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Public Statements

Tax on Bonuses Received from Certain TARP Recipients

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COCHRAN. Madam President, I oppose the amendment of the Senator from South Carolina. He is a friend of mine. He is a distinguished Senator. He makes an impact here in the Senate that is very impressive. But I think his proposal to impose a virtual moratorium on congressionally directed spending is not in the public's interest.

Some Senators who support the amendment voted earlier this year against creation of a deficit reduction commission and against pay-as-you-go rules. They argued that those initiatives were merely fig leaves and might make Congress feel good, but would not serve any useful purpose and might actually operate against our effort to reduce the national debt.

This amendment also may make you feel good, feel like you are doing something to reduce spending, but in reality, it does not accomplish that goal. Earmarking has nothing to do with how much the Federal Government spends, but it has everything to do with who decides how the Federal Government spends.

The DeMint amendment applies to earmarks in any bill--whether it is authorizing legislation, tax bills, or appropriations bills. The Appropriations Committee drafts bills that conform to the discretionary spending levels established in the annual budget resolution. If it is the will of the Congress, as expressed in the budget resolution, to increase domestic spending by 5 percent, the Appropriations Committee produces bills to conform to that level of spending. If the will of the Senate is to cut discretionary spending below a certain level, the committee will do that as well.

In any case, the committee allocates the discretionary amounts of funding for Federal programs as provided in the budget resolution. We also review the President's budget request, the levels of funding in prior years, and other considerations that are important. We meet with many outside groups during the annual hearing process. We review the requests for funding of every government agency in the executive branch. We also consider the priorities expressed by Members of the Senate. Some come to our hearings and testify as witnesses. We have an annual series of hearings reviewing every Department's budget requests and the agencies that operate within those Departments.

We subject the entire process to careful scrutiny. The Senate as a whole is involved as they want to be in negotiations with the other body, letting us know what their views are, and what we should argue for during conferences with the House. In disagreements with the administration, the Congress really has the power for the final say-so.

We do not all agree on the spending levels approved in the budget resolution. The Senator from South Carolina and I are likely to agree that the discretionary spending level approved for fiscal year 2010 was too high. But the level of spending is not the question before us. The question proposed by the DeMint amendment is whether Congress will allow the executive branch to make 100 percent of all the decisions about how spending is allocated or whether Congress will preserve its constitutional prerogative to appropriate funds for the purposes it deems meritorious.

There are many outstanding civil servants within the executive branch who do their best to manage in a careful way Federal funds in a professional manner. But those persons are not necessarily familiar with the interests of the people in our respective States and with the needs of those we represent.

It is naive to think that political considerations are not going to be a part of the executive branch decisionmaking process. History belies the notion that executive branch judgment with regard to spending is superior to the legislative branch.

Are my colleagues happy with the way stimulus funding has been spent, unfettered by congressional earmarks? Will western Senators be comfortable appropriating lump sums of money to the Department of the Interior for land acquisition not knowing what lands will be acquired? Inspector general reports arrive almost weekly describing wasteful and sometimes fraudulent spending by executive branch agencies.

Some may think executive branch spending decisions are entirely merit based, immune from political pressure and lapses in judgment. But they are not. That is one of the reasons I am not willing to cede every spending decision to the executive branch. I am not talking about political party-driven decisions, but I am not willing to concede superior public interests in the executive branch as compared with the legislative branch. I think the people of my State are entitled to be represented by advocates of projects that are important to the interests of their State. The programs and legislation that benefit our State they want me to support, and they want it to be in the best interests of my State and the country.

Each Member has to make his or her own analysis of each bill based on the entirety of its contents, the Member's views and background, his or her view of the national interest. So the presence or absence of earmarks is not the determining factor in the quality of the legislative process.

Every piece of legislation we consider in the Senate affects all of our citizens, communities, and industries in different ways. The bill currently before the Senate, which is the FAA authorization bill, has many provisions of particular interest and benefit to communities and sectors of the aviation community.

Madam President, I know the time is limited, and I do not want to prolong the debate. I do not question the motives of any Senator in this legislative process. Actions that we are taking are driven by notions of what is in the best interests of the country. We just happen to disagree, and I strongly disagree with this amendment.

Should we throw up our hands and say: This is a tough job, and let's turn it over to the executive branch; let's respect their decisions, forget our own interests in our States, and our own individual backgrounds and experience? Of course not. That would be an abdication of our responsibilities as Senators.

So the solution is to adopt an aggressive budget resolution; consider all spending and tax bills in a transparent fashion; subject them to public, careful scrutiny; allow Members to propose amendments on any and all provisions of any and all appropriations bills. When they judge it to be wasteful, vote against it. Cut the spending or approve it. In any case, do what each individual Senator thinks is in the public interest, unfettered by makeshift budget restraints that accomplish nothing except shift power from the Congress to the Executive.


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