BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I am sorry I couldn't be down here this afternoon, and I apologize to my colleagues that we will have a delay on this bill, probably with cloture, until tomorrow morning. My statement is in no way meant to reflect any ill will on Senator Akaka or Senator Collins or Senator Voinovich or Senator Lieberman, but we have before us in this amendment something that is intolerable to the unemployed people in this country today, or should be intolerable to everybody.
In fact, what we are going to do is take $3.1 billion and give it to Federal employees in their retirement systems and adjustments to retirement systems when we have 9.5 percent unemployment and we have six States with over 15 percent. What we should be doing is taking that $3 billion and making sure we are creating jobs so people have jobs in this country rather than paying Federal workers.
I want to enter into the Record what the average pay and benefits are for Federal employees because most Americans are unaware.
The average Federal pay and benefit for an employee of the Postal Service is $80,353 a year. If you work at the Pentagon, but you are not a soldier, your average pay and benefit is $89,000 a year. If you are a soldier, it is about $25,000 less than that. The guy taking the bullets is making $25,000 less than the civilians working in the Pentagon. Then you have all the rest of the Federal employees, and their average is $113,000. That is twice what the average wage in this country is, and we have attached this amendment to this bill--an amendment which has nothing to do with the Defense Department, it has to do with adjusting pension benefits for Federal employees outside of the Defense Department.
I think our Federal employees are valuable, and I do not mind paying them. But I do mind spending more money at that level now when we have a large number of people who are unemployed. If we count people who are not looking for work anymore because they are so discouraged, we have over 15 percent unemployment. The very idea that we would take $3.2 billion from our grandkids to add to a program, when we have millions and millions of Americans not collecting a paycheck at all, to me, is inappropriate. We can't afford it because we are going to charge it to the next two generations. We don't have the money.
That reminds me. If we go back and talk about where we are in this country, we have the first $4 trillion budget ever, this year. That is what is going to be spent--$4 trillion in 1 year. We are spending $1 trillion more this year in the last 7 months than we did last year in this country. We have passed bill after bill after bill after bill that we can't afford to buy things that we don't need with money we don't have.
Let me, for my colleagues, read the unemployment rates throughout the country: Alabama, 10.1 percent; Alaska, 8.4; Arizona, 8.7; Arkansas, 7.2; California, 11.6; Colorado, 7.6; Connecticut, 8 percent; Delaware, 8.4 percent; Washington, DC, 10.9 percent; Florida, 10.6 percent; Georgia, 10.1; Hawaii, 7.4 percent; Idaho, 8.4 percent; Illinois, 10.3 percent; Indiana, 10.7 percent; Iowa, 6.2; Kansas, 7 percent; Kentucky, 10.9 percent unemployment; Louisiana, 6.8; Maine, 8.5 percent; Maryland, 7.3 percent; Massachusetts, 8.6 percent; Michigan, 15.2 percent.
What would the people of Michigan do with $3 billion to invest in jobs in Michigan right now?
Minnesota, 8.4 percent; Mississippi, 9 percent; Missouri, 9.3 percent; Montana 6.4 percent; Nebraska, 5 percent; Nevada, 12 percent; New Hampshire, 6.8 percent; New Jersey, 9.2 percent; New Mexico 6.8 percent; New York, 8.7 percent; New York, 11 percent; North Dakota, 4.2 percent; Ohio, 11.1 percent; Oklahoma, 6.3 percent; Oregon 12.2 percent; Pennsylvania, 8.3 percent; Puerto Rico, 14.5 percent; Rhode Island, 12.4 percent; South Carolina, 12.1 percent; Tennessee, 10.8. If I missed South Dakota, it is 5.1; Tennessee, 10.8 percent; Texas, 7.5 percent; Utah, 5.7 percent; Vermont, 7.1 percent; Virginia, 7.2 percent; Washington State, 9.3 percent; West Virginia, 9.2 percent; Wisconsin, 9 percent; and Wyoming 5.9 percent.
Those are just percentages. But you know what they represent? They represent real hard-core pain for American families today. The fact that we would have the gumption to come and take another $3 billion from them to increase the benefit structure of Federal employees at a time when what we should be doing is seeing how we can become more efficient in the Federal Government and spend less money in the Federal Government flies in the face of the difficulties that these individuals find themselves faced with.
If you look at what is actually happening to our country and take the 75-year projections, this year we are going to spend under $200 billion in interest. Eight years from now we are going to spend $806 billion in interest just on the interest rates we have today.
How many people believe we will have a Fed discount rate of a quarter of 1 percent 8 years from now and that we will be able to borrow money on a 10-year T-bill at 3.6 percent? It isn't going to happen. We are going down the road to destruction, and we are clueless about how to solve it.
So if we add up the 75-year projected unfunded liabilities for Medicare and if we add up the 75-year unfunded liabilities for Medicaid and if we add up the 75-year unfunded liabilities for Social Security and if we add up the 75-year unfunded liabilities for Federal employee retirement and if we add up the 75-year unfunded liabilities for military retirement and if we add up the 75-year unfunded liabilities for every other trust fund this Congress and Congresses before have robbed the money from to spend now--which should have been endowed--what we come to is $100 trillion.
If we look at what our population is expected to be then, and the percentage that would not be working in the workforce--in other words, the very young children and the very large 40 percent of that population that is going to be retired--what we end up having is an unfunded obligation for every one of those people who are going to be the taxpayers of $500,000 apiece. That doesn't include the debt we have now, which is $11.4 trillion--which is going to double to $22 trillion over the next 10 years--and the internal debt of that will triple. So now we have $122 trillion worth of liabilities. Yet we are saying, now is the time to increase the benefits for Federal employees.
I don't deny that the Federal employees do great work. But when you look at what the average pay plus benefit is for Federal employees versus everybody else in the country, now is not the time to do it. Not only because, No. 1, we can't afford it; but, No. 2, it is patently unfair to everybody else in this country based on the average salaries.
So the fact that we would add an amendment onto the Defense bill--because it is a bill that is going to move; there is no question it would not survive cloture--that doesn't bother me. I have done that a lot. What bothers me is that we lack the perspective of what is happening. We passed a $787 billion stimulus bill, of which only $80 billion has gone out the door. The unemployment rate is still rising--and I am not critical. This body passed it. But it is not going to be highly stimulative because most of it was not meant to be stimulative. It was meant to be transfer payments. But we have spent that, and that is all borrowed money. We passed an omnibus. We passed a supplemental. None of that was paid for. Not a penny of it was paid for. That is all borrowed.
So what we have done is we are going to add $2.2 trillion to our debt this year, and now we have something that, well, it just adds a measly little $3.2 billion. But think about what $3.2 billion would do to help people who don't have a job in this country today. Instead, we are going to enhance the benefits of Federal employees. To me, it is an insult to every other worker who is out there who is either struggling to keep their job--and, by the way, we are going to add 100,000 Federal employees this year. So these numbers are underestimating what the real cost is.
Here is the amendment. It is 49 pages long. It has six major titles in it--adjusting. We allow people who left the government to come back and put their money back in, and we will say: Oh, you didn't leave, so you didn't lose any of your retirement. You still get it compounded.
We have institutionalized sick pay and we have made it an entitlement. We have said everybody who has ever worked for the DC government, they can work for the Federal Government and all of their retirement years will transfer to the Federal Government. But we don't do that for anybody else who works for any other State government. We certainly don't do that for people who have retirement plans from any other company. We don't add that retirement to the Federal Government's. So why are we doing things that are patently unfair to the rest of the American workforce in this country?
I plan on speaking on this bill until cloture ripens, which means we are going to be here all night. Until this amendment is withdrawn, I will stay here, or I will have a colleague stay here, and we will talk about how this country is out of control in its spending. We will talk about how we have failed the American people by not being good stewards; how we have not done oversight on the $350 billion worth of waste every year. Not one amendment has passed that has gotten rid of any of the waste that this government wastes every year. Not one has gotten through this Congress. Not one.
We are getting ready to work on a health care bill. We have been working on it. We have spent a ton of time on it. We have $120 billion worth of fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, but we haven't addressed that at all. It is not being addressed. We are twiddling our thumbs as Medicare goes bankrupt, while Medicare doesn't offer the services that are promised, and we are going to create another $1.6 trillion worth of cost for the American people. The only thing I can figure is that Washington thinks we can spend more money to save money in a significant way. We have been trying to do that since 1965 and it hasn't worked once, and it isn't going to work this time.
Let me mention, for a minute, just some of the things that we have been doing that do not fit with the priorities of American citizens. It does not come anywhere close to matching what every family in this country is doing today. Here is what they are doing.
First of all, they are scared and they are fearful and they are worried. Do you know what they are doing? We see it in the economic statistics. When consumer spending drives normally 70 percent of our economy, we have the highest savings rate we have had in 40 years because they are afraid to spend. One of the reasons they are afraid to spend is because they don't trust what we are doing up here. They think things might get worse. I think things are going to get better, but they are certainly not going to get better by spending another $3.2 billion in this way.
What they do is they sit down as a family and they say here is what is coming in and here is the auto payment and here is the house payment and here is what we have to have for groceries and here is the utility bills. What is left? In other words, they make a list of priorities. They decide what has to be done, what must be done, but what they want to do comes last because we are in tough times. That applies to almost every family in this country. It implies heartaches because it means a father is not doing something he would like to do for his son or a mother is not buying a new dress for a daughter to help her own self-esteem in comparison with other children. It has real-world factors on families.
They make those hard decisions every day, absolutely every day. The reason they make those hard decisions is they do not lack the courage to face reality, such as we do. They also do not have the other option we have, and that is charging our lack of courage to the next two generations.
Most Americans are not cowards. They look at the real world, they look at what is responsible of them, what decision is going to have to be made. They dig in their heels, they work and work to solve the problem, and they will go through tough times doing the very best they can to make good of a bad situation.
That is opposite the behavior this place has been displaying. We have ignored the fact that we have $11.4 trillion worth of debt. We passed a stimulus spending bill, of which less than $150 billion was true stimulus. We have created dependencies of, now, the States. Anytime they are in tough times, they have now been infected with our illness: Don't worry about it, we will just charge it to the next generation. Because every State we helped through the stimulus we did charge it to the next generation. We have now instituted lack of discipline by every State legislature in the country because now they no longer have to worry about it. The Senate will just borrow from their grandkids and send it to them and now they don't have to worry about it, they don't have to have any courage to make the tough decisions.
What all have we done that would secure the honor of the American people, that we are working for them? What symbol have we given them, in terms of limiting our excesses in Washington, that might give them hope?
The Akaka amendment is the opposite of that. It is saying: You don't get it, your priorities are not right. You think you can forget what has happened to us. You think you can charge it to our grandchildren and our children. You think you can steal their opportunity and nobody is ever going to know it.
I have barked up this tree a lot in the last 5 years in this body, and I am not ever going to stop barking up this tree because it is morally wrong to steal the future from your grandchildren. It is morally wrong. It is not just ethically wrong, it is not just conveniently wrong, it is morally wrong to take the great attributes of this country away from your children and grandchildren. It is time for some grownups to start making hard decisions that may cost us reelection but are in the best long-term interests of this country.
So this issue is not going to go away. I may ultimately get defeated on it, but those families out there who do not have a job, those families out there making those hard choices every day--every night worrying where is the money to buy the food that is going on the table the next day, who still have a job--they are going to know somebody is going to fight for some common sense in the Senate.
There is no question, I lost this amendment in committee. I was mortified at the lack of sensitivity to the rest of this country, placing Federal employees' very good benefits--enhancing those above the negatives that are occurring to every family in this country based on our economic situation. Even if we were not having a tough economic time, it would still be wrong to do this. It would still be incorrect to do this.
If you think for a minute about what it costs to fund the interest costs on $500,000--if it is 6 percent, it is $30,000 a year. If I were a schoolteacher here and we had a blackboard, I would be making everybody write home that I am sorry I am stealing $30,000 a year from each of your children. That is what I would be doing--I am sorry I am stealing $30,000 a year just to pay the interest, never mind paying the principal off, on what we have accumulated.
Take a young child 6 years of age today and extrapolate that out to right before their retirement. What you have done is you have stolen their opportunity to have the American dream because it is not just going to be the $30,000, because all the years they can't work it is going to build that they will have to pay and all the years in their retirement are going to be less because they will not have the benefits.
By the way, if you are a Federal employee and unhappy with me trying to defeat this amendment, you should pay attention to something. There is no guarantee to your Federal pension based on the economics we face today in this country. If you think it is guaranteed, you have another thought coming because the world economic system is going to determine whether we can honor that pension. That is what is coming. We are very close.
It was not long ago that Alan Greenspan was asked a question: What is the maximum limit which we can borrow? There is a lot of question about whether people want to loan us money anymore. What he said is, I don't know what it is, but I can tell you we are getting very close.
What happens to us when we tap out? You know, he is not an unrespected thinker in materials of economics and banking.
Here is what happens to us. Interest rates that are 3.6 percent for a 10-year government note go to 7 percent, 8 percent, 9 percent, 10 percent. All of a sudden, the cost of funding our debt becomes $2 or $3 trillion a year, 20 years from now. What is the option? The option is there not be any government pensions, there will not be any Medicare. We will barely have money to defend our country. All these wonderful Federal programs that we have, most of which have a duplicate somewhere in the Federal Government that they defend, that we cannot get rid of because they have a constituency that somebody might be afraid, if we eliminate some of the $350 billion in waste, fraud, and duplication, they are not going to be there.
So what it comes down to and what we are facing is, can our Republic survive our excesses? Can we survive this tremendous direction that we have stepped away from reality, saying economic forces do not apply to us? The answer to that is no. There will not be a Federal pension when interest is at 10 or 12 percent and we have $35 or $40 trillion worth of debt.
Mr. McCAIN. Will the Senator yield?
Mr. COBURN. Certainly.
Mr. McCAIN. Does the Senator have an estimate how much this will cost the taxpayers?
Mr. COBURN. Over the first 10 years, $3.3 billion.
Mr. McCAIN. I understand from the amendment there is a provision that all the money is paid back.
Mr. COBURN. It is another trick and game. There is an assumption it will be paid back, but it will never be paid back. What it will do is increase the obligations of the Federal taxpayer--that is myself and you and all your families and everybody we represent--the liabilities of the people who are going to get the benefit from this amendment.
Mr. McCAIN. Could the Senator tell me the connection between this amendment and the Defense authorization bill?
Mr. COBURN. There is no connection between this amendment and the Defense authorization bill.
Mr. McCAIN. May I say to the Senator from Oklahoma, I am in agreement. We do strange things around here, particularly late in consideration of the bill. I thank him for at least bringing it to the attention of the American taxpayer.
Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to finish my line of thought because what I sense is the American people get it and we do not. The American people are worried we do not get it. They are worried we think we can continue spending money, not reform things, not make things more efficient, not eliminate duplication. What they know is this is not monopoly money. They know this is not ``not real money.'' They know this issue about us having common sense, about us being fiscally responsible--they know the future of their children and their grandchildren depends on whether we start acting the same way every other family in this country has to act. That is in the real world. It is not in the world of Washington that: Don't worry, we will put it off because the next election is much more important than I addressing this and taking the next tough vote. We are going to put it off.
I say to my colleagues, I have plenty of topics. I am going to spend the next couple hours going through waste so the American people can actually see how well we have done with their money--waste and earmarks and things that benefit the well-heeled and the well-connected but hurt your children and hurt your grandchildren.
Before I do that, I wish to spend a moment talking about what the heritage of our country is. How did American exceptionalism come into being? How is it that this became the greatest country in the world, that had more technological advances than anybody else in the world? That created the highest standard of living of any society ever known in the world? What was the glue, what was the key, what was the characteristic that allowed that to happen?
I will tell you what it was. It was called sacrifice. If you think back four or five generations in your family and you try to find out what was going on, no matter what your racial background is or what your lineage is, what you saw was people willing, absolutely willing to sacrifice the short term to make sure the long term was better for their children, their family, and their grandchildren. That is what I call a heritage of sacrifice. It is what made us great. It is what created this vast, great country.
I am sorry to say that, since I entered the area of public service--and one of the reasons I entered it was because I didn't see this trait--is that, since 1994 I have not seen any change. Actually, it is worse.
When you take the oath to be a Senator, what it says is you will do what the Constitution says. You will uphold it, you will make sure it is protected, that you will follow it.
I have a bill, it is called the Enumerated Powers Act. It has a lot of cosponsors, but none of the big spenders here want to cosponsor it. Do you know why? Because it creates a challenge for wasteful spending. What it says is what our Founders thought was pretty important. They very clearly, in article I, section 8 of our Constitution, listed out what the responsibilities of the Federal Government are. They listed them out. What Madison and Jefferson wrote about when they wrote in article I, section 8, they said people are going to try to say it is something different than this. They are trying to say the general welfare clause is we can do anything we want. The commerce clause is--don't believe them. That is not what we intended. Yet that happens every day in this body. We abandon the intent.
We just had a hearing on a Supreme Court nominee and one of the questions she was asked by a lot of us was: Are you going to uphold the Constitution?
Well, my thoughts and prayers would be that she will do a better job than we do, because we get an F. And the American people know it. They know we cannot tolerate this spending. They know we cannot tolerate this debt. They know we cannot tolerate raising taxes on the American people if we are going to hope to get out of this. Their wisdom needs to be brought here. And the way you bring your wisdom here is to let us know. Hold us accountable. Call, e-mail, go to the offices, write to our homes, make sure that people who are representing you uphold that oath of fulfilling the Constitution, honoring the tenth amendment.
You know, our Founders in the Bill of Rights put in the tenth amendment, and it is a very important amendment, because it says: Whatever is not spelled out specifically under article I, section 8--here is the limited things the Federal Government is supposed to do--is explicitly reserved for the States and for the people.
So how is it that we are going to have a $2 trillion deficit this year? I can tell you how it is. It is because we have ignored the Constitution. We have done things that are totally outside the realm our Founders thought we would ever do. We have taken over things that are truly the responsibilities of the States and the communities and individuals. We have created dependency by the States, created dependency in all sorts of others.
I got a letter last week asking me to sponsor money for fire engines for Oklahoma. When did buying firetrucks for Oklahoma become a part of the U.S. Constitution? Am I supposed to steal money from people in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and New York so Oklahoma can have fire engines, which is an Oklahoma responsibility? It is not even an Oklahoma responsibility; it is a community responsibility.
As we create this dependency, we create something that is worse after it. If you cannot get it, you all of a sudden are a victim. That is why earmarks are so bad, because what they do is keep us from making the great and hard decisions we should make because we benefit from it politically.
That is why several of us have fought since we have been here to change the earmarking process so that the American people can see what it is about. And what you will see, you watch on this bill, on the appropriations bills that follow, is if somebody has an earmark in this bill, they will never vote against it. Because what they will be told by the chairman or ranking member of the committee the next time they go to request something is: Oh, you requested something. I put it in the bill, but you did not vote for the bill, so I am not going to give it to you.
What happens is, instead of looking at the content of a bill and the best long-term interests of the country, we look at the content of the earmark and how we look back home to the well-heeled and the well-connected few, the source of campaign, the source of political empowerment, instead of looking at our oath that says: You will follow the Constitution.
There is no question we have the right to say where money goes. And there is no question we should be able to have earmarks if they are authorized, which means that a committee of your peers, through the Appropriations Committee, says: This is something we as a country ought to do. But you will not see that. What you see are not authorized earmarks. They do not go through a committee of your peers. So it becomes the very foul stink that ends up corrupting the whole system of following that Constitution and being loyal to that oath.
In 2016, every American is going to pay $13,000 on the national debt--think about that--for interest. I said that wrong. Every American family is going to be responsible for $13,000 worth of interest on the national debt. That is if it does not grow a penny from now. And we know we are going to have trillion-dollar deficits from now for as long as we can see under the budget that has passed this body.
The average American family, do you have $13,000? Do you have $13,000 for us to continue the excess of uncontrolled spending in Washington, the excess of failing to do our job to eliminate waste and fraud and duplication? Do you have it? Maybe you ought to call us and borrow it from the Senators. Maybe you ought to ask us for it since we are the ones labeling you with it.
So as you hear what we are saying today when we talk about what is going on, these are not just words; they are real facts that affect real lives, that limit opportunity, that steal this wonderful country from us and our kids. Because what is happening is we are slowly putting handcuffs on ourselves. We are slowly diminishing our ability to be creative. We are slowly taking away the opportunity and the freedom with which we have excelled.
If, in fact, the government said more about how you live your life than you say how you live your life, you have lost freedom. You have lost it. As we encounter this mountain, this truly high mountain of debt, what is going to happen is those handcuffs are going to get tighter and tighter--they are not going to get tighter, they are going to get closer and closer together before we have little ability to get out of them, little opportunity to change.
We are close to being on an irreversible course. What we do and how we do it over the next 2 years in this country is going to determine whether your children live in freedom. And I do not mean controlled by a dictator, I am talking about having the freedom to have the opportunity to work hard, to develop your skills, to take risks, and to hopefully reward yourself and your family so that, in fact, you can be benevolent to someone else who may not be able to do that. That is what America is all about.
We are losing. It is going away. And it goes away every week in this body. Every week that we create another new government program that limits your freedom and puts a bureaucrat between you and your choice, it goes away. Quite frankly, we have gotten pretty good at stealing your freedom.
For me and the people I represent, we have had enough. We have had enough of the government deciding everything for us. We have had enough of judges not following the Constitution. We have had enough of Federal bureaucrats limiting our property rights, and what we can do on our own property. We have had enough of people telling us what our freedoms are and what they are not. We have had enough of the Federal bureaucracy in education ruining our schools rather than giving us the freedom to educate the children the way we want; taking our taxes, absorbing 20 percent and sending 80 percent back and saying: You can have this money if you do this, this, this, and this. It is interesting, in the Constitution, there is no role for Federal education, no role for the Federal Government to be involved in education. None. Zero. Where did we get the idea that 80 percent of the people who work in the Department of Education, who do not know how to teach a child, should be telling the teachers in this country what to teach, and what to do, and what they can get paid for and what they cannot.
That is a loss of freedom, folks. You have a bureaucracy in Washington that determines the outcome of what your children's education is going to be, rather than you determining what that outcome will be.
Mr. SESSIONS. Will the Senator yield for a question?
Mr. COBURN. I will yield for a question.
Mr. SESSIONS. I know my colleague has given more time and effort to studying the sickness that is affecting our Congress with regard to how we spend money than anyone in this body, and he has taken a lot of heat for standing up and raising these issues. I salute him for it.
But the amendment that is before us, it seems to me, is absolutely typical of how out of step Congress is. This may be a swell amendment for whoever benefits from it, but the people who are paying for it are not aware that the money they have earned from the sweat of their brow is now going to somebody who got a better health care plan, a better retirement plan and higher pay than they get, and more job security than they get.
In my home county, the unemployment rate is over 20 percent. Then we have people with so much better jobs wanting more money. This is what, a $2 billion amendment? I would ask you, is this not sort of a pretty egregious example of the tendency we have to try to reward one group and ignore the cost that everybody else is going to have to pay?
Mr. COBURN. I would answer the Senator, yes, but it is even worse in another way, and it is this: You know, we are not going to get killed by one big punch. It is going to be the little pinpricks. This is another pinprick. The fact is, I would love for our Federal employees to get this benefit. But we cannot afford it, one.
No. 2, it is highly unfair to everybody else out there trying to struggle right now to pay the taxes that pay those salaries. No. 3 is, we do not even have the money to fund the pensions for the Federal employees that we have promised right now. So it is about us getting it wrong. Our priorities are wrong. That is my whole point. There is no common sense to what we are doing.
Sure, it is nice, you can be lauded by all of the Federal employees: You did this. You did this. You can get their vote. But what about the future of our Republic? What is going to happen to us?
I have a granddaughter who is going to be born in the next 2 weeks, and I am wondering if she will even recognize what I knew to be what we were like in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, because the freedom, the diminution of our freedom in this country has been massive. It is in direct correlation with the size of the growth of the Federal Government, directly correlated.
The bigger the Federal Government is, the less freedom we have. As it gets smaller, we can possibly get back some of our freedom. But we are talking about growing the Federal Government, we are talking about making it bigger. We are talking about having it more involved in every aspect of our life and taking away the ability of you and your family to make critical decisions about your family.
Are we totally dependent on the Federal Government? If that is where we are, our freedom is lost. If we have decided we do not need the States any more, get rid of all of the State legislatures; the Federal Government is doing it all anyway. And we do it so efficiently and so well, you can interact with your bureaucrat so well. They always make sense, they are always 100 percent responsible. That is garbage.
The fact is, the farther away your government is from you, the less control you have over it. There is no need, if we continue the direction we are in, to have a city council. We are directing what you have got to do on street lights now. We are going to tell you what car you can drive.
I thank the Senator from Alabama for his question. I appreciate his help on a lot of these issues.
This is not anything other than a departure point for our country. So let me spend a little time--first, let me tell you how good of a job we do. We passed a $787 billion stimulus bill of which $70 billion is out the door. So not even 10 percent, maybe 10 percent by this week; I have not checked the Web site this week to see.
Let's talk about what has gone out the door. What has gone out the door in my home State in Perkins, OK, that to get the money for a new water sewage system that the Federal Government said they had to have--State government did not say it, the Federal Government did--they had to spend an extra $2 million to build a water disposal and sewage plant that originally was going to cost $4 million. Now it costs $6.2 million. Guess what they got from the Federal Government--$1.5 million.
Think about that for a minute. Here is the stimulus. There is no question some jobs are being created from that. There is no question the citizens of that town will have to pay higher water rates and sewage rates to get a new plant. But what we did in the meantime of having the Federal Government involved in it is we raised the net cost of it by $500,000 so that the people who are going to benefit from it are going to end up paying water rates, sewage rates, at elevated levels for a longer period of time because the Federal Government got involved in it.
It doesn't mean we didn't need the sewage plant. We did. It didn't mean the city fathers didn't do the best thing they could for the city. They had to get a bond. So when somebody comes up and says, I am the Federal Government, here is $1.5 million, take it; and you say, maybe I can help my city out and get this thing done--except the net result of that is, it will actually end up costing $2 million more--ask yourself a question: If you were to build a garage onto the back of your house and the Federal Government says: We will give you a grant to help you do that, but when you finish up, the net cost to you is going to be about 8 to 20 percent more than what it would have cost if you did it yourself, are you going to take that deal? No, you are not.
This is money that is already out the door on the stimulus. It is an example of what happens when we lose common sense and when we lose economic parameters with which to make decisions.
No. 2, in the stimulus was, heretofore, before we got to the health care bill that we just passed out, was the largest earmark in history, $2 billion. Here we have FutureGen. Let me tell you what we know about FutureGen. The idea behind it is pretty good. Let's figure out if we can take coal and make it absolutely clean and take the carbon dioxide out of it and sequester the carbon dioxide and use this resource we have and have a totally nonpolluting coal plant for generating electricity. Good idea, right? It got canceled in late 2007 because the Department of Energy, relying on a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: We don't have the technology to do it. You shouldn't spend the money. The technology isn't there.
Isn't it funny, in 4 1/2 months that report gets ignored and we put a $2 billion earmark in to build a coal plant that we don't have the technology for? Let me explain what will happen. We will spend that $2 billion, but when the $2 billion is gone, they are going to come back and say: We almost got it. How about $2 billion more? We will get another $2 billion earmark and another $2 billion earmark, and 5 to 10 years from now, we will have $24 billion in it. Then they will either do one or two things. They will say: We finally figured it out, which means had we waited to build on it a small prototype plant and perfected the technology, we could have done it for 5 percent of that, or they will say: It just didn't work. We can't do it. But we did it on the basis of parochialism and the enhanced interest of some power companies that were well-heeled and well connected to this body. So now we have $2 billion of your money going to a project that MIT says the technology isn't finished yet, and we should not be spending any money to build a final plant. Yet we did it. Yet the claim was that there weren't any earmarks in the stimulus bill.
Here is another fact that a lot of people don't know. Every fact I will give you I can absolutely document, either from the Department of Transportation or somewhere else. We have over 230,000 major bridges in disrepair. Remember Minneapolis. We have tons of those bridges. I am not saying they will collapse, but structurally they have been deemed to need repair.
The stimulus bill spent $24 billion on roads, highways, and bridges. We should have spent $100 billion because we really would have created four times as many jobs. We would have bought things we know we will have to buy anyhow, and we would have fixed problems we know we have today. If we are going to borrow money against our kids' future, it ought to be on high-priority items that will truly benefit us and our kids rather than that which is not going to benefit us.
Here we have Wisconsin, which has 1,256 structurally deficient bridges--more than Florida, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska combined. Instead of fixing those, they put $58 million into bridge repair to repair 37 rural bridges that people hardly ever use. Why? How? How did it happen? We have interstate highway bridges that need to be repaired that have tens of thousands of cars going over them every day, and instead we repair a bridge to a bar. I guess that Rusty's Backwater Saloon is more important than the safety of kids on the highway.
Then we have a Florida project. When we build highways today, especially interstates, we put these eco-passages underneath them so that wild animals--sometimes cattle, if they are connected lands--can have transportation underneath the highway without going around. Good idea. In Florida, we have a highway sitting there, and less than a couple miles down the road we have an eco-passage, and a couple miles up the road we have one. We are going to spend $3.4 million to put another one in because too many turtles are crossing the road and getting hit. Maybe that is OK. But when we have a $11.4 trillion debt, we are going to run a $2 trillion deficit this year, when everything we are spending this year--50 cents out of every dollar we spend, we are borrowing on the backs of our children--should we be spending this kind of money on turtles? There are plenty of turtles in Florida. It is probably not going to have an ecological impact. But is that a priority? Is that something we should be doing? I think not.
We have a nonprofit that got fired for doing weatherization contracts in one of our States, for poor performance and noncompliance. We get the stimulus, and guess who gets the contract--somebody who has already cheated the taxpayers. Nevada. Somebody has already been fired for noncompliance and not doing appropriate work, and the first thing we do is we hire them back. Do you think there might not have been a political connection with the person who got that contract? Think it is strange?
Here is my favorite. This is Oklahoma. In the wonderful wisdom of the Corps of Engineers, back in the late 1940s and 1950s in western Oklahoma--fairly arid land, good for raising cattle, and where you can get irrigation, it is great for growing wheat--we built a dam and a spillway and generation and everything. Only one problem: There never was any water that came to the lake.
So we have this little road that runs along the edge of it, and they replaced the guardrails 2 years ago. Less than 10 cars a day in the regular summer season go across this, 3 average in the winter. The Corps of Engineers decides, since we have all this money, we need to replace the guardrails. The reason they wanted to replace the guardrails is they are an inch and a half too short for the 10 cars that go by there. But if you run off the road, you run into something down there that is dry as a bone. You don't run into a lake. But because the Corps has the code that you have to have guardrails on anything around a lake, even if you don't have a lake there, we are going to spend millions of dollars putting guardrails around a nonexistent lake because the bureaucratic code is: Never do what is best when you can do what is good for you. Here goes millions of dollars to build guardrails. I pretty well have gotten this one stopped by having my staff out there with the Corps, but had I not done it, we would have spent the money.
What are we doing? Do you like the fact that the Federal Government is involved in all this? Do you think they are exhibiting wisdom and prudence?
We can take Elizabethtown, PA. They have had an old train station that hasn't been used in 30 years. Granted, they could maybe use a train station, but they have been getting along pretty well without one for 30 years in this particular location. We are going to spend millions of dollars to renovate an old train station, not because we have a need but because we have money to spend and it will create a job.
There is nothing wrong with having deficit spending, in terms of Keynesian economics, to try to stimulate the economy, but there ought to be a priority that what we spend the money on actually, in fact, is a long-term benefit that we would have spent the money on anyway. When we throw the money out there and we roll the dice, what happens is, yes, we get a benefit. We get the millions of dollars spent on our behalf. It gets spent on our behalf. But was it the best way to spend the money? Was there another priority that would have been better, that would have created more jobs, that was something we truly have to have, that would have created a permanent job, that would have helped truly stimulate the economy? Those questions are not getting asked.
Here is another one of my favorites. Part of the stimulus was that we give seniors a check. I don't understand that, but we did. But the IRS sent checks to 10,000 dead people. It can happen. I could see how that could happen, but 10,000? So if we are sending checks to 10,000 dead people on a stimulus, what else are we not doing right at the IRS and every other agency? I think it totaled $25 million.
Here is another one of my favorites: Union, NY. The town of Union was surprised when it was notified that it would be receiving a $578,661 stimulus grant to prevent homelessness for several reasons. Here is another interesting point: They never applied for the grant. Second, they don't have a homeless problem. ``Union did not request the money and does not currently have any homeless programs in place in the town to administer such funds,'' said the town supervisor, John Bernardo. ``We were surprised. We were never a recipient before.'' He is not aware of any homeless issue in the largely suburban town. Where did that one come from? Where is the connection? The people at the Department of Housing and Urban Development just sent them a check. It is not their money. Get the money out the door. Send it to somebody who doesn't need it. When asked about it, HUD just sent the money to every town based on its population, whether it had a homeless problem or not.
When did it become, under the Constitution, a Federal responsibility rather than a community responsibility to take care of homeless people? As we shift that responsibility to the Federal Government, what happens to the freedom of your hometown to care for homeless people? When you get the money from the Federal Government come the rules and regulations on what you will do and how you will do it. Rather than a community-based or a church-based homeless shelter, now you will follow these regs and do these things if you want our help.
What is our help? Our help is taking money from you, filtering it through Washington, wasting 20 percent of it, and then sending it back to you to tell you what you already know how to do, except now they will tell you how to do it and give you 35 pieces of paper and forms to fill out as you tell them how you spent your money that they took 20 percent of to care of your homeless that you should have never sent the money to Washington for in the first place.
Let me spend time--I will pick and choose through a few of these. The Federal Government gives weatherization grants to help people weatherproof their homes. We have been doing this for over 25 years, and we continue to spend more and more money on it every year. Either we are not doing a good job or we have weatherized every home in the country and we are starting to do it a second time.
But here is one from Illinois, where they took the weatherization grant and bought eight pickup trucks for the county--under a weatherization grant.
In Wisconsin, a nursing home got $2.8 million in stimulus money it did not need or request. Prior to the stimulus funding, the Knapp Haven Nursing Home was on track for a loan from the USDA. In other words, they had the finances set up to get a loan to where they could repay it. When the stimulus money came available, the funding source was shifted to a new source of Federal assistance. Carmen Newman, the city clerk-treasurer said:
It's kind of a joke as far as I'm concerned. I don't understand how they can say this is stimulus.
They were going to do it anyway. The mayor of that city said:
I don't see how the project benefited.
Well, somebody benefited. But somebody also lost, and that was our kids and our grandkids.
Here is a good one: Iowa State legislators are using money freed up by the Federal stimulus cash to buy $11 million in new cars the State does not need. About four dozen brandnew cars owned by the State are already sitting unused in a parking lot near the capitol. According to State Representative Christopher Rants:
Some of them [still] have the [sales] stickers on them. None of them have license plates. Some of them still have their seats wrapped in plastic.
But we are going to buy the cars because we got the money. So see what is happening here? There is no priority. Because the money comes in, spend it. Even though you have excess cars sitting in the parking lot, you buy it. Spend it or lose it.
Michigan is going to spend $500,000 to renovate an old freight house for a yoga class. There is no question if you renovate an old warehouse and you employ people to do that, you will stimulate the economy. The criticism here is, are there not other things more important in Michigan that we could spend $500,000 on that would create more permanent jobs, long-lasting jobs, and be of stronger benefit to the community?
The only reason I question this is because it came through the Federal Government down there. If that money came through the statehouse or the city, I would have no business questioning it at all. But in light of where we find ourselves as a country, it is difficult for me to see the priorities that are expressed.
In Macomb, IL, $643,945 was spent on a Prairieview public housing parking lot that nobody wants. Many of the residents whom the parking lot was supposed to benefit have protested it. Explaining his concern, a local resident said: The kids love the grass. We have enough pavement already for all the cars here. We need a playground.
But we are going to pour concrete over it because we have the money to do it--another wasted priority.
In Chicago, rather than help welfare recipients obtain jobs and escape poverty, $1 million will be used to study whether 300 people in Chicago are healthier when living in a ``green'' public housing facility. The study will evaluate whether green housing is healthier for people and will focus on 300 residents at a Chicago public housing facility. Researchers expect to find that residents living in these more energy-efficient facilities will have much lower health care costs. The study will create jobs because it will get two or three people to interview the residents.
Oh, here is another priority that came out of the stimulus. The National Institutes of Health has given an Indiana University professor a grant of $356,000. Maybe this is OK but not now. It is not OK where we find ourselves. But here is what they are going to do with it. They are going to ``test how children perceive foreign-accented speech compared to native-accented speech.'' It will also determine how such accents might influence speech development in children.
I do not doubt that might, in fact, be something we want to study. But we still have a lot of women in this country with a lot of disease and we have a lot of men in this country with a lot of disease. I am not sure accents are as important as studying ways to lower health care costs or funding a professor to do research on one of the cancers that are plaguing our country. How about buying H1N1 flu vaccine? Might that not be a better expenditure of that money? In other words, priorities get lost.
Detroit Public Schools will reap massive benefits from the stimulus despite a $150 million deficit. According to the Intelligencer--that is, evidently, a newspaper in the area--financial management problems became ``so tangled the state recently appointed a manager to take the financial reins.'' The Detroit Public School System stands to get $530 million, which $355 million would have ``no strings attached.''
So we have a school system that has been totally irresponsible with their financing and the management of their money, and what do we do with the stimulus? We reward the incompetence and then give them twice that amount to pull them out of a hole rather than fix the real problem.
Consequences to our behavior are a great learning episode for all of us, no matter how old we are. If we are very young and we touch the hot stove, we learn it is hot. When we are adolescents and we do some of the stupid things we do as adolescents, we learn from them. Do you know what. Governments do not learn, and that is because governments do not have compassion. Only people have compassion. And when you bail out a school system that has been irresponsible, without them suffering the consequences--and I know the answer is: Well, the kids suffer the consequences. That is right. We all suffer the consequence. You do not think kids are suffering the consequences right now in our economy?
So this one is just cute. You will love it. Yale University and the University of Connecticut are going to get $850,000--they have already gotten it, by the way--in stimulus money for research ``to study how paying attention improves performance of difficult tasks.''
Did you ever hit your thumb with a hammer? Studying that paying attention helps you with difficult tasks? I do not know who thinks these things up. But, more importantly, it does not matter who thinks them up. Who would give a grant for that? I am not opposed to giving grants for sound scientific study. But do you know what. We already know the answer this thing is going to give us--a statistically significant answer: You do better if you pay attention; and you do not do as well if you do not. It is pretty straightforward.
Hanscom Field, MA, where we are going to put excess money for additional runways, has received criticism from local representatives, including a State representative from Lexington. The State legislative leaders did not want us to do it. But do you know what. We did it anyway. The people who represent the area, the political leaders, did not want it to happen because they thought it promoted irresponsible corporate behavior. Do you know what we did? We did it anyway. It goes back to that point we were talking about: freedom. When you give it to us, you lose it. We are supposed to be the bastion that protects your freedom, and what we have become, through this myriad number of Federal programs and spending, is we have been the ones who are taking away your freedom.
In Oklahoma, I trap armadillos in my yard. They come in and they will ruin a good yard because they like grub worms. So all you have to do is to lay a few marshmallows out and then put a marshmallow or two in the trap cage and you will catch those suckers.
Well, that is what Washington is doing to the American liberty. We bite the first little bite off the marshmallow and say: Oh, that tastes good. I got a little benefit here. There is no connection between what I have done and me receiving this benefit. And then we take another little bite off the marshmallow or the next one in. And all of a sudden, before you know it, this armadillo--that runs at night mainly that my dogs chase into the woods every time they see one of them--pretty soon that armadillo fellow is in my cage. I got him. The reason I got him is he kept thinking he could get something for nothing. He kept thinking: Man, that is a sweet marshmallow.
So what happens is, here he comes down the road, like us--us promising more, promising more--but, remember, whatever we are promising to give you, we have already taken from you. And when we take it from you, we lessen your liberty, to a great extent. We steal your liberty. We steal your choice. We steal your freedom. We steal your ability to be whom you want to be. We steal your ability to be the parent you want to be because we are interjecting us in the education system between you and your child. We are interjecting and planting the seeds of a lack of responsibility and accountability, as we bite the marshmallow, as we walk into the trap, and the cage closes.
There are two things I do with those armadillos--one of two things. I either put them in the back of my pickup and take them 10 or 15 miles away from my property or I shoot them. That is exactly what is going to happen to us. We are either going to be carried far away from what we know, we trust, and believe in to be right or we are going to be extinct as a nation. We are going to lose the wonderful flavor of the greatest Nation that has ever been on this Earth. We are going to lose--and we are doing that--we are losing it, a little bit at a time because we are similar to the frog that climbed into this wonderful pot of water that slowly and slowly heated up, and he never thought to jump out because, before he knew it, he could not.
So I have just listed about 30 of the first 1,000 projects that went out on the stimulus so you can get a flavor as to what kind of judgment is being made with the money we stole from our grandchildren.
I would say we are not doing great. I voted for a stimulus bill that would have spent almost $500 billion--I didn't vote for this one, but it was real stimulus. It was real roads, it was real bridges, it was real sewage plants. It included things we were going to have to do. It was really resetting the military because we are going to buy a whole bunch more military. We are going to be forced to do it. To buy it now will create job after job after job, and it will save us money because we are going to buy it now at a cheaper price than what we will pay 5 years from now.
So I am not critical of having stimulus. I am critical of how we manage it, what we are doing about it, and the severe lack of oversight that Members of this body daily fail to do. They do not do the job demanded of them. It is not enough for us to say where the money is spent. What is required of us is to say where the money is spent and then make sure it is spent wisely, prudently, and in the best interests of everybody in this country, not in the best interests of our next election cycle.
I quoted earlier $350 billion worth of pure waste, fraud, and abuse every year in this country. It is not fair for me to quote that without going through it for you so you can actually see where it is. I did this last year, so I am sure it is worse this year since we have not had the courage to do anything about fixing the problems that cause this. But let me go through it. These are either department agency numbers, CBO numbers, inspector general numbers, or General Accounting Office numbers. They are not TOM COBURN's numbers. Every one of them can be backed up.
Medicare fraud: At a minimum, $80 billion a year. We are contemplating a health care bill. We have Medicare that is upside down, both Part A and Part B, running in the red, and is projected to run into the trillions of dollars. Name something that has been done on that in the last 2 years, 3 years, by us. Medicare improper payments, net loss--in other words, we paid out more than we should or we paid out less than we should--the net difference is $10 billion, so now we are at $10 billion a year.
Medicaid fraud at a minimum--and the reason we say it is at a minimum is because Medicaid can't even tell us what their fraud is. They can't even report it--$30 billion. Improper payments, net loss, $15 billion.
So now we are at $135 billion and we have just gone through two programs.
Social Security disability fraud: I hear every day in my office from people in my State about people who are getting disability who are absolutely not disabled, but they get the check. They are living off us, but they can actually go to work and do something. At a minimum, it is estimated to be--I think this is a very low number, and it doesn't mean I don't want to help people with disability if they are truly disabled. But everybody out in the country will know somebody who is collecting a check who can still ride their horse, still run their rotor tiller, still lay brick, or still do anything else they want, but they can't work: $2.5 billion.
Government-wide improper payments in all of the other agencies, but seven of them we still don't have any reporting on, even though the law says they have to report. It is a Federal law you have to report your improper payments every year, but they don't do it. Of the ones that do report, another $15 billion net loss of paying out more than they should. That is just on the agencies that report.
Maintenance of buildings by the Defense Department that they will not use in the future nor do they use now, but we can't sell them because we have all of these laws in Congress that create an impossibility for us to get them to the market. We have created a bureaucratic nightmare that takes about 10 years to put a building up for sale. We are spending in the Defense Department $3 billion that could go for soldier pay, health care for our veterans, health care for our soldiers; $3 billion to maintain buildings that are sitting empty and to maintain security for them.
We have contracting problems. The bill before us, the Defense authorization--everybody recognizes we have a significant problem with contracting in this country. This data comes not from last year but from the year before last. The Department of Defense paid out $8 billion for performance awards to contractors who did not earn the awards. In other words, they had a contract. Here are the requirements to meet the contract. They didn't meet the requirements of the contract. The Department of Defense paid them anyway. It hasn't stopped, folks. Where is the connection?
It is estimated by GAO that at a minimum, if we eliminated no-bid contracts everywhere in the Federal Government--most earmarks, by the way, are no-bid contracts; it is a sweetheart deal--we would save, at a minimum, $5 billion a year--at a minimum--probably closer to $7 billion or $8 billion. Just to eliminate no-bid contracts pays for the entire budget of the State of Oklahoma for 1 year. Every expense we have, just 1 year of eliminating no-bid contracts would have that kind of savings.
Then we have the wonderful trick: we send bills through here that are supposedly emergency supplementals, and we add all of these things of extra spending onto them that aren't emergencies. It is kind of like an earmark process, except the difference is they don't have to be within the budget numbers, so they just go straight to the bottom line against our kids. So it doesn't pull back any spending anywhere else, but we spend this money anyhow, and that is another $15 billion a year that the Members of Congress do outside of the budget.
So let's see here. We are at $184 billion. We have a crop insurance program that benefits the crop insurance industry but not the farmers, but we refuse to modernize it. We can save $4 billion if we modernize it, but we don't modernize it because the effect and power of the well-heeled and well-connected keeps us from doing what is right.
Then we send $5.9 billion to the U.N. every year. We know--and this is a report we finally got forced to get out of there; it got leaked out and we finally got ahold of it--that our entire contribution to peacekeeping, which amounts to about 40 percent of our contributions--$2 billion a year--is totally wasted in fraud. In other words, it doesn't help us do peacekeeping anywhere in the world because there is only one agency and one government that is more inefficient than us, and it is the United Nations. Yet we can't have transparency.
Every year I put on the foreign appropriations bill a requirement that for the U.N. dues to be paid, they have to give us transparency about where they are spending our money. It passes 99 to 0, and as soon as it goes to the conference, guess what happens. It gets pulled out because we don't have the courage to confront the U.N. and say: We are giving you $5.9 billion. Tell us how it is being spent. So there is another one.
One of the greatest areas of worry the inspectors general have across all the agencies of government is investment in IT. Last year, we contracted $64 billion of IT contracts through the Federal Government--$64 billion. What we know is at least 20 percent of that ends up totally getting mismanaged and wasted. It gets wasted because they don't know what they want when they sign the contract. They continue to change what they want as the contract goes through, and when we get to what was going to be a $200 million contract, it ends up being an $800 million contract because we have changed what the contract did.
By the way, the contract isn't no-bid; the contract is cost plus, so whoever is doing the contract has every inclination to give them new ideas to make it better and change it. So what happens is we fall way behind, we don't get it, we pay four times as much. What is estimated is that we lose almost $11 billion a year on that kind of poor management. What is being done about it? Nothing in this body. Nothing in this body.
The National Flood Insurance Program is another $17.5 billion of waste and duplication. If we reformed the Tax Code--by the way, we are now right at $218 billion. If we reformed the Tax Code--if we just made it either straight line or simple, straight, fill it in on a postcard, or went to the fair tax, what we know is the Federal Government, just everything else being equal this year, would have $100 billion more collected because there would be $100 billion less in fraud. Just $100 billion. Just $100 billion. But we have a Tax Code that is this thick that no IRS department will give you the same answer to the same question anywhere else in the country, and neither will any of the big auditing firms because the code is so complex that nobody knows what the truth is. So we spend over $200 billion a year in this country paying our taxes.
I am not talking about the taxes we pay, paying our taxes. Either paying somebody else to figure it out or paying the interest because we couldn't figure it out or paying the penalty because we couldn't get it done on time, but most of it comes from paying people to pay our taxes for us.
Then there is a miscellaneous, another $18 billion. I said $350 billion. The total I have given is $385 billion. The reason I said $385 billion, I don't want to exaggerate, so I cut 10 percent off of it. So nobody can say we have exaggerated the waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Government that occurs every year.
What would it be like right now if we weren't wasting that? What would happen to Medicare if we didn't have this high number, billions and billions of dollars of fraud in Medicare every year? What would happen? What would happen is Medicare would last a lot longer. No. 2, we would actually get more resources directed to the people who actually need it.
The one story Dr. JOHN BARRASSO, the other physician in the Senate tells, is that Medicare is so well designed to be defrauded that people who deal in drugs stop that and start doing Medicare fraud because it is easier to hit a home run, No. 1; No. 2, if you get caught, the penalties are less. No. 3 is you can make a whole lot more money with a whole lot lower jail sentence. So we have this system that is designed to get defrauded that has $80 billion in it.
So let me make that point and say, if in fact you take--even if you only take half of what I say--$175 billion--but even if you only take half of what I say, here are the things we know: This country is absolutely on an unsustainable course. We cannot sustain what we are doing. We cannot have another year such as this year. We cannot have another year that comes anywhere close to this year.
We can't have another year that moves forward in the direction we are moving in terms of the government taking more of your freedom away and building itself up and building the bureaucracies in this town.
I understand my colleague from Hawaii is here.
I yield the floor.
BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT