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Continuing Extension Act Of 2010 - Motion To Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to spend a few minutes talking about where we are as a nation and what the future is for our children.

We have at this point in time $12.6 trillion worth of debt. We now have equivalent debt for every man, woman, and child in this country of $42,000. For our children who are under 25 years of age, in the year 2030, each one of them will be responsible for $1,113,000 worth of debt and unfunded obligations. If we think about what that means, it means that for our children who are under 25 years of age, the ability for them to experience the opportunity that we as a nation have experienced in the past 230-plus years is going to be put at risk.

We have before us some things that need to get done. They have to get done. We have two options: We can add another $9.2 billion to that $12.6 trillion we have today and bump up more than that $1,113,000, or we can relook into the mirror and say: Should we as Americans start making some of the hard choices that are going to be necessary for us to get out of the mess we have created for our children?

When I travel around the country--and I travel in Oklahoma--Americans are concerned about our future right now. What are their concerns? What does it boil down to in their hearts? In their hearts, they have this gripping sensation that what they have experienced as an American may not be available for their children. It is a painful realization. Their hope for us is that we might change that outcome for their children. We have an opportunity to start that right now.

By way of background, most of us know there is a tremendous amount of waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication in the Federal Government. Oftentimes, it is hard to weed out because every program, whether it is efficient or effective or not, has people who tout it. Our nature as politicians is to offend no one. That is our nature. How in the world do we accomplish what is going to be necessary in the next 5 to 10 years and solve this most difficult problem that we, the politicians, have created? America didn't create this. The States didn't create this. This problem was created in Washington.

As has often been said, the easiest thing in the world is to spend somebody else's money. So the earnestness with which I come to the floor is to say we ought not be doing that, especially when we know there is waste and there is fraud and there is duplication and there is abuse in much of the Federal Government.

I was reminded of the trouble the State of New Jersey is in. What the people of the State of New Jersey have said is: We recognize the problem, and we need to change things. So they elected a new Governor on the basis that he would make the tough decisions about priorities to change the future path--that he might change the path of the future for the citizens of New Jersey. He put forth a bold budget. As a matter of fact, one of the Senate Democratic leaders is helping him fix the problem.

So we have a Republican Governor with a bold plan who has come forward to the people of the State of New Jersey. They elected him by a fairly large margin and said: For us to have this great future we all want for our kids, we are going to have to do some things that aren't necessarily pleasant, but they are necessary. It is kind of like when you have a child and they have to take a medicine, or the first time you take a child to the pediatrician's office for their first set of shots. That is an easy visit. The hard visit is the second visit because they have a memory of getting the injections the first time. So all of a sudden you have resistance, you have resistance, you have resistance to a medicine or a vaccine that actually fixes the problem, but there is a small amount of pain with it.

So the Governor of New Jersey has started out on a bold, fresh course not because he is a Republican--it doesn't matter the label. The fact is, the people in New Jersey, in a bipartisan manner, recognized they had to make changes. So we have unemployment insurance. We have COBRA. We have flood insurance. We have the doc fix for 30 days. We have all of these things in front of us that we all agree we want to get done.

Where lies our disagreement? It is very simple. One says we will declare it an emergency, not pay for it, and send the bill to our grandkids. The other says: Maybe it is time we quit doing that.

What is the expectation of the American people in terms of how we should respond to that? A recent poll said 72 percent of the American people, not divided by party, pretty neutral between both parties, say the No. 1 issue in front of us as a nation is our debt.

We had a warning from the rating agencies just 2 weeks ago that the United States of America is about to lose its AAA credit rating on its bonds. If you watched bond prices yesterday, what you saw was the yield shot up. The interest payment we are going to have to pay for when we borrow a huge amount of money is going to rise.

One of the most significant things we could do to help ourselves is send a signal to the world that we are not going to wait until our bond rating crashes, that we are going to start taking the steps that are necessary for us to get back on a road to fiscal health.

With all good faith, I think the majority leader and the minority leader tried to work out an agreement where we could perhaps accomplish this. We did not get there. Therefore, we find ourselves where we are going to have to have a debate, and we are going to have to discuss in front of the American people if we do these good things--and they are good--should we get rid of things that are a whole lot less good or should we take the immoral choice and not make any choice at all and pass it on to our children and grandchildren.

That is the question of where the American people are today. The majority and the President have had a great victory on health care, with not partisan differences but policy differences with my side of the aisle. That is now the law of the land. Whether you believe CBO and how it is scored, the fact is, even if it saves that amount of money, that does not come close to solving any of our problems.

We have had these multiple month-long extensions, of which none have been paid for, at about $9 billion to $10 billion a month. We find ourselves, because we want to go home or we want to go on a codel or we want to campaign or we want to fundraise, we want to make it easy and just pass it on down to the next generation.

I cannot agree to that anymore, ever again; that, in fact, if we are going to spend money on things we know we ought to do, then the obligation ought to be on us to get rid of funds that are spent on things that are very much less important. That is the hardest thing a political body does, is that they end up isolating and irritating those who are well connected who have an interest in those lower priority items. It is hard for us because, as is our nature, we want to offend no one. But we are going to have to talk that out. I guess we are going to have to talk it out on the floor, and we are going to have to debate it. We are going to talk about what our true long-term future is if we do not change.

I would rather us not be at this point, but when I wrestle with my own conscience and as I visualize my grandchildren and the grandchildren of everybody in this body, I think it would be immoral for us not to have this debate.

I don't know what the outcome of the debate is going to be and the ultimate result. But I can tell you it is a legitimate debate we ought to be having. We ought to not just be having it on this extender package. We ought to be having it on any new spending, in any form, that the Congress does.

One of the large segments of the Recovery Act that some of us disagreed with was the amount of money that got transferred to the States to help them through this fiscal crisis. When we look at that, when we did that, I believe--and this is my personal belief, and I am sure many of my colleagues would not agree with it--we transferred the worst habit of Washington to the States, saying there are not consequences to your spending more money than you have. Although all these States have balanced budget amendments--in my own State, even though we had to make some tough decisions because of the tremendous amount of money that came through the Recovery Act, we did not make the decisions we should. So now we are going to make them this year, and we are going to make very difficult choices about priorities in the State of Oklahoma, with a Democratic Governor and a Republican House and Senate. They are going to get the job done. They are going to accomplish it because the people of Oklahoma do not allow their government to run their government on the backs of their unborn children. We do not allow it. We forbid it. We see it as immoral.

If you think about it, it is because what we are doing is stealing future opportunity from our children. People can say that is not right, but when you run the numbers--and everybody knows the numbers--it is right.

CBO put out 2 weeks ago that we are going to have a $9.8 trillion deficit this decade, not counting last year. They also put out that $5.6 trillion of that $9.8 trillion is money that is going to be used to pay interest. We are now similar to the person who gets in trouble on their credit card. The analogy does not stop there because what happens to the person with the credit card debt? The interest rate rises because they are not paying, when they only pay the minimum.

We have now gotten to the point where the vast majority of our debt accumulation in the next 9 years is going to be associated with interest payments rather than defending the country, rather than refilling Social Security, the money we have stolen out of there, rather than picking up the deficit that is in Medicare. We are going to spend that money to pay for interest. It is a double whammy. It is money we are paying that is not helping anybody. It is not helping anybody.

I was nominated to be on the Commission President Obama issued by Executive order that has six of our Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate and six of us on the Republican side and six appointed by the President. I have had multiple conversations with many of those people already. Quite frankly, they are worried and scared for our country based on the numbers we are seeing.

How is it we would now start down a road ignoring the reality of what is in front of us?

Let me describe what is in front of us. I wish to talk about it from an international standpoint first, and then I wish to talk about it from a domestic economy standpoint.

We had the Chinese Army say 6 weeks ago to the Chinese Government: Dump a bunch of American bonds; hurt them. You have the Chinese Government that undervalues its currency, stealing our jobs, and we are borrowing money from them. They now have an impact on our foreign policy. All we have to do is talk about Iran.

The sanctions we want to place on Iran that are necessary to be placed on Iran to contain the threat of them developing nuclear weapons are not available to us. The reason they are not available to us is because China and Russia have leverage over our debt. We do not have a clear, clean, crisp foreign policy because we have this little IOU of $900 billion to China and $700 billion to Russia that we are worried might influence their handling of that and the consequences of it.

When we look at history and we look at all the republics that have ever been, the one key thing in common that happens to them that causes them to fail is what? Is that every one of them got in trouble on a fiscal basis before they withered on an international basis or on a dominance basis. Every one of them withered. They, in fact, fell because they could not support their armies, they could not support the networks they put out and developed as a governing body.

The question is, Will that happen to us? There is a potential for that to happen to us. I will tell you, yes, we are in a position now where if we do not change gears and start making priorities on both programs and benefits, drawn in the light of the priorities of our present financial situation, and start making selections about what is most important versus what is least important, we are going to be similar to the Athenian Empire.

The real thing that is going on outside Washington and throughtout America is the fear of what is happening to us. They sense it. They worry about it. We have exaggerated that by at times not paying attention to that fear and that worry. But the consequence of not starting at a point in time in which we are going to make a difference and start doing what we were elected to do, which is to select priorities and eliminate nonfunctioning, poorly functioning duplication and fraud from the Federal Government--I said I was going to talk about the other side.

What does the domestic side look like for us as we go out, having $9.8 trillion worth of more borrowing in the next 9 years, with $5.6 trillion of that in interest payments? What does that do to our domestic economy? What is the impact? The impact is, we will see changes in our standard of living because of it. They are not positive changes.

If we were to stop right now and not borrow another penny and try to manage the debt we have today, we would still see a marked increase in inflation in our country--not immediately, but all you have to do is watch the bond market to see what is going to happen and you watch the yield curve. When you see 10 years go from last year this time 2.4 percent to 3.9 percent, which is a greater than 50 percent rise in yield as we continue to flood $300 billion this week in borrowing from the Fed, what does that mean for the average American?

What that means for the average American is inflation. What that means to that $5.8 trillion in terms of interest payments is that it is a larger proportion because as the interest costs rise, the proportion of interest payments versus total debt rises.

We now spend in the United States--last year, per household--$38,980 in Federal programs per household. The median family income in America is $50,000, and the Federal Government is responsible for 80 percent of that as a ratio in terms of money we spend. We only collected--and this is not last year but the year before data--$18,000 per household.

So what do the numbers say? The numbers said that last year, 43 cents out of every dollar that the government spent we borrowed. It is going to be about 48 cents or 47 cents, we don't know for sure, this year. But I would note that we had the highest monthly deficit in our history in the month of February, and we need to send a signal to the international financial market that we are aware----

Mr. REID addressed the chair.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The majority leader.

Mr. REID. Through the Chair, I would ask if my friend would yield for a question?

Mr. COBURN. I would be glad to yield for a question.

Mr. REID. Could the Senator give us an idea of how long he is going to talk?

Mr. COBURN. About another 30 or 45 minutes. I will be glad to signal that ahead of time so the Senator would not have to wait on me. I will make sure the Senator is notified before I finish.

I kind of lost my train of thought.

The fact is, about 47 cents out of every dollar that we spend this year we are going to borrow. From whom are we borrowing it? Half we are borrowing from the American taxpayer, but the other half we are floating to the same people who hold our debt today. So we are doing a couple of things that are very dangerous for us. We are increasing our dependency on financing with those who don't have the best interest in mind for us, and we are raising the level of the amount of money we borrow that we have to pay back in interest to where it is not going to be long that all the money we are borrowing is interest.

Why is that important to the individual family? If you have a savings that has recovered somewhat from the lows of 2009--and I think the average savings has recovered about 60 percent of its losses, or 75 percent of the losses in this country--when we start inflating the value of that retirement, the value of that asset is going to decline in terms of real dollars. We are perilously close to getting into the same situation we got into in the late 1970s and the early 1980s where we had double-digit inflation, double-digit unemployment, and double-digit interest rates.

You will hear everybody say: Oh, that isn't going to happen to us again. Well, I certainly hope it doesn't, but some of the same situations are playing out today that were playing out then. So if in fact you are on a fixed income, a retirement income, and we start inflating because of our debt, who does it hurt the most? It hurts those individuals who are on a fixed income, who don't have the luxury of going back to work or don't have the capability of going back to work. What happens to them? Their standard of living goes down, along with their ability to cope.

As I talk to families across America, what they are doing, still to this day, is they are sitting down at the table and they are visiting with one another and they are saying: Here is the money in, and here is the money out. How do we increase the money in, and how do we decrease the money out? What they are doing is picking what is important. They are picking what is a priority and going without the things that are not as important.

I agree that we have 9.7 percent unemployment and we ought to be helping those people. I agree we ought to be helping with COBRA. I agree we ought to do the doc fix. We had an opportunity last night to fix it for 3 years and 9 months and pay for it, but this body rejected that. I agree those are good things. What I don't agree with is doing those good things on the backs of our grandchildren. When and if we do those good things, and we haven't paid for them, what we will have done is been dishonest with the American people, not only in our action but in our oath.

You see, it is easy to spend other people's money if in fact you are sitting up here secure with a pension and a good salary and there are no consequences to us. We will all do fine. But the vast majority of Americans will not do fine, and the future of America will not shine bright. The future will be a little dimmer because we have this tremendous yoke of heaviness and drudgery on our backs because we, in fact, would not have made the hard choices.

This isn't the first Congress. The Republicans didn't make hard choices when they were in control. It is not partisan. It is a disease of elected officials, that they think they can get away without making the hard choices because the cost for not making the hard choices comes down the road. We have been doing that now for 30 years in this country. We have not made hard choices. We have made a lot of mistakes.

No question, Republicans have made more than their fair share of those mistakes. But rather than point fingers, what we ought to say is: What is the problem? What are the symptoms of the problem, and how do you fix them?

Many economists say it is impossible for us to grow our way out of this situation. We had a nice bump in the fourth quarter, thanks to hundreds of billions of dollars that got pumped into the economy, and there truly were a lot of jobs saved by the stimulus act. Maybe not as efficiently as I would have liked, but there were jobs saved. Nobody can dispute that. The question is, are we going to continue the policies that got us into trouble?

As I practice medicine, the one mistake doctors make and that gets them into trouble is when they treat symptoms instead of the disease. Here is the best example I know. Somebody comes to you with a fever and cough, malaise, and not feeling good. Well, I as a doctor, I can give them medicine for a cough. I can fix that. And I can give them something for the fever and the muscle aches. I can fix that. But if I don't diagnose what is causing the fever, the muscle aches, and the cough, what I have done is covered up the disease. That is what we are doing. The patient may get well because the body is a miraculous part of creation, and it has tremendous defenses. The mortality rate for pneumonia at the turn of the last century was 60 percent. Today, in somebody under 80, it is about 1 percent because we have the drugs to treat the real disease not the symptoms.

What is going to describe our action? Are we going to treat the symptoms or are we going to treat the disease? My hope would be that we could lock hands and say: Here is a start. Here is $9.2 billion that we, in fact, can find a way to come together and pay for and make sure these people get these benefits that are needed in this time of difficult economic situation. We can do that, and we can set a new start--a new start of reaching across the aisle and saying this is an appropriate moral goal, just as it is an inappropriate moral goal to not pay for it. It is immoral.

Let me say it again: To steal from your children and your grandchildren with a wink and a nod and thinking there are no consequences for your borrowing against their future is immoral. It wouldn't be immoral if everything we were doing was working great; that there wasn't $350 billion worth of duplication, fraud, abuse, and waste in the Federal Government every year--$350 billion every year, fully documented. It wouldn't be. But that is where we find ourselves.

So on the one hand over here we have this waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication. Yet because we want to get out of town we don't want to do the hard work of ferreting something out of that, something that is suspected of not being effective, to pay for the $9.2 billion. And I told my leadership that I didn't have any desire to keep anybody here this weekend through Wednesday. That is not my desire. But, in fact, if we are not going to do it, if we are going to take the immoral choice and spend money that we don't have and not eliminate programs that are not effective--programs that would not deliver to the American people, programs that would not accomplish their intended purpose--and just charge that to our grandkids, I feel obliged to stand in the way of that. And it will not be easy.

We didn't have much sleep last night. It will require a lot of effort on my part. But I think the future of our country is worth that. The future of our country is worth taking the consternation of those who will be upset with me because I am taking this stand. And I want to say at the outset, if somebody had plans, I apologize that those plans might be disrupted. I had plans, and they are going to get disrupted. But I don't apologize for having a legitimate debate on whether we ought to grow a spine and start making the same kind of decisions that every family in America is making.

It doesn't matter if you are a liberal or a conservative, you are still making those decisions. It is not about social issues. The greatest moral question in front of us today is not this range of social issues that so often divide us. The greatest moral issue in front of us today is whether we will preserve this wonderful experiment and create an opportunity, through hard work and sacrifice, so that the generations that are to come will have the same benefit from it that we have had. So it may turn into a partisan debate, but that is not my goal. It needs to be a legitimate, intellectual debate about the value of being efficient, the value of doing the hard work of making choices that are of the highest priority, and eliminating those things that, although they might be good, are less good in favor of things that are absolutely necessary.

Unfortunately, in my almost 5 1/2 years in the Senate, my side rarely does that, and neither does the other side.

How do we get out of the problem we have? How do we get out of the gridlock? How do we get out of the anger? How do we then focus on what the real problem, the real danger to the undermining of America is? The real danger to the undermining of America is the fact that we have a government that is entirely too big; the only thing it is effective and efficient at is wasting money; that we can't afford the Government we have today; that we continue to borrow money we don't have to pay for things we don't absolutely need. How do we get out of that?

I recognize the debate. Unfortunately, I had a drafting error in what I intended to offer so we are offering pay-fors from what I think is not necessarily the best source, but it is better than not paying for it. There is $100 billion in unobligated balances sitting at the agencies in this country. It has already been used to pay for certain things we have already voted on. Nobody would feel the pinch if we did it that way.

I would be inclined to ask for a unanimous consent, but I will not do that until I am sure the other side will not object to it, to have a change in the paperwork in mine from what I originally intended but, because of a drafting error, I cannot use. But nevertheless, the legitimate debate is whether we borrow and steal from our kids or we get out of town and send the bill to our kids for something we are going to consume today.

There is a disease that is called consumption--it is syphilis. It is consumption because it consumes you. We have a disease similar to that. Our disease actions in Congress are consuming away the opportunity of America, much of it because we lack perspective but most of it because we lack the will to make the difficult choices that are in front of us. I wonder--actually, I am sometimes astonished--why people do not go home from here at night tremendously concerned about our future, enough so that it causes us to come together to do the best, right thing for America. Is the best, right thing for America to borrow this $9.2 billion? Is that the best, right thing for America? Or would it be that we eliminate programs that are not nearly as effective or lessen programs that are not nearly as effective as these are going to be for those people who are depending on us today? Not just the best, right thing in the short term, because another disease that plagues us is we fail to consider the long term oftentimes--not all the time. But we become short-term thinkers, thinking about, where is the political advantage? How do I look good? How do I accomplish what I want to accomplish for me or my State? I think it is important that we understand there is no State in this country that can be healthy if our country is not healthy--if the country isn't economically healthy, if it is not socially healthy. If it is not, then we have not done our job.

My apologies to the leader for putting him in this position. It is with a very intended sense of commitment that I want us to try to pay for this. I understand there is disagreement in that regard, but I look forward to trying to solve this problem, and if we can, I look forward to having the debate as it goes forward.

I yield to the majority leader.


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