see in children in this country that is very different than when you look in the eyes of some starving African child or some Third World country child. What you see, when you look into those beautiful brown, blue, green or hazel eyes, is hope.

I think about my four grandkids and the one who is on the way. When I look in their eyes, I see hope. Then contrast that with the pictures you have seen of the despair and look of no hope of the kids around the world who have not had the opportunity of this country. What we are doing is we are stealing some of that hope tonight from our children.

If you do not have a young child but you have one who has grown up, think back to that picture you have on the wall and look into those eyes and say: Do you want to steal that hope? Because that is what we are doing. We are limiting their liberty economically. We are limiting their freedom to be the best and brightest and have the greatest potential that any society has ever offered their youngest citizens. That is what we are doing with this bill.

I will close with this and reserve the remainder of my time. There was a President we had who made a statement that was fairly popular, but it has great application right now. He said: Freedom is a precious thing. It is a precious thing. It is never guaranteed. It is not ours by inheritance. It has to be fought for and maintained and won by every generation.

As we embrace this bill, we are selling out the heritage of our country. We are denying the hope and joy in those young eyes and we are limiting the freedom our children will enjoy. We can do better. We must do better for this country. Our country needs statesmen who will sacrifice themselves for the best interests of the country rather than the best interests of their party or the best interests of their political career.

Freedom is precious. We are going to take a bit of it away tonight. It is going to go away, and you will see a little decrease in the glimmer of those children as they contemplate and we contemplate their future.

Mr. President, I reserve the remainder of my time.


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