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Military Construction, Veterans Affairs And Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. COBURN. I thank the Chair. I will try not to consume that amount of time to move this along.

Last weekend, the Senate, prior to Veterans Day, had the urgency of passing a bill that will, in fact, help a specified group of veterans, but it won't help veterans who have identical needs to that group of veterans because they were excluded from it.

The Caregivers Act also will require, at a minimum, $3.7 billion in spending over the next 5 years, and none of it--there was no decision to make in terms of that bill on any priorities about what we get rid of. As a matter of fact, the intent, as stated by the majority whip, was that we needed to pass this before last Wednesday so that people could get care. Well, the truth is, no care will come about if there is no money in this bill for that program.

The whole purpose for this motion to commit is to do two things: One, send the committee back and eliminate the discrimination against veterans in the first gulf war, against veterans in the Vietnam war, the Korean war, and World War II who have identical needs that require family caregivers and include them in it. The second aspect of the motion to commit is to find it from the available funds we have today. We suggest some opportunity for that but don't mandate where it comes from. But we should reduce spending somewhere else to pay for this. The reason that is important is, this past year, 43 cents out of every dollar we spent we borrowed from our grandchildren.

So in making a motion to commit this bill, we are doing three essential things. No. 1 is that we are actually being truthful that we really want to take care of this need and will do it in this fiscal year. No. 2 is that we are not discriminating against other veterans who have identical needs. No. 3 is that we are not discriminating against our children and grandchildren by not making hard choices to pay for it within existing funds.

I have no illusions that this motion to commit will succeed. But it doesn't change the very real facts that are in front of this Nation--that we cannot continue to spend money without making choices about what is most important. None of us disagree that taking care of those who have sacrificed for us has to become No. 2 behind the defense of this Nation in terms of the priorities for this country. Nothing else is higher in priority. Yet the bill we have before us doesn't make that a priority and the authorizing language doesn't make that a priority. As a matter of fact, the bill before us asks the VA to study this issue rather than actually go on and fund this issue by making the appropriate changes.

There is a significant increase in this bill, and outside of foreign expenditures, it is over 5.5 percent. It is not objectionable that it would be there, that kind of increase, given the demand our troops have had and their injuries and what they have suffered in terms of defending this country and fighting two ongoing wars. However, some of that money ought to be winnowed down so that we can take care of the very people who protect us.

We have had these tremendous speeches on why we have to do it now. If those speeches aren't going to ring hollow, we ought to commit the bill to make sure we have money for the Veterans Caregiver Act.


The other area I wish to spend time on is that in this bill we also have various and sundry reports that have been requested by the committee of different branches of the Federal Government. One of the most important ways to build trust in the Congress today is for us to create and increase the level of transparency for the American people to see our actions. This amendment is simply an amendment that says any reports that do not divulge or put at risk national security data should be made available to all the Senators, all the Congress, and all of the American people. This has been in several of the appropriations bills we have passed in the Senate. Unfortunately, rarely has it stayed in the conference report because there are those who don't want the American people to see what we are doing and how we are doing it.

I will sum up. We find ourselves in a big pickle right now as a nation. We soon will be voting in this body to increase the debt limit to $12.1 trillion. That figures out as a significant amount of money for every individual in this country--well over $35,000--but it is a very small amount compared to what is getting ready to happen in the next 9 years as our debt triples. Our debt will triple in the next 9 years, which means we will go from 30-some thousand dollars per individual to very close to $100,000 per individual.

That doesn't compare to the unfunded liability. If you take everybody in this country who is 25 years of age and younger--that is 103 million Americans--and you ask what is the consequence to those young Americans 20 years from now, the consequence is that they are going to be paying for another $1 million in debt for which they got no benefit, and the interest costs on that alone will be over $70,000 per year, per individual under age 25 today and under 45 20 years from now and all their kids.

The idea that we ought to pay for the new things we do by eliminating the things that aren't important, that we ought to pay for the new things we do by eliminating some of the $300 billion worth of waste, fraud, and duplication in the Federal Government every year is not a novel idea outside Washington; it is only a novel idea inside Washington--the very fact that the next generation will be put at a disadvantage because we lack the same courage and clarity of moral character our troops have in terms of making tough choices.

My hope is that with the motion to commit, in fact, the body will look and say we really can fund this and find waste and we can make choices about what is most important versus what is not most important, and not only will we help the veterans who are deserving of our assistance at this time, but we will also help the veterans' children and grandchildren by not plugging a credit card in and saying: Whatever we are going to do for veterans today, we are going to charge to you.

Instead, I hope that we are going to carry the load and that we are going to embrace the heritage of our country, the heritage of sacrifice and of creating opportunity that is better for the generations that follow than the opportunities that were given to us. That is not happening right now in our country. We are going to have a larger deficit next year than we have this year. We are going to take 43 cents out of every dollar we actually spend next year and we are going to charge that all to those two generations that follow us. That is not what made this country strong. That is not what our veterans fought for. That is not the country they want to see in the future. It is time we made some hard choices.

The resistance will be: I don't want to eliminate my earmark; I don't want to eliminate the parochial things I have done for my State to take care of veterans. They will not come out and say that, but that will be the result of the vote. The vote is, take care of the politicians, say you are taking care of the veterans, but undermine the future of the next two generations. That is what the vote is going to be about on the motion to commit--a lot of controversy and emotion associated with not doing things on time. But I would rather do things right and do things that will secure the future rather than destroy it. I would rather do things that honor the sacrifice rather than dishonor the sacrifice.

We can claim all we want when we pass a veterans caregiver bill, but if we don't fund it and there is no money for it, it is an announcement that we care but no action behind it. If we don't cover all the veterans who have the same need, we know it is political only. The motion to commit makes sure that we cover all veterans, that we treat them all equally, and if they have the same kinds of needs, they will get the same kinds of service--not because they are young and served in the war on terror but because they served this great Nation and preserved it with their courage, valor, and commitment.

I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.


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