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Revolutionary War And War Of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Revolutionary War And War Of 1812 Battlefield Protection Act


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I wish to rebut some of what the Senator from New Mexico said in terms of the real property reform.

What you heard in his statements is a profound admission that we do not have the information right now. We do not have it. We have over 650 million acres of land, we have over 21,000 empty buildings now that we know of. That is just a guess.

How, in a time when we are going to run a $2.2 trillion deficit this year, can we say we do not want the tools to manage the real property in this country. The Executive order has not done it. It was basically about buildings, Federal buildings.

I worked with the OMB on that 3 years ago to set that up. Much to the avail, we now know we have the 21,000 buildings, but the Senate continues to block any real property reform so we cannot get some of the $18 billion we are wasting every year on those 21,000 buildings. We cannot get any of them sold; we cannot dispose of any of them; we cannot even raze any of the ones that need to be razed.

The very fact that we would oppose having the information we need to make real decisions, frugal financial decisions with America's taxpayer dollars, at a time when we are in an economic malaise, and have a deficit that is going to be $6,000 to $7,000 per every individual in this country is amazing to me.

This requires 1 year of hard work and requires very little work anyway after that. So it is not an onerous task. But even if it were an onerous task, the thing we ought to be doing is getting the information with which to make good management decisions, which we continue to not want to have, so it can be an excuse so we can do what we want to do without knowing what the facts are.

Nobody would run any organization without trying to know about their assets. Yet we are going to refuse to list out and know what we own, where it is, where we are behind, what needs to get fixed, and what does not need to get fixed.

Common sense would dictate that if, in fact, you have a large number of assets and a limited budget, and it is going to get more limited as the years progress given the tremendous borrowing, the tremendous taxing that is getting ready to come about in this country, common sense would suggest we know what we are doing and that we have the information with which to make good decisions.

To defeat this amendment says we want to continue to go on blindly; we do not want to have the information at our fingertips with which to make good, informed decisions about where to put taxpayer dollars. The very fact that the GAO now says we have between a $13 and $19 billion backlog just on structures in national parks and that the Department of the Interior is so far behind and is growing about $400 million every 6 months in terms of its backlog and for us to not know what is there and what should be prioritized to me is the height of foolishness.

So we can defeat this amendment, and we can continue to go on blindly, making poor decisions because we are not making them within the perspective of the complete knowledge of what we own, what is important, and what should be prioritized. The Senate continues to refuse to prioritize its spending. The whole purpose behind this amendment is to give us the knowledge with which to make those decisions. But our political nature tells us we want an excuse so we do not have to make those good decisions. We do not want to have the information.

Consequently, we put the credit card in, we spend money not wisely, not fiscally responsibly, and we charge it to our grandkids. At some point in time it has to stop. Now, it is probably not going to stop with this amendment. But you would not run your personal household this way. If you had your own business, you would never run it this way. You would never want your city government to not know what it owned and what its backlogs were, you would have an accounting.

States do not do that. But we do that, and we do it at our own convenience, which I think is a shame. It belies our responsibility to future generations. It also belies the fact that we need the capability to make the tough choices. Not having this information means we will continue to make
choices that are politically expedient but are policy poor and policy foolish.

So I understand--actually I do not understand. Let me correct that. I do not understand why somebody would not want this information, and why--even though it is hard to get the first year, why we would not want it.

Now, 100 percent of the Senators agreed we ought to have the Federal Financial and Transparency Act where we put online where we are spending the money, 100 percent of us. We thought that was a good deal. Here is another step toward transparency we can make that will give us information, give the American people the information to judge us.

If we are going to put X money on a certain project, they ought to be able to see it in relationship to everything else we are doing. We are going to refuse to do that. I don't understand why. I don't have a clue to understand why we would not want factual information with which to make priority decisions in terms of the Department of Interior and in terms of national parks and forestland. It belies any sense of reality and any connection with common sense that we would refuse to do that.

I retain the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Let me answer my colleague. There is an exception in this bill for anything of national intelligence or confidence, that it should not be related to the general public. It is already in there. So there is no problem where we would expose things we should not. It has been covered in the amendment. If Members truly believe we need to have the information, they need to be voting for the amendment. This is a wise approach to give us information we need to make cogent decisions.

I retain the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, that argument rings hollow. The two of you sitting right there have the power to amend and change this and fix it with what your concerns are. It hasn't been offered once. You say you are for it. You have the power to change it to meet what you think are problems with the amendment. Yet there has been no offer to do that. That says one of two things: Either you don't want us to have this information or you are claiming a false claim that there is a defect with the amendment. You have every ability to change this, offer an amendment, modify it with my consent to meet your needs, but it has never been offered. The real fact is, we don't want the information. We can't manage 650-plus million acres; we can't manage millions of facilities without the information. We are going to sit here in the dark of night and continue to throw darts, missing the dart board all the time with what we do when we don't have this information.

I yield back the balance of my time and ask for the yeas and nays.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I won't spend the time to refute all of what the distinguished Senator from California said, other than to note that in 1924 the salmon were gone from that river; before any of the water canals or anything else was built. We are going to spend $30,000 a fish based on the 300,000 salmon.

More importantly, this amendment talks about five total different earmarks in this bill. My office had a conversation with the mayor of St. Augustine, FL, this morning. Here are his words: I am really worried about the fiscal nature of this country. I am really worried that we are in real trouble, but I still want my money.

Well, the way a republic dies is when the constituency learns they can vote themselves money from the public Treasury regardless of what the overall financial situation of the country is. These are the main earmarks in this bill. The President has said he doesn't want a bill full of earmarks. This strips them all out. We can either do what the American people want--we can act fiscally responsibly--or we can continue the age-old process of putting our positions ahead of those of the constituents we represent.

With that, I yield the floor and ask for the yeas and nays.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I have just a few observations before we start the vote. This has been a long process on this bill. I appreciate the pain and patience of the chairman of the committee. He has been a gentleman to work with all the time in our discussions.

I also note for the Senate that over 70 of these bills could have gone by unanimous consent, but because we chose to have a procedure where up until now, over the last 2 years, no amendments were ever allowed to be offered on any of these bills--none; it was never an option--we have taken approximately 7 weeks on something we could have done in 2 weeks if we had an open amendment process like the Senate is supposed to. We find ourselves ping-ponging between the House and the Senate because we want to avoid the very purpose for which we are here, which is open debate and amendment.

It should be a lesson to us. The American people win when there is a debate. They lose when we use unanimous consent to pass something that is controversial. To say it is not, the average we got on our amendments was 31 votes. That is almost a third of the Senate. So to say we should pass legislation by unanimous consent when a third of the Senate does not agree, I would say there is a great lesson for us and that is, let's open up, let's have a debate, let's put a short period of time on it, and let's not have to use procedures to try to, in fact, get a debate for the American people.

I will also say, in looking at this bill, what have we done? There are a lot of good provisions in this bill. I am not opposed to half of this bill. Half of this bill I am adamantly opposed to.

I was thinking, as we recognize the Republican and Democratic staff, who is representing truly the American people rather than parochial interests and what staff worked on that? We went through this. We rejected transparency for the American people. We rejected the ability to know what we have and how to deal with it and how to manage it. We have said no by a vote of this body that we are not going to do that; we like the darkness, the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency that goes to the American people. We rejected eliminating earmarks. Every appropriator voted against that amendment, even though the President says and the American people say that is not the way they want to do business. But we rejected it.

We have rejected significant amounts of potential renewable energy. Ninety percent of all geothermal, potential renewable clean energy, is put at risk by what we are doing. I know that is disputable, but our own Secretary of the Interior this week said we should not put the cart before the horse. We should have good planning on where we are going with transmission lines, the grids, and everything else, so we can take advantage of solar, wind, and geothermal. But yet we have rejected that.

We have rejected prioritizing the needs of our national parks. That is what the Senate has done this week. We said: No, we are not going to do that, if we want to do something new, even though we have between $12 billion and $19 billion worth of backlogs, as the Government Accountability Office said we have significant health and safety risks for our employees and the American public who visit our parks--we rejected that. We said: No, we should not take care of what we have now before we start something new. We have done exactly the opposite of what the average American would be doing with their own assets.

The other thing we have done is we have taken a large amount of oil and natural gas and said you can never touch it again. Let me emphasize why. Of the 80 wilderness bills my colleagues put in this legislation, 35 of them, under the Wilderness Study Area they said they never should be put into the wilderness, and my colleagues put them in the wilderness anyway.

The whole project of having the Wilderness Study Area is to use the study to determine if an area should be wilderness. Not counting Colorado and Utah, my colleagues put 448,000 acres into wilderness that the study says should never go into wilderness area because they have significant oil and gas and other energy.

We rejected the process by which we do it because parochial interests have trumped the national energy needs of this country, and that does not count Colorado and Utah. Utah has a significant area. So probably well over 35 percent of all the land my colleagues have taken away and said forever we are never going to touch, we are never going to utilize the natural resources that this country could utilize when we are sending $400 billion a year overseas for carbon-based energy which we are going to do for the next 20 years no matter what, you have taken it away. You said never.

As I said earlier, you have taken clean renewables. We don't know what the percentage is but a significant percentage of geothermal for sure. A bill is going to be introduced that is going to take several hundred thousand acres out of the California desert by the Senator from California which is prime land for solar. It is getting ready to be introduced so that can never be touched.

We have to have energy, and we are ignoring assets that we have. We are putting into wilderness area assets that have significant energy. We are ignoring the process under which we said we would make those determinations. When well over 35 of the 80 were recommended they not be put into wilderness area, what are the American people to think? Where is the common sense to say maybe we ought to plan for the future? Maybe we ought to look and say: If we are going to go to a renewable portfolio totally of energy in this country, how long is it going to take us to get there and what do we need in between now and then to do that?

We are not making good long-term decisions with this bill. We are handicapping ourselves, and we are telling the Middle East: Go ahead and jack it up because we are going to limit our options with which we can balance energy needs in this country by what we are doing in this bill.

Finally, we have said in this bill eminent domain is going to be utilized. We say we are not going to do it, but we certainly said: American landowner, if we are there and if we decide we want to do something, we are going to keep it.

The fact is, one of the most painful things that occurs to an American citizen in this country is your land, without your permission, even though you are paid an equitable price for it, is taken from you. We said that is fine. We rejected that. Thirty-five Senators voted to not reject it but 60-some voted to reject it.

Let me summarize. We like our earmarks. We don't want to think long term on energy. We reject policies that say we should not put land into the wilderness area, but we do it anyway. We have taken away our ability to handle the next energy crisis, which is coming. We have told the American people we are going to keep eminent domain and, by the way, it doesn't matter if you own property, we will take it if we need it.

Besides all that, we have now more land area in wilderness in this country than we have developed land. There is 108 million acres now in wilderness in this country and only 106 million acres of developed land. When do we have enough? When do we stop tying our arm behind our back in terms of energy, whether it is renewable or carbon based? When do we do that? Is it wise and prudent to say we should not leave all options on the table for our energy needs for the future, whether it is green energy or traditional energy? Why would we send that signal to the rest of the world? And why would we do that to the American taxpayers?

What is going to happen on energy prices in this country is natural gas is going to double in the next 2 years, and it is going to double for a couple of reasons. One is because they cannot afford to drill for it right now at $4. No. 2, we are taking a large swath, 13 million cubic feet, one area you have isolated, enough to run this country for 2 1/2 years. It is proven, we know it is there, it is easy to get out, we don't have to do a whole lot more drilling, but you can't have it. We have taken 300 million barrels of oil in that same area and said: America, you can't have it. We know its there, its not hard to get out, but you can't have it.

And that is just in one of the ranges we are setting off to the side and not making available to the American public to lower their energy costs, to balance the supply-and-demand imbalance we will see in the future.

It is important that this bill was put together by combining what individuals wanted for their States. I know some of these land and water rights issues are complicated. I know the exchanges are hard, and I know protecting things in the right way is important. I know it is to the Senator from Idaho, the Senator from Alaska, and the Senator from New Mexico. But when does the overall best benefit for the American people start trumping things around here instead of what we want parochially?

I think we have two diseases. I think we have attention deficit disorder in the Senate to what the real problems are, so I think we need to be in a 12-step program to correct that. Then I think we have hyperparochialism in the sense that what is most important is what is important in my State; be danged what happens to the rest of the country.

Our country is failing in a lot of areas now, and most of it is our fault. But what we will ultimately fail on is when we start thinking more about individual States than the best long-term benefit for the country. This bill is a classic example where we put parochial interests ahead of the long-term interests of the country.

I worry about the grandchildren of this country. This is an $11 billion bill with $900 million in mandatory spending. When we have all these things we need to do that are a much higher priority, we are going to do this now. I am disappointed in us because we don't think long term, that we think short term. It is beneath the oath we take when we continue to do this. I want to be proud of what we do, and I want us to be above the influence of any short-term, any parochial, or any political decision.

The people in this body know me, that I go after Republican projects as much as Democrats. I go on the basis of what I think is in the best long-term interest. That is not to say my colleagues don't too, but as a collective body we have not been doing that. And we are not going to fix the real problem in our country, which is the economy. It is amazing to me that we are spending time on this bill instead of fixing the economic problems of this country; that we are sitting here and we have spent a total of 7 weeks in the last 3 or 4 months on this bill rather than working on the real problems and the real needs of this country.

The long-term future of our country is at great risk today, and I am not just talking economically. When we choose to protect home--i.e. State or city or earmark--at the expense of the long-term interest of our country, we won't last. What has made this country great throughout its years is we have had leaders who have said: The heck with my position. What is best for the country should come first.

The irony of that--and it is really paradoxical--is, when people see that, we restore confidence. When they see the opposite of that, they lose confidence in us. And we ought to be about restoring the American people's confidence. They are rattled today. They are rattled over the economy. They are rattled over their confidence in us, and we ought to be about restoring that. I don't think this bill does that.

I appreciate the patience of my colleagues. I have great respect for you. I know your sincere desires. But I truly think we need some coaxing to get our eye back on the ball.

Madam President, I yield the floor--I understand we will not vote until 12:20--and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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