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Public Statements

Increasing The Statutory Limit On The Public Debt - Continued

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, while the Parliamentarian is doing the work that is necessary at this time, I thought I would spend a few minutes talking about this amendment in the interest of saving some time.

We have a significant problem in front of us as a Nation. We have before us an underlying bill that raises the debt that nobody in this room, save the pages, will ever pay a penny toward reducing--nobody except the pages and their generation will pay a penny toward reducing.

This request for increasing the debt limit of $1.9 trillion, I remind my colleagues, is $200 billion more than the entire Federal Government spent in the year 1999, 10 years ago. So we, in one fell swoop, in 1 year, we are going to increase the debt by $200 billion more than what the entire Federal Government spent 10 years ago.

The whole purpose behind this amendment is a wake-up call to say: Wait a minute, the Congress, in the last 2 years, under its leadership, has increased spending 11.4 percent in 2009 and 11.4 percent this year, not counting a stimulus bill and not counting omnibus bills that were not paid for because they were declared an emergency.

If we add all that up, excluding the stimulus bill, we had a 28-percent increase in the size of the Federal Government in the last 2 years--just in the last 2 years. At that rate, the size of the Federal Government doubles over a 5-year period.

What these amendments are designed to do is to get us doing what every American family is doing today; that is, starting to make some of the hard choices about where we have excess, where we have inefficiency, where we have duplication, and eliminate it because we should not ask the American people to take on more debt when we know we have at least $387 billion worth of waste, fraud, and duplication every year in the Federal Government. Yet that is exactly what we are doing with the underlying bill. We are taking on more debt and not doing anything about the excessive spending or the waste, fraud, or duplication.

The whole purpose behind coming to the floor is to say: Can we not, in light of a 28-percent increase, cut 5 percent in terms of discretionary spending that we just jacked up five times that amount over the last 2 years? Can we not find 5 percent worth of waste? We have identified specifically 640 programs that are duplicative of one another in the Federal Government. We have identified waste. When we go to find out, when we ask the GAO or the Congressional Research Service to help us with this, do you know what they tell us? We cannot; it is too big. We cannot tell you where all the duplication is. That is our own research bodies saying they cannot tell us where it is too big.

This amendment puts a stop to that. It mandates that we in the future, every year, will get a report from the GAO on every program within the Federal Government that duplicates another program and what their recommendations are to streamline or change it.

The reason it is easy to borrow or easy to raise taxes is because we fail to do the hard work of eliminating the spending waste. We just had the Senator from Alabama wanting to put on some caps. That is not going to be adopted. We know it.

The reason I divided this amendment is because my colleagues will take one segment of it and say: Oh, I was for cutting 5 percent out of the Federal budget, but I just did not agree with this one segment, whether it be education or somewhere else, that we should not cut, and, therefore, I voted against the whole amendment.

This puts the American people in the driver's seat, as far as their Senators are concerned. We are going to get to see whether they agree that we ought to continue to waste money; that we ought to steal it from these pages and their generation and not do the hard work of making a choice and putting things in terms of priority like every American family is doing.

Every American family is doing that right now. They do not have an unlimited credit card. They do not have the privilege of going to the bank when they are tapped out and say: Just give me more money, like we are getting ready to do on extending the debt limit.

The other thing that is in this is leading by example. The Senators increased their budget by 5.8 percent this year. We reverse that. Most of us can easily live within the budget we had last year--easily. So we reverse the increase for the Senate back down to what it was last year.

We should not ask the rest of this government to make a sacrifice that we are not willing to demonstrate by leading on the same issue.

This bill can be the first step in a reality check of getting the Congress back aligned with where the American people are, as far as spending.

Just a year ago, in January of 2009, the national debt was $10.6 trillion. Today the national debt is $12.2994 trillion. Forty-three cents of every dollar we spent last year we borrowed, and we are going to do exactly that or worse this next year unless we wake up, unless we come to our senses.

You can have all the arguments you want, but nobody in America believes the Federal Government is not wasteful. Nobody believes it is good enough to just freeze a small portion of discretionary spending. What Americans believe is we need to cut spending. We need to cut out the waste, cut out the duplication, and cut out the fraud. We need efficiency where we can generate efficiency. We need to eliminate duplication where there is duplication.

My friend, President Obama, when he was campaigning said: I promise to spend taxpayer money wisely and to eliminate wasteful redundancy. We are going to help him with that. That is what this amendment does. In 640 programs where there is duplication, we are going to allow an incentive for each department to get rid of it. We are not mandating they have to get rid of it. We are saying: You should do the review. You should take this money, and you should eliminate the duplications. What you need from us to do that, we will give you. But we are giving you the authority to do that with these amendments.

Let me quote from President Obama:

Too often Federal departments take on functions or services that are already being done or could be done elsewhere within the Federal Government more effectively. The result is unnecessary redundancy and the inability of the Federal Government to benefit from economies of scale and integrated streamlined operations.

He is right. So now we are going to give the Senators a chance to support his statement and his position.

Nothing has been done in the last year to accomplish that. As a matter of fact, the President sent program after program that he wanted to get rid of. He said they are not effective, they do not work, they are duplicative, and they are not efficient. What did we do? We did not eliminate a one of them. We just kept funding them. So we cannot claim that the problems lie with the President. The problems do not lie with the President. The problems lie with the elected body of Congress in not making the hard, difficult choices of putting a priority on what is most important and taking the time to do the oversight and explain to the American people why we ought to have the programs consolidated. We may have a goal we want to accomplish and help the American people with, but we certainly ought to do it in the most efficient and effective manner we can.

The other reason to consider this amendment is to think about what is getting ready to happen to us. What is getting ready to happen to us over the next 10 years is we are going to accrue another $9 trillion in debt if we do not start this process with this amendment today. We are going to accrue another $9 trillion. Of that $9 trillion, $4.8 trillion of it is going to be interest. It is going to be interest costs on the debt. We are going to borrow money to pay the interest on the money that we borrow. It does not have to be that way.

My colleagues will come down and say: The big problem is the entitlement programs. There is no question that is two-thirds of our problem. But the easy thing to fix now and saves billions, if not trillions, of dollars on is the discretionary portion of the budget that we do have control over.

We always hear the excuse: That is not the big problem. The reason it is not the big problem is because politicians enamor themselves with people at home by spending money we do not have on things we do not need that are not truly a legitimate role of the Federal Government.

The family budget is getting smaller, and the Federal Government is getting bigger. That is just exactly the opposite of what ought to be happening in this country today. Inflation is near zero, but yet we are increasing spending, like I said, 11.7 percent last year. That does not include the supplemental emergency spending and does not have any connection at all with the stimulus bill. That is what we did with the individual budgets across the Federal Government.

When I come down and make the case for cutting back 5 percent of that, which ends up being $120 billion, nobody should be opining: My goodness, we are going to tear things up. But we are going to hear that. We are going to hear all the reasons we cannot do what I am proposing to do.

America is not going to buy that anymore. They are not buying it anymore, and they should not buy it.

The other thing this amendment will do is it will give us 30 days to come back and assess other areas where we can cut more spending. People in this body think that is hard. It is not hard. Let me give an example of where we can save $80 billion a year in one program.

At a minimum, there is $100 billion of fraud in Medicare a year. We do not have an effective strategy, like any other organization outside of government, to limit the defrauding that goes on in Medicare. We pay, and then we try to chase people we should not have paid.

Senator LeMieux from Florida and others have multiple ideas on how we could take that $100 billion and over the next 6 months save $30 billion or $40 billion of that. That is $30 billion or $40 billion each year over the next 10 years. That comes out to $ 1/2 trillion, which cuts down that $9 trillion in additional debt we are going to be encumbering upon our children.

Last year, this country's debt grew $4.2 billion a day. We didn't do anything about that except spend more money, so this year it is going to accrue at $4.3 billion a day. That is how much we are going to spend that we don't have.

Isn't it time that we start facing the situation as it is rather than the way we would like it to be? The cold hard facts are that we have a short timeframe--4 to 5 years at most--to get our house back in order. Now is the time to start. It is not next year, it is not next month; it is right now--right now, when the American people may or may not be focused on the fact that we are going to authorize an additional $1.9 trillion worth of borrowing. You can't even write that many zeros down and have a comprehension of how much it is. At the same time, we don't do anything about solving the problem.

Quite frankly, Congress has a dependency issue. We are addicted. We are addicted to spending. We are addicted to the age-old adage that if I spend enough money, I can go home and tell people how great I am, not ever telling them I am spending their money and their kids' money but claiming I am looking out for them.

The only way you really look out for America is to secure America into the future, and we have not been doing that. It hasn't been done under the Republican watch, hasn't been done under the Democratic watch. What has happened is the same old same old of continuing to ignore the problem and not taking the heat for making the tough choices that will put our country back on the track on which it belongs--a track that will secure a future for our children and grandchildren, that will embrace the heritage that made this country great. What was that heritage? That heritage was sacrifice. In this country, all of us--many--are sacrificing now, and many in the future are going to have to sacrifice.

Others will come down to the floor and they will say: Well, Coburn, all you want to do is cut spending; you don't really want to solve the problem. Well, the first part of solving the problem is cutting the spending and recognizing that the walls don't fall down if you cut 5 percent out of the discretionary spending in our budget. As a matter of fact, very few people will ever notice $120 billion coming out of the Federal Government on these discretionary programs because they will just go to a different grant program that does the same thing and get it there.

Let me go into some of the facts because many of us don't understand. Here are some examples:

There are 14 programs administered by the U.S. Department of Education related to foreign exchanges and designed to increase opportunity for students to study abroad. There is nothing wrong inherently with wanting our students to study abroad, to gain that perspective and to gain that education, but why 14 different programs? Why not one? Why not 1 program and save all the administrative costs of the other 13? Why not do that? Because somebody may not have their name on a program? The fact is, nobody knew that until we discovered it in the last 4 weeks.

There are more than 44 job-training programs administered by 9 different Federal agencies across the bureaucracy, costing $30 billion a year. Forty-four Federal job-training programs? Tell me why we need 44. Maybe 4 to hit different areas in different situations but not 44 and not through 9 different Federal agencies that are all trying to do the same thing and competing to throw out money.

What about 69 early education programs administered by 9 different Federal agencies. Sixty-nine, why would we tolerate that? Why would we continue with the status quo? Now is the time to make changes.

One of my favorites is that we have 105 Federal programs supporting science, technology, engineering, and math--105 different programs where we support that--funding over $3 billion a year. I agree we ought to encourage it, we ought to stimulate it, we ought to support it because we know we have to be competitive in the future, but do we really need 105 different Federal Government programs? The answer is, absolutely not. We don't. But because we don't know what is there, we continue to do the same.

As a matter of fact, there is going to be a Judiciary markup on Thursday that has a new program in it--supposedly new--and the authors of the bill have no idea that we already have a Federal program that does the same thing. That is why the important key component of this global amendment is to make sure the GAO tells us what is out there, what we need to do, and how we need to go about it. We may need some redundancy, but we don't need 105 times redundancy, we don't need 30 times redundancy, we don't need 44 times redundancy, and we don't need 69 times redundancy. As a matter of fact, when we have all these programs, the States have to hire all these different people to understand all the different programs so they can make sure they get their fair share. We could actually save the States a ton of money if they only had one-stop shopping--if, in fact, it is a truly legitimate government function.

The amendment also rescinds unobligated discretionary funds that have been available for more than 2 consecutive fiscal years. So it doesn't hurt the agencies if the money has been there and they haven't spent it. As a matter of fact, we are giving them so much money, they can't spend it all. We have seen unobligated balances go up because they can't get it out the door. And when we are pushing them to get it out the door, guess what happens to efficiency and accuracy and effectiveness of those programs. It goes way down.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, at year end 2009, that is, September 30, there was $657 billion sitting in unobligated funds. Some of that is military, some of that is war funds, some of that is VA. We exempt war funds and we exempt VA. We exempt DOD, but we shouldn't because there is $50 billion a year in waste in the Pentagon that can easily be demonstrated.

So we direct the GAO to identify those duplicative programs and report to Congress on the findings.

Madam President, may I make an inquiry of the Chair? Has the status of our division been decided?


Mr. COBURN. No. To answer the Senator's question, we do not even know how many duplicative programs there are out there. These are the 640 we found looking over a 4-week period.

But when we asked GAO or the Congressional Research Service about this, what they say is the task is too big. They do not even know if they can accomplish the task, which goes to the enormity of the problem we face.

I mentioned on the Senate floor earlier, we have a markup tomorrow in the Judiciary Committee for a new program, and it is duplicative of an existing program. But those offering the amendment do not even know it. So it shows we have to stop and reassess. Part of this amendment is creating a mandate that the GAO has to advise us on that.


Mr. COBURN. Would the Senator yield for a question?

Mr. LEAHY. Without losing my right to the floor.

Mr. COBURN. No problem there.

Is the Senator aware that the foreign ops appropriation increased by 11 percent in 2009 and 33 percent last year? Yet the Senator is saying we can't trim 5 percent from that budget? Am I hearing the Senator correctly? We increased it 46 percent in 2 years, and we can't cut 5 percent?

Mr. LEAHY. I would tell the Senator from Oklahoma that if you look over the last 10 years, there have been significant shortfalls in many of these programs, and in personnel. The increases began first at the request of former President George W. Bush, and then followed by President Obama because they realized the need for us to have these programs for our own security.

My response would be: Where do we make cuts? Your amendment does not say. Do we start with individual countries--Israel, Egypt, and so on? Do we start with programs to combat HIV, or malaria, or programs to eliminate childhood diseases in Africa? These exchanges enable Americans and foreigners to conduct scientific research to increase understanding and cooperation.

Rather than cut funding, Senators on both sides of the aisle have consistently urged the Appropriations Committee to increase funding to expand our efforts to promote better understanding of the United States. If we had funded all the requests for increases, it would be considerably more than it was. Senator Gregg and I stayed within our allocation. Also, I think it was the only appropriations subcommittee that reported a bill with no earmarks.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we just heard the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who is also chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, give the typical Washington talk on why we can't cut spending. In light of the fact there has been a 45-percent increase in his area of appropriations, we now can't come back and give 5 percent of that back to the American people.

Forty-five percent growth in 2 years, and we are picking winners and losers? We are not picking winners. The only winners we are picking are the American people.

The fact is, there hasn't been a major program eliminated by the appropriations subcommittee in 5 years. What they do is, once they are there, they are there forever, and nobody is willing to make the hard choices. That is typical of all the talk we will hear about why we can't cut $120 billion from the expenditures for this year--$120 billion out of $3.4 trillion, and we can't come up with 5 percent. We can't find it.

We are giving you a way to do that. Everybody is going to get to vote, and we are going to send a message to the American people. At the rate we are growing the government, it will double in the next 5 years, and we can't find 5 percent, when they are having to make 10, 15, 20, and 25 percent cuts in their own budgets.

What we heard was the typical appropriations response: We work hard, let's save this for appropriations. The problem is it never happens because every bill, somewhere, has a small constituency--every program. We listed 640 programs that have duplication, redundancy, and inefficiency. Yet we hear an appropriations subcommittee chairman say: Oh, no, we can't.

Well, the American people don't get that. We ought to be about trimming the waste out of this government, and at a conservative estimate there is at least $387 billion in waste, fraud, or duplication this year.

So we have the tremendous opportunity to come down here and deny the truth the American people know: This government is wasteful, it is not efficient, and most of the time it is not effective. When we try to make a commonsense, small cut after a tremendous growth over the last 2 years, we hear: No, we can't. No, we can't. We hear a sob story. We can't do it.

The fact is, we don't have a future unless we start cutting spending. The President even asked his staff to give him an option on the budget of a 5-percent across-the-board cut. We will hear tomorrow night about freezing discretionary spending. It is easy to freeze discretionary spending. We have just jumped it 27 percent across the board. But the freezing doesn't start until 2011. We are not going to freeze it until 2011. Our problem is today. The problem that our children are going to face is being manifested and made significantly harder because we are fearful to make commonsense cuts.

Mr. President, $100 billion out of this $120 billion comes from $660 billion that is sitting in agencies that haven't expended it over the last 2 years--the $660-some billion. We are saying, of those that haven't been spent, that hasn't been rolled out over the last 2 years, send $100 billion back. It is easy. We are spending money so fast that the agencies can't even get it out the door. When they do get it out the door, it is ineffective and highly inefficient and loaded with fraud.

Why in the world would we reject making commonsense efforts just like everybody else in this country is having to make today? Why would we put in the perspective: Oh, we can't do these little things, from the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, when in fact our country is drowning in debt and the future for our children is in doubt? We cry crocodile tears over some little program somewhere that in the whole realm of things is either duplicated or highly ineffective. We want to keep every last one of them.

We just heard the chairman of the foreign ops subcommittee say we can't do any of this. They are way too valuable; we can't do it.

Well, what is more valuable, taking care of the next generation, embracing our heritage of sacrifice to create opportunity or satisfying a small interest group that is dependent on a government program that is both ineffective and inefficient and also has three or four other programs that do exactly the same thing?

The first component that we are going to vote on is a mandatory request of the GAO to tell us the duplication; tell us across agency lines where we are failing. What do we need to know? Nobody can tell us that today. When we asked the GAO--personally asked the GAO--they said the task is too big. Well, that ought to be our first signal that something is really wrong, when the Government Accounting Agency says the government is so big and convoluted that they can't tell us where we have duplication.

They cannot give us recommendations on what to eliminate.

That ought to be our first signal to say time out, stop, cut some spending and let's see who squeals, and we will put back if we have made a mistake.

The American people understand, more than we do, what is at risk in the future. They want a secure future. They want the ability to plan for their children and their grandchildren. They do not want a fiat currency, which is what is coming if we do not rein in spending.

Most of my colleagues know that is the problem before us. The question is, will we have the courage to go after it. It would be different had we not had significant increases over the last 4 or 5 years in this country, in terms of the budget of the Federal Government. But it has doubled. We are going to have an increase in the debt limit for 1 year that is $200 billion more than the entire government spent in 1999. In 10 years we are going to borrow $200 billion more than we spent--just to operate 1 year--than we spent in the entire budget in fiscal year 1999. Of every penny we spend this next year, 44 cents of it is going to be borrowed--$4.4 billion a day.

What this amendment says is let's not make that so. It does not have to be so. Let's cut it to $3 billion or $3.3 billion of that. Let's save the future for our children.

I am reminded that hard things are hard. Habits are hard to break. The habit of Washington is to never have to make a hard choice. We heard a stellar representation by the Senator from Vermont about why things cannot change here--because everybody has a special little project, they want to protect. While they are protecting their special little project, they are forgetting about the country as a whole. That should not be the legacy we want to embrace. The legacy we ought to embrace is that we had the courage to make the hard, tough decisions at a time when it was called for. Now is that time. It is not 2011, it is not next month, it is not when the appropriations bills come, it is now.

Just think what would happen to the dollar tomorrow if the Senate cuts $120 billion of discretionary spending that is wasteful and duplicated and is not going to make a difference in nary an American life. The signal it will send to the world is we are back on track. The value of the dollar will rise, the cost of oil will go down, the standard of living of consumers will go up, and every family this year will benefit to the tune of $794, if we agree to this amendment.

I think the citizens of America are worth that. I know their children and grandchildren are worth it. The question is, will we curry up the courage? Will we meet the challenge that faces this country or will we continue the status quo because we have always done it this way? Doing it this way is exactly what put us $12.4 trillion in debt; by this time next year $14.2 trillion in debt. It is mortgaging and stealing the future of our children.

I look forward to seeing the outcome of the votes, and I know the American people do. This is the first time in a long time we have had a true vote on the floor to make a difference in what is going to happen in the finances of this country. My hope is we will not disappoint, again, the American people.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment rescinds our increase for our operations. We increased our budget 5.8 percent at a time when there was no inflation last year, zero. The year before that, we had increased our budget in excess of 10.9 percent, which means we effectively increased our own budgets to run our own operations 17 percent in the last 2 years, with less than 1 percent inflation over that period. If, in fact, we can't lead by example to cut our own budgets to help the country move out of the problem it is having, it is probably because we are not very good managers of our own budgets, which belies the problem we now face. I appreciate support on this amendment. The American people would sincerely appreciate support on this amendment.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, it is remarkable what length we will go to defend our budgets. The fact is, the assumption Senator Durbin made is that we are efficient. The fact is, we are not. Everybody in here could turn back at least 10 percent of their budget if they ran their office efficiently. We know that. Nothing in Washington is run efficiently. So to say we can't do it without putting ourselves at risk is poppycock. It is time for us to lead. Now is the time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, we are going to hear why we cannot do this, kind of along with the debate we just heard from the majority whip. But here are some examples for you. This is what the GAO found.

In 2005, 13 different Federal agencies spent $3 billion to fund 207 programs to encourage students to enter the field of math and science. Mr. President, 207 different programs, and we are going to vote against eliminating them here in just a minute.

In 2003, $30 billion was spent on 44 job-training programs administered by 9 different Federal agencies. Fourteen departments within the Federal Government, 49 independent agencies operate exchange and study abroad programs. So 14 departments, 49 independent agencies operate exchange and study abroad programs; 69 early education programs administered by 9 different agencies; 23 Federal housing programs that target or have special features for the elderly operated by 6 different agencies.

That is just a minimal number.

We are going to hear why we cannot do this. The American people are wanting to know when we are going to do what is right, what is possible, and what is best for the long term, not the short term.

With that, Mr. President, I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, what the American people are asking is, Why aren't the three nursing programs combined so you have one set of overhead to administer all three programs? That is what they are asking. This does not cut any money for the homeless. What it says is, put all the homeless programs under one set of administration where we save money and are much more effective at what we are doing because we are concentrating it within one area. We can have all sorts of reasons why we cannot do it. Let's find the courage to do it for the American people and the kids who follow.

Mr. President, I yield back the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, last year Federal agencies ended the fiscal year with $657 billion in unobligated balances. There is no question a great deal of that is associated with the war efforts and other things, but according
to OMB and CBO, approximately $100 billion of that has been sitting for 2 years or longer, never having been obligated for what we have directed it to. So we have $100 billion sitting out there that the agencies have not been able to spend. Obviously, if they haven't been able to spend it in the last 2 years, it is not a priority. If, in fact, we rescind that money to the Treasury, we will cut our deficit $100 billion, and then we can reappropriate what is necessary for this year. The rule in the Federal Government is after 2 years it is supposed to go back to the Treasury anyway, which is not being enforced for everybody except the Treasury Department. They are under that obligation.

So here is an opportunity--it doesn't affect anything because the money hasn't been obligated--to put it back in and start over and reprioritize. That is all it is about. It will actually move $100 billion back and then our appropriators can decide whether they want to put that back this year.

I appreciate your consideration on this amendment, and I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the dangerous consequences facing this Nation aren't as outlined by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee. The dangerous consequences facing this Nation are continued spending and borrowing from the next generation and a creditworthiness that is not going to even be BBB. There is no question there is danger before us. It is not this amendment. It is the continuing efforts on the part of those who are in Washington to not recognize the fact that we are wasting money hand over fist and, in fact, we appropriate yearly on many of these projects. So it will not eliminate any as outlined by the chairman. It will give us a chance to reprioritize, which every family in America is doing today.

I ask for the yeas and nays.


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