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Public Statements

Tax Extenders

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to spend time talking about the bill we are considering.

Yesterday afternoon, I had the great fortune--my daughter was performing in Florida and was driving back to New York. I got to see my 7-month-old granddaughter. Anybody who is a grandparent knows what it is like to see your grandchildren. There is nothing wrong with it and everything right with it. You get a picture and see in your grandchildren aspects of your children. It draws back memories.

But I was struck by that encounter with my daughter and granddaughter and, by the way, her dog. What are our hopes and dreams about? What are the hopes and dreams we have for our children and our grandchildren? Our hopes and dreams are that they will have great opportunity to flower and blossom in a way that they can take advantage of their God-given talents and their hard work and become a success in their life's endeavors.

And then you contrast that with the heritage of our Nation--a heritage which is about sacrifice--where one generation makes hard choices, makes difficult decisions, where they sacrifice their own benefits from their own endeavors to create opportunity so that the next generation of Americans can have that opportunity to fulfill and expand their heart's desires.

We heard the Senator from Utah today talk about where the problems were with our Nation, and he talked about where all the gold was in terms of fixing what is wrong. I would have to say I disagree with him. When I look at the U.S. Constitution, and then I look at all the government programs the Federal Government has fostered, passed, and funds, I see a black-and-white slate. I see on the one hand the very limited intent of our Founders, which was spelled out very clearly in Article I, Section 8 of the enumerated powers--here are the powers you are to have. We are designing this to be a limited Federal Government and we are going to reserve everything else to the people and the States through the tenth amendment. Those words are actually in there. What is not spelled out for the U.S. Federal Government is explicitly reserved for the people and their States.

So when we consider the mess we are in--the fact we had a $1.56 trillion deficit last year, that 43 cents of every dollar we spent we borrowed from our grandchildren, that this year it will be $1.8 trillion, that over the next 9 years we will spend $10 trillion we don't have--and I would put forward most of it on things we don't need--look at it in the light of what our constitutional charge is.

I have made this statement from the floor several times. The oath we take--when I was sworn in, in January of 2005--is to uphold the Constitution. The Constitution is our guideline, our direction for what our responsibility is and what should be left to the States. So I agree with my colleague that unless we reform entitlements, we are going to have a difficult time solving our problems, but there is another answer. Actually, there are two other answers.

One of the other answers is to go through with a fine-tooth comb and look at every Federal Government program and ask: Is it a legitimate responsibility of the Federal Government? And if it is, is it a program we need?

You know, in 2 weeks time, my staff found 640 duplicative programs in the Federal Government, across all agencies, that all do the same thing--105 programs to encourage students to go into technology, math, engineering, and science. There are 105 different programs. So as we look at comparing what is our obligation and what is our charge under the Constitution with what is happening, all of a sudden a wide world opens up of monies we don't have to spend, that aren't absolutely necessary, that aren't absolutely a priority, that we shouldn't be spending money on in a time when we are borrowing and stealing the future of my little granddaughter Katie Rose, and everybody else's granddaughter.

Why would we not demand that we do the hard work of going through what is truly our obligation and eliminating what is not, and eliminating the multitude of duplications that the Federal Government has? Why shouldn't we put ourselves to the same test every other family in America is put to. Once you have maxed out your credit card, once you have passed your limits, they do not continue to extend you money. Unfortunately, what they do is jack up your interest rate. Well, guess what is getting ready to happen to us. We do not have an unlimited credit card. What is going to happen to us over the next few years? We are seeing 30-year bond obligations today going for a higher percentage than what they have ever gone for in the last 4 or 5 years, and we are going to see that trend continue. Out of the $10 trillion we are going to spend--money we don't have--in the next 9 years, $5.6 trillion of that is to pay interest on the national debt. So we are going to find ourselves in the same predicament as that person who has maxed out their credit card who is now paying interest on the interest instead of paying off the debt.

I said there were two ways of looking at this. The second is to go through the Federal Government and eliminate the waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication. One is to eliminate where we don't truly have a responsibility or authority for what we are doing under the Constitution, but the second is we have identified $350 billion a year of waste, fraud, and duplication in the Federal Government. We have done that over a period of hearings over the past 4 years. One amendment out of about 800 I have offered over the last 5 years has been accepted to eliminate something--just one. They have all otherwise been voted down. And they have been voted down because Members of this body refuse to make the hard choices about priorities, because they think we don't have to.

Well, the gig is up. There is a real rumble among the American people. There is a rumble in America about holding us accountable for the future of this country, which means no longer ignoring the hard choices, no longer adding to the credit card. I say all that to talk about the bill that is before us. We have a bill before us that is called the tax extenders bill. But that is not what it is. It is the debt extender bill. Because this bill, in light of all the speeches we will hear in this body, and all of the excuses and all the press releases that are going to be released, is going to add $104 billion to our children's credit card.

Yesterday this body voted to go forward with that. They voted to not make the hard choices, not offset the spending. If these are priority items that we should be doing in this bill, then why aren't we going after some of the waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Government and getting rid of it? There is $104 billion over the next 10 years, with this one bill alone, that we are going to add to the debt, and that comes down to $10.4 billion a year. We have $350 billion worth of waste. Yet we refuse to go into that $350 billion worth of waste, fraud, and duplication, and eliminate anything to pay for this. Instead, we are going to steal that opportunity, we are going to steal that future, we are going to put a blight on the blossom of opportunity for our children and grandchildren. I beg America to hold us accountable; to not accept business as usual anymore.

When you get down to it and start talking about what this means--when you take the $104 billion and divide it by the 300 million people in this country and then multiply it by the average family size--what you get is $1,282 per family that this bill will add. So if in fact you go to sleep the day after tomorrow, when this bill has passed the Senate, when 60 Senators vote for it and we go on and do this--35 or 36 will vote against it, but 64 or 65 will vote for it--when you put your head on your pillow at night, you can thank them for jeopardizing the future of your children. And not because what they want to do in the bill is necessarily wrong, but because they lacked the courage to stand up and make the hard choices that are required in times of distress in our country.

If you study our history, our greatest leaders exhibited courage in the face of adversity. They pulled us through by making hard choices, not running away from the hard choices. We had a lot of people who were critical of Senator Bunning because he raised the issue on a $12 billion jobs bill--that isn't going to do anything--and said we ought to pay for it. We voted him down. We said no. But you know what, as I read the American public, about 80 percent of them said we should have paid for it. We should have done that. And those people who were most critical of Senator Bunning on the floor are the people who have hardly ever voted against any spending bill in their entire career in the Senate. They honestly believe it is okay to mortgage the future of our children to benefit their own political careers.

So what we have developing in the Senate isn't partisanship, it is policy differences that will make the difference for this country. And if the ne'er-do-wells of doing it the same old way win, our children won't have a future. What they will have is a debt burden they will never get out of.

We hear speeches, as we did from the Senator from Utah, that tend to push us, and we think, well, we have to figure out how we can fix Medicare and Social Security. Well, how do we fix Medicare and Social Security? We have to delay retirement, lessen benefits, eliminate fraud in Medicare, and delay eligibility. Those are the only answers. Or we have to raise taxes.

But how do you raise taxes on the American people when you know you are spending $350 billion a year that is wasted? How do you, in good conscience, even consider that? I am not against having a tax increase when and if we have done everything we can do to get this government efficient and eliminated what is not our role and gotten rid of the fraud, waste, and duplication. And most of America wouldn't be against that either. But right now they do not trust us. And for good reason they don't trust this body. Because we are not shooting straight with them. We are not telling them that we are going to add $1,282 to their kids' debt.

When you take this number--this 347 figure, and you look at kids 25 years and younger, and you take that out 20 years, here is what you find: Not only
are they going to be responsible for the debt we have today, but the $78 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and all the other trust funds, including Federal employees' retirement, which adds up to $1.3 million for every person in this country under 25, ask yourself: How in the world will they ever own a home or send their kids to college if in fact they are having to support $60,000 a year in interest on a debt they didn't create?

The promise of America was freedom. Debt is a hard taskmaster. But it is doubly hard when it wasn't your debt but that of your parents and your grandparents, yet you are tasked with changing your lifestyle, your opportunities, your hope and vision for your children because this generation didn't have the courage to stand up and say: Enough is enough.

When will it ever be enough--when we can't sell our bonds? When will it ever be okay to offend those who are on the dole and who don't deserve to be on the dole? When will it be okay to eliminate the waste in the Federal Government, if not at a time we are going to have a $1.8 trillion deficit; if not at a time when $50 billion is going to be defrauded out of the stimulus program? When will we ever do it?

We have never been in the financial situation our country is in today--never before in our history.

Our whole foreign policy is now being affected and impacted because of our debt. We have to keep an ear toward China as we conduct our foreign policy, in the fear that they may dump our bonds. Why would we put ourselves in that position when we do not have to? Because there is no spine in the Senate. There is no spine in the Congress. There is no spine to go out and say: Yes, I made the hard choices. You may not like it, but your children deserve that we make hard choices and difficult decisions. If I am not here, it is OK, I did the right thing. I secured our future. I will be able to sleep at night, knowing I was not a part of taking and stealing that blossom of potential from our children and grandchildren.

I will finish by asking a question of the American people. Is it right that you have to make choices within a finite budget, yet your elected leadership in Washington does not? Is it fair for you to have to sacrifice to create a future for your children, when we are destroying that future in Washington?

It is a time for Americans who have never been involved in the political arena, in our Nation, to get involved because the future of your children and your children's children depends on it. We have a very short window within which to recapture the economic renaissance in our country, and it is less than 4 years. If you look at what we are coming to in terms of debt-to-GDP ratio and in terms of the size of the government to the size of the GDP, we will be on an irreversible course that will eliminate American exceptionalism forever because the thing that made us free and kept us free was a fairly limited Federal Government. What we have in front of us is an attempt not to get it back down to a size that is manageable and within the intent of our Founders' vision and the American people's expectation; we have an intent to grow. The discretionary budget of the Federal Government, on the rate that has been passed by this body the last 2 years alone, not counting the stimulus, will cause the Federal Government to double in size in 5 years. We are 40 percent bigger than we were 2 years ago; actually, it is 38.6 percent bigger. We hear the average Federal employee now makes $72,000 and the average private employee now makes $40,000. We have added 170,000 new jobs in the government in the last 7 months, while we have lost three times that in the private sector. Things are out of whack. The only way they are going to change is if the American public demands it to be changed.

I will go back. This is not a tax extenders bill. This is a debt extension bill. We are going to extend another $104 billion of debt across the threshold of opportunity for our children and grandchildren. I am not going to be a part of that. I am not going to be complicit in it. If that is not satisfactory to the people of Oklahoma, I am fine with that. I am ready to make the hard choices to make us a lean mean fighting machine again as an economy, a lean mean fighting machine as far as opportunity. The way to do that is to downsize the Federal Government, put it back within the role of its intended purposes, and return to the States both the money and the authority to handle what is rightfully theirs in the first place.

The second thing that is important is to get rid of the $350 billion worth of waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication that occurs every year that we do nothing about. We do nothing about it. We send out press releases, but when it comes time to vote to make a hard choice, we do not do it. We refuse to do it. We refuse to offend those who are well connected and well heeled, while we send our country into the trash heap of history through financial collapse.

My hope is, my colleagues will stand and say we are not going to pass this debt extender bill until you pay for it, until you make the hard choices about what is waste, what is duplication, what is fraud, and get rid of some of that to pay, if these are truly priority items.

You see, if they are truly priority, if America truly needs them, then there has to be something that is a lower priority that we can take away. But we do not have that kind of thought in the Senate because we just keep putting the credit card into the machine. Thank you, China. It is not going to be too long before we are saying: May we please, China. May we please. May we.

Watch what is happening to Greece. Look at the articles on Ireland today, the hard choices they had to make to get themselves out of trouble. But they are doing it. We are ignoring it in this body, and we are going to pass another $104 billion along to our children and grandchildren.

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

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