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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have to identify with the words of Senator
Hutchison about how the American public have to view this bill, especially in light of the fact of the stimulus bill we just passed. I will add some more to those comments as we go through this amendment.

This is a very straightforward amendment. It has been voted on by the Senate several times. Last time it passed 97 to 0. All it requires is that the money expended in this, where appropriate, be competitively bid.

I am sure there is going to be people who vote against this this time because of the situation in which we find ourselves. I wonder how you go back to your State and say that you do not think we ought to competitively bid the money we are going to spend on behalf of the American people. But some are going to say that.

We will hear all sorts of things. What this requires is all contracts, all grants, and cooperative agreements awarded under this act to be competitively bid. What do we know about competitive bids and what do we know that President Obama campaigned on? His campaign was, anything over $25,000 in the Federal Government ought to be competitively bid. So I have no doubt that my friend, the President, will endorse this idea. It is an essential part of his campaign to help us clean up the corruption, clean up the cost excesses, and clean up the overruns that we have seen.

The other thing is, we already have several laws that require it. But then we have words in the appropriations bill that exempt us from those laws requiring competitive bidding. So what do we do in this bill? We actually take away the enforcement of existing statutes so we do not have to competitively bid. Is it not interesting that the reason we do not want competitive bids mainly has to do with earmarks. It has to do with the fact that people have earmarks in the bill that they want to go to a certain set of people; maybe not the best qualified to perform that function or task under which the Government wants this service to be done, but you can bet your bottom dollar it is where the Senator or the Congressman wants it to go so he can get credit for it.

So not only do we have a tendency for less than sunshine, what we have bred is tremendous inefficiency. And it goes back to the very idea of why earmarks are so damaging to this country, which is because they give elevation and attention to the politically entitled money class. That is where 80 percent of the 7,700 earmarks in this bill are; they are to the politically entitled money class in this country, the people who can give campaign donations. That is who they are to.

So we do not want competitive bidding because the person we are counting on sending money back for a campaign contribution will not get the contract. So the deal does not get completed. In May 2006, the Senate voted 98 to 0 to require that we have competitive bidding on the stimulus package. We voted 97 to 0. What did we do in conference? They took it out so their friends do not have to competitively bid. Where I come from, in Oklahoma, we call that corruption. We call it corruption. That is a tough word. But that is what is going on with a lot of the money that our grandchildren are going to pay back that is going to go on this bill and in the stimulus bill.

The other reason we should do this is because no-bid contracts historically, when you look at them, never give value. What we get is cost overruns.

Great example: The census this next year is going to cost close to $20 billion. The census in 2000 cost $10 billion. Now we have to be scratching our head to say, why would it double? Well, $1 billion of that is because the Census Bureau had a no-bid contract for electronic data collection that fell on its face.

In spite of oversight by this body, in spite of assurances that it would not happen, we wasted $800-plus million on one contract that we cannot utilize anything from. That is the competency of no-bid contracts. If we do a review of this bill in the future, and we did not put in competitive bidding, we are going to see that same thing to a lesser degree across the whole board.

The other thing, the reason we should use competitive bidding, is that all of us would do it if it was our own money. We would want to get value. We would want to make sure we got the most value for the dollar that was spent.

We do not do that because it is not our money. Now there is a Congressman on the other side from Arizona who has above his desk written in great big red ink: The greatest pleasure in the world is to spend somebody else's money. But it instills all sorts of mischief when we do it.

So this is very straightforward, very direct. There are no tricks. It just says: Let's do what everybody else in the country would do who was making the decision about spending $410 billion. They would make sure each segment of it got some competitive bidding so we could reassure ourselves that at least we were getting value. It is not hard to do. It is easy guidelines.

It is straightforward. Let's not exempt this bill from that.


Mr. COBURN. This is an amendment that is about a serious issue. I agree that $10 million in a bill of $410 billion is not a lot of money in relationship, but let me tell you what this $10 million is going to do. There are 100 unsolved civil rights murders from the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s that have not been investigated, that have not come forward because Congress hasn't put the money there.

Last year, under great fanfare, several of my colleagues were critical of me because I wanted to pay for it as we passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime bill. What I said in opposing that bill initially, which I never was successful in getting it paid for, was that there is plenty of money at the Justice Department if we just direct the Justice Department to put $10 million to this. There are three cases recently that are coming due, three that have been solved now. We have several other leads. Timing is of the essence.

What I was told is: No, we will appropriate this money this year. That is what we were told. I won't go into the five pages of quotes by the general cosponsors of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime bill, about how they would put the money in right now. Guess what is not in this bill. What is not in this bill is any money to the Justice Department to be directed to the Emmett Till unsolved civil rights crimes. They said to my staff: Don't worry about it. There is plenty of money at the Justice Department to do it. So the same argument that was not good enough last year when we tried to pay for it is now turned around, and they say: It is the same amount of money. We now have it, in their judgment. But we didn't last year.

The fact is, there is a sham being perpetrated. It is to claim a moral position and say you will fund something and then, when it comes time to have to give up an earmark or have to eliminate something else, you can't quite have the courage to pull up to the level of moral transparency and keep your commitments.

The information is fading away quickly. They are old crimes. People who have testimony are dying and won't be available for the future. Yet we have the insistence to say it doesn't matter to spend that money now.

There is nothing in this bill more important than solving unsolved civil rights crimes. The reason is because it says something about our justice system. It says we realize that justice delayed is justice denied, and the hurt and trauma that came out of this country in the civil rights movement will
only get closed when we have true justice. For us to now in a petty way say: We will get it next year, do you realize that ``next year'' is coming September 30, and 6 months from now, two or three more witnesses will be gone, two or three more people who committed a crime will not get convicted because the evidence and the testimony will be gone? Yet we can't bring ourselves to the point of saying this is a priority. This says something about who we are, that we are going to give up a few earmarks so we can actually stand on the side of justice. The hypocrisy of the debate we heard last year and then what we hear today at the staff level about why we can't fund this is unfortunate.

I advise the Senator from Connecticut, I have two more amendments to offer. I will talk a very short time and then be finished, if that is OK with him.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Connecticut.

Mr. LIEBERMAN. I thank my friend. I have come over to speak in morning business, and I will be happy to wait until he is done.

Mr. COBURN. I will come back to the floor and discuss these amendments again, but I will give the courtesy to my friend from Connecticut of being fairly short.


Mr. COBURN. I gave my assurance yesterday to the majority leader that I would offer no division of any amendments so he would not worry that we would have more votes than he wanted. But I will make the point at this time, at the rate we are going, we will have less than 12 amendments on a $410 billion bill that spends $363 million a page. I would love for every American to know we are so good in the committee that none of us should be able to have significant amendments to modify this bill that I guarantee has $50 billion worth of waste, fraud, abuse, or lack of direction in how the money is spent. So to be able to get four amendments on the floor, just four on a $410 billion bill, which we are only going to spend 3 days on, I have to agree to limit what the American people should know about this bill. That tells you where we are in the Senate. But I agreed to do that to be able to at least bring some forward.

This amendment is entitled PMA earmarks. We are in the midst of an investigation of a lobbying firm that is alleged to have committed some very serious felonies. It is uniquely curious that as this has progressed, they have decided to shut down. However, within the bill, not through necessarily their clients' fault, and not saying what they are trying to do was necessarily wrong in terms of the intent of the earmark, within this bill are 14 earmarks that you can see, if you have any common sense, if you look at the lobbying efforts of the PMA firm and then look at campaign contributions in the Congress, you can see a very worrisome pattern. That is the very reason I don't do earmarks. If I did earmarks, the last thing I would do would be take any campaign money from somebody for whom I did an earmark.

Needless to say, the accusation and the alleged straw donor technique used by this lobbying firm to funnel campaign funds to Members who then give earmarks through this bill, 14 of them listed in this bill--all this amendment does is say: In the cloud of this and the way it looks, ought we be continuing to do that under the cloud of what look to be very serious allegations of impropriety at the least and, at the worst, quid pro quos for placing earmarks in campaign funds?

We will vote on this amendment. It probably won't pass. Then the American people make a judgment about how well connected we are to reality. The stench associated with this investigation is at the root cause of us having $300 billion worth of waste a year in Congress in the money we spend. It is at the root cause that we can't get commonsense amendments passed that lack competition, lack funding, real priorities in a timely fashion, such as the Emmett Till bill. This is at the root of it. It is the pay-to-play game. All this amendment does is wipe out those. It just strikes them. It won't delay the bill. It does nothing but strike them. If they are legitimate, let them come back in this next year's bill and be done in an ethical, straightforward, aboveboard, transparent manner that doesn't utilize the concept of under-the-table, false campaign contributions, allegedly.


Mr. COBURN. This is a simple little amendment. Out of the 7,700 earmarks,
I took 11 that looked a little stinky to me, a little questionable--just 11. If I had my way, I would offer an individual amendment on every earmark in this bill, but just 11. I will go through them very lightly for a moment, and then I will come back and talk on it later, maybe this evening.

I want you to put this in your mind, that this year we are borrowing $6,000 from every man, woman, and child. That is how much we are going into debt, $6,000 for every man, woman, and child. Put that in your mind as we talk about whether these ought to be a priority: A $1.9 million earmark for the Pleasure Beach water taxi service in Connecticut. That may be great to do, but we are borrowing all this from our grandkids. Our kids are already broke, so now we are borrowing from our grandkids. Our kids will never have the same standard of living we have. Now we are going into our grandkids, and next year we will be going into our great grandkids. Should we spend $2 million on a water taxi service? I will show the pictures later of where this is to. It will knock your socks off.

There is a $3.8 million earmark to preserve the remnants of the old Tiger Stadium in Detroit. It may be a good idea to preserve that. Should we be doing that now when we are borrowing all that money? Is that a priority for the Congress? If it is really a priority for the Congress, I don't belong here. I just don't think the same way the Congress thinks if that is a priority right now for us, to preserve an old stadium that we are not going to do anything with, and we can preserve it later, spending that kind of money.

There is $238,000 for the Polynesian Voyaging Society of Honolulu, which organization runs sea voyages in ancient-style sailing canoes. Tell me, as we borrow $6,000 from every man, woman, and child in this country, that is a priority. I can't see it being a priority. I don't think anybody from my State can see that being a priority. I don't know about the rest of the States. I would be interested to hear the answers of the Senators who are going to vote against this amendment and what they tell people. I would like to have it in my repertory. I would like to know what to tell people about this kind of foolishness.

There is a $300,000 earmark to commemorate the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on the arsenal at Harper's Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia. Let's do it for no money. Let's just commemorate it, and let's save 300 grand for our grandkids.

There is $1.719 million for pig odor and manure management in Ames, IA.

That goes to Iowa State University. Pigs stink. We know why. We know where they live. So is that a priority for us right now?

There is $475,000 for the Orange County Great Park in California. More millionaires live there than anywhere else in the world. Yet we are going to spend money for a new park now when we are borrowing this amount of money?

Here is my favorite: $200,000 earmarked for tattoo removal in Mission Hills, CA. We are going to take Federal money, send it to California, and say: You can have this money to remove tattoos. I would think under a personal responsibility platform if you were responsible for getting a tattoo put on you, you might ought to be responsible for getting it taken off, and I do not think our grandchildren ought to be paying for it.

There is $1.5 million for the California National Historic Trail Interpretive Center. We are going to build another interpretive center at a time of economic malaise--as President Obama calls it, a crisis. I do not think it is a crisis. I think we are in a deep slump, but I do not think it is a crisis yet. It is a crisis to those people who have lost their job. But the more we say ``crisis,'' the worse we make it. But we are going to do an interpretive center now? Is now the time we should be doing it, knowing we are borrowing the money? Remember, for every $1 million we borrow, we are going to pay back $3 million. I am not including long-term interest costs in any of these numbers.

Then there is a $5,471,000 earmark for the Harkin grant program in Iowa, which says Iowa gets treated differently than every other State in this country. They actually get direct money going directly for public education outside all the other programs. We have been doing it for years, but everybody else in this country gets to pay so Senator Harkin can look good in Iowa. I have attacked this earmark before. It is wrong. It is unfair. It is not befitting the body. But it is going to stay in. So we have brandnew schools in Iowa, and the rest of us deal with what we have in our States.

Then we have $380,000 for the construction of recreation and fairgrounds in a town in Alaska. It may be a good idea. But should we do it now? Should we do it at that cost?


Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that on amendment No. 623, lines 19 through 21 be removed.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Would the Senator clarify the language to be stricken from his amendment.

Mr. COBURN. On amendment No. 623, lines 19 through 21.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I wanted to spend a minute talking about the Wicker amendment No. 607. I am having trouble, from a philosophical viewpoint, understanding why the language is in this bill the way it is. There is no confusion as to my stand on pro-life issues, pro-choice versus pro-life. I stand in the corner of pro-life. But I want to debate this issue as if I were pro-choice, that I believe that the law as we have it today should be enforced. If, in fact, we believe that if, in fact, women have a right to choose, why in the world would we send money to UNFP that is going to take that right away from women in other countries? It is beyond me that these little six words in the bill, ``notwithstanding any other provision of law,'' are intended to eliminate the ability of the President to certify that our UNFP money is going to be used for coercive abortions and coercive sterilizations. I am having trouble understanding why those in this body who absolutely believe without a doubt that a woman has a definite right to choose on whether to carry a pregnancy to term, have a definite right to choose the number of children they are going to have or have none, we would allow this bill to go through here this way that will deny that ability to Chinese women.

If somebody in our body can explain that to me, I would love them to do so. You can't be on both sides of this issue. Either you believe in a woman's right to choose or you do not or you only believe in a woman's right to choose in America. And because the Chinese have too many people, you don't think that same human right ought to be given to women in China. I won't go into the details. There is no question that UNFP will mix this money, and we will fund forced abortions in China. That is what these six words do. They mean American taxpayer dollars are going to go to China to enforce coercive abortion against the will of women and force sterilization against the will of women in China. China is not in bad shape. They don't need our money in the first place. But then we are going to send that money over there to enable and allow that policy to progress. I find it disconcerting that anybody who is pro-choice could not vote for the Wicker amendment. Because what it says is, you are double minded. The standard applying in this country is one thing, but human beings throughout the rest of the world, that same standard doesn't apply. I think it is unfortunate that this was put in here. We will rue the day it was.

In fact, we lessen our own human rights campaigns for equal treatment and the protection of human rights around the world as we do that.

I yield the floor.


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