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Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2010 - Conference Report - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to spend a little bit of time today talking to my colleagues and the American people about where we are. I don't know of a better description of where we are than this sign. The President said and some in the House have said that certain facts about health care reform are indisputable, but nobody will dispute this one: Forty-three cents out of every dollar we spend this year, we borrow against the future of our children; 43 cents out of every dollar the Federal Government spends. What does that come to per family? What that comes to is $15,603 per family--every family in this country--we borrowed against this year.

The reason I came down to the floor--I have a lot of problems with both the CR and this bill, but I want to know where the leadership is in America today. We are in tough times, and if there ought to be one bill the Congress passes with no increase in spending, it ought to be the bill that pays for the things we do. The reason it ought to be that bill is because we ought to lead by example. What we are saying with this legislative branch bill is that, you know what, there is just not 5 percent to cut in our efficiency. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every year I have been here, I have been allocated a certain amount of money for my office. In no year have I turned back less than 18 percent of that money, 460-some thousand bucks. We didn't spend it because we know how to run things efficiently and effectively.

That is a misnomer for the Federal Government, as led by the Senate, as exampled by this bill.

So what have we done so far this year? Here is what we have done. Here is where the 2009 increases were, and here is what we are proposing this year. This doesn't take into account any of the money we spent in the stimulus or any of the money in the emergency appropriations we passed or that we wanted to increase the baseline.

Last year, we increased our own budget by 10.88 percent. Inflation was minus last year; there was a negative inflation. So we had an infinity, as far as recognizing the increase of our own budgets, because, in fact, the costs actually went down in America. CPI declined. This year, we are at a 1.4-percent CPI increase year over year, from September 30 to September 30.

Legislative branch is almost three times what inflation is; Homeland Security, four times inflation; Energy and Water--because they got such a large bump with the stimulus bill, we only increased it 1.41 percent. Every other bill, such as Agriculture, is 12.68 percent; but if you look at it, it is almost 22 percent. The THUD bill is 22.54 percent. Interior is 16.28 percent. Here is the inflation rate, 1.6 percent.

Where is the leadership? That is what the American people ought to ask. I don't fault the chairman. He is given a number and he is supposed to meet it. I fault our leadership. Things are never going to change until we model the behavior that will set the example to cause everything else to change. When we don't have the self-discipline and the courage to make hard choices in the running of our own offices and our own facilities, how can we ever expect anybody else in the rest of the government to do that?

You heard Senator DeMint talk about what kind of shape we are in. Our debt today is $11.790 trillion. That is going to double in the next 5 years. It is going to triple in the next 10 years. Medicare is an unfunded liability. For Medicare alone, it is $89 trillion. What are we doing? Why are we not--Democrats and Republicans alike--saying the problem is in our leadership? The problem is the example we set. We can't even hold our own expenses flat at a time when the rest of the country is making the most difficult choices. Every family and every business is in tough times, and we are flying through it because we don't have to lead by example. We don't want to make hard choices.

There is something lacking in America today. It is sorely lacking. The trouble we are in isn't partisan. It is not one party or the other. It is the combined leadership of this country that fails to recognize the depth and severity of the problems before us, and then it is compounded by not making the hard choices and leading by example to give us a result that will change that path. No other appropriations bills have passed Congress. There have been no conference reports passed for this year. The one that we are going to pass is the one for us. That doesn't fit with any sense of reality to the average family in this country.

Today, it was released that we have a 16-percent approval rating. That is way too high. That is way too high. Leadership is about sacrifice, giving up something so somebody else can gain. We have none of it in any of these appropriations bills we have passed. But they have not gone to the President because we don't have conference reports. Then we have the gall to bring in our budget at three times the inflation rate for us and pass it as the only one. Everybody else will be frozen, with minor exceptions, in the CR. Everybody else--the rest of the government--cannot plan. They don't know what they can do. But we are going to make sure we take care of us. That is exactly why we have a 16-percent approval rating.

I struggled a long time with whether I would seek my seat in the Senate again. Quite frankly, I came down to the fact that, other than three or four of us, nobody in the Senate is speaking about the real long-term problems. Nobody is thinking long term. What we are thinking about is short-term parochial instances such as the $200,000 the chairman put in for his own State. It may be a great project, but now is not the time to do that. It sends a signal to the rest of America that I am going to take care of me and the heck with you. It is the wrong message. Yet we are going to do it anyway. We are going to say: Oh, well, never mind. It is a good cause, $200,000 doesn't matter.

When we are growing up, our parents try to teach us a lot of things. It becomes the small things that are important. This legislative branch bill is a small bill compared to all the others we are going to pass. But it is big on symbolism because this is never going to change until we change. The symbolic act of passing this bill, where we are increasing our own expenses three times the rate of inflation, when most people in this country are spending less money on everything they do, some by choice, some out of fear, and some out of absolute circumstances that they have no control over--yet we pass a bill for us that makes us look absolutely foolish in Americans' eyes. America gets it. We don't. This is an embarrassing time for us as a country. The reason is because there is a difference between what the American people expect and want out of Congress and what we are delivering. It is not about Republicans or Democrats. People are scared. What is the future going to be like? I can tell you. If, in fact, we don't reestablish frugality and common sense in how we fund our expenses and every other aspect of the Federal Government, what we will see is the diminishment of the greatest magnitude of freedom this country has ever seen. We are starting to see it. Where do you think we got the 43 percent we are borrowing? We got most of it from people outside this country. They now have an influence over our ability to remain free because they control the money strings.

This isn't just a rhetorical statement. We know--and I put it on the floor 10 times--nobody disputes that there is at least $350 billion worth of waste, fraud, and duplication in the Federal Government. Not one time in any of the bills that have come through this Chamber have we addressed the significant causes of those problems or addressed fixing it to right them. When we make amendments, they are defeated but not on party-line votes; they get defeated by the appropriators. The greatest power in the Senate is not Senator HARRY REID, it is the Appropriations Committee.

Consequently, when we try to fix the problem, we have a united front that says parochialism and short-term thought is much more important than the long-term future of the country, and our political positions are more important than the health of this Nation. Consequently, tonight, even after points of order will be raised--and I plan on raising some myself--we will pass this. Everybody will say the shower from COBURN is over and we can keep on doing what we have done.

America, don't let us get away with this. Don't let us lead by this poor example. Don't let us not sacrifice in our own offices so we can create the kind of leadership that is necessary to right this ship. This is the worst display I have seen in my years of service in the Congress. It is not about the details. It is the very fact that we have the audacity to take care of us before we take care of the rest of America. We have the audacity to increase our own budgets, which are fat.

If I can turn back the large amount of money I turn back every year, and every office could do the same thing, we could cut significant moneys from this bill. But we don't have the courage, the spine or the backbone that every American family has today--the actual guts to make hard choices. So we ignore them because it is so easy to take the credit card and say charge it to the next generation.

Yesterday, I heard Senator Schumer go after several members on the Finance Committee over Medicare. He said: You can't be against this. You are for Medicare, aren't you? Sure, Medicare is great.

The only problem is, the unfunded liabilities with Medicare are going to cripple our economy starting in 2017. Alexander Tyler said all republics die, all republics fail. They fail at that moment in time when the vast majority of the citizens of the republic figure out they can vote themselves something from the Public Treasury.

Is it morally acceptable for us to continue to steal from our children? Is it morally acceptable to take opportunity away in this great land of freedom? Or will we sit back some day and tell our grandchildren about what it used to be like to be free in this country? All republics fail because all republics become deficit ridden.

It does not have to be that way for our country. Real leadership, real courage, real clarity of character says that now is the time, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, to lead on the issues that will solve the problems in front of this country. This bill doesn't do it. As a matter of fact, this bill conditions more apathy and less confidence in the country and rightly so. We are not going to see that level of confidence come back to the Congress until we start paying attention to the long-term needs of this country and making those decisions in a way that doesn't have any consideration of our political position whatsoever, but every consideration about the truth, welfare, and long-term viability of our country. This bill doesn't do it.

The fact that this bill is used as a vehicle to fund the rest of the government, and we put us ahead of everybody else, to me, sends a very clear message to America: It is time to change who is here. It is time to send new people here. It is time to have people who are more interested in the country than their political careers or their party.

We example the worst of Washington politics and the worst of parochialism when we put us first and our desires first and our careers first, rather than the long-term viability of this country.

The CR contained in this bill violates the budget resolution--violates 311 of the Budget Act. It is all over the place. Even though we will raise points of order, we probably will not win. But when we don't win on that, America, you ought to ask why didn't we win. It will be because the Members of this body think more about their budgets than they do yours. They think more about their comfort than they do yours. They think more about their future than they do yours.

It is very easy to solve this situation. What should happen is the legislative branch should be frozen like everybody else in the country, and we should pass bills coming out of conference committee as soon as we can, and we ought to work hard on doing that. Then we ought to pass a CR tonight that is free of this, that doesn't violate the Budget Act.

I want to make one more point talking about the $4 billion and the postal provisions. There are a lot of great people who work for the U.S. Postal Service. There is no question about it. They are a victim of technology today more so than anything else. The fact is we use electronics rather than the mail, and the first-class mail volume and the volume for second and third-class items is going to go down. There is nothing the post office is going to be able to do to turn that revenue around. There is nothing. And that is not the average postal worker's fault. But the postal portion that came out of the Homeland Security Committee contained a very key component that has been ignored in this CR, and that was this: the negotiation of labor rates in this next round. Heretofore, they have never taken into consideration the financial health of the post office. Some of us find that kind of strange, but they never have. But there was an amendment that was agreed to in the committee that said: This time, when you arbitrate the language for the postal service employees, you have to consider the health of the post office, because that is where the revenue comes. Well, that has been conveniently left out of this CR. It passed out of committee. Yet we didn't put it here.

What does that mean for the post office? That means when we go to negotiate the labor agreements, the fact the post office is going to lose $8 billion or $10 billion next year--they will lose at least $8 billion this year, maybe even $12 billion or $14 billion next year--there won't be any consideration given in evaluating the labor contracts. Any other business whose revenue is declining rapidly that ignores the revenue side and ignores expense increases is sure to fail.

As Senator DeMint said, this is the third time in 5 years we have tried to put a patch on the U.S. Post Office, and this patch is only going to last for 1 year. It is not going to solve anything. We are going to ignore the hard choices that need to be made both by the postal employees and the post office in order to fix this so it is not a drain.

That is what I am talking about--the failure to lead. We duck the hard problems. We don't want to offend anybody. What we have to do is to start thinking long term. We have to start being about a vision of America that is financially healthy, and we have to swallow the hard, tough medicine of getting there.

We are setting an example with this bill that says we don't care; it doesn't matter. So America is disgusted. And that is what it is when 16 percent have confidence in us. I guarantee a large percentage don't--84 percent. A good portion of that is disgust with us. You know what. I am disgusted too. I know the individuals in this body. They are great people. But there has to be a change in the dynamics of the thought and the reasoning or we are going to suffer the consequences. Actually, we are not; our kids are. They are going to suffer the consequences.

I will end with this point. If you were born today--September 30, 2009--in this country, the first present you get for your birthday is an IOU for $400,000. Because when you take all our unfunded liabilities and apply to it the living segment of Americans over the next 70 years, their portion of our indiscretion is $400,000. It just takes simple math: Take 5 percent interest--and none of us can probably borrow any money at 5 percent interest--and that is $20,000 a year for the first 20 years of their life they are going to have the pay the interest on. So what does that come to, 20 years times $20,000? Now we are at $800,000 before they are out of college.

How in the world will they ever own a home? How will they ever send their kids to college carrying that kind of load? There is one of two answers to it: We either enter into the real world and start making the hard decisions and fixing the programs that are broken and eliminating the waste, fraud, and abuse, or we devalue our currency and everybody's assets in this country are going to shrink by about another 30 percent in terms of their real value.

That is the answer.

But those are inconvenient truths. We don't want to talk about them. We don't want to talk about the consequences of our actions. A former President said: Freedom is a precious thing. It's not ours by inheritance alone. It is never guaranteed. It has to be fought for and defended by each and every succeeding generation.

How do you fight for freedom when you owe $800,000 and you are not out of college yet? How do you do that? When will we start to take the shackles off the next two generations? When will we start to eliminate the burden of our excesses on our children?

We are not far from a time when it is going to be too late to reverse this course. The international financial market is signaling that now. Wouldn't it be wise for us to lead with courage, to make tough choices, and truly secure the freedom of our children and grandchildren?

Mr. President, I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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