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Public Statements

American Jobs And Closing Tax Loopholes Act Of 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have listened to my colleague from California. I am somewhat amazed to think she would imply we don't care about the unemployed. The fact is, we do. I went through the list of the things she mentioned, as did the Senator from Vermont. I was not here in 2001. I was not here in 2003. I was not here when both the wars were initiated. I had no part in any of that. But even had I been, the fact is, we can help two groups of people with this unemployment insurance. There isn't anybody on our side of the aisle who doesn't think we ought to pass extended unemployment benefits. To state or imply that is absolutely absurd. It is not about stalling. The majority leader did not allow one amendment to allow us an opportunity to have a vote on whether we ought to pay for it.

The question isn't whether we help the unemployed. Every time we have offered ways to do so--as a matter of fact, five times it has been rejected that, in fact, our grandchildren should not have to pay for the unemployment benefits of the people who are unemployed today. Five times it has been rejected. Multiple times we have chosen to not do the responsible thing for two groups of people. It is easy to come to the Senate floor and throw darts at people who have a drastic disagreement on where we stand in this country. But to imply that they don't care is out of bounds. The people in Oklahoma who are not getting unemployment checks today I care about just as much as the people who don't have a job who aren't getting one. But there is another group of people whom I am pressed to serve in Oklahoma as well; that is, their children. The assumption that this body can't make the hard choices to eliminate things that are much less important, much more wasteful, an absolute waste of Federal dollars and eliminate those things to pay for unemployment insurance is out of the bounds of reality.

My colleague from California mentioned several times that all the people who are getting these extended benefits have paid into a fund. They paid zero. This is extended benefits. The extended benefits are 100 percent paid for by Federal tax dollars. It is the 26 weeks, the routine unemployment, that is paid for through the unemployment fund. The extended benefits, long-term benefits, don't come from any pot of money except the pot of money of our grandchildren's future.

Let's put that to rest. There is not a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent in this body who does not want these folks to get extended unemployment benefits. We do. The question is, at a time when we are going to borrow $1.6 trillion this year alone against the future of our children, whether maybe we can find $30 billion, that doesn't come anywhere close to the priorities of helping people who are unemployed today. I reject out of hand the idea that we don't have any compassion. The fact is we do.

As a matter of fact, our compassion is both short term and long term. We are thinking about the habits of Congress that continually put the credit card into the machine and borrow against the prosperity and well-being of generations that follow. Let's not have any more talk about the fact that we don't want people to have unemployment. We do. We do want them to have unemployment. Multiple times we offered ways for that. It may, in fact, pass this afternoon or early this evening that we are going to extend them and not pay for it. But as the Senator from California said: It is a defining moment. It certainly is. Is the Federal Government, in this difficult economic situation, going to at least make some small attempt to rein in the $300 billion worth of waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication in the Federal Government? The answer we get is no. Discretionary programs over the last 2 years, not counting the stimulus--we can have the stimulus debate some other time--have risen 19.6 percent, when the average wage went up less than 2 percent. The Federal Government is now twice as big as it was in 1999, not counting the stimulus. We have 6,400 sets of duplicative programs that the body will not touch. They are all designed to do good things for people. They are highly inefficient, highly ineffective. Yet what we will do is not that hard work to get rid of the things that aren't working. We will just charge our children so we can say we took care of unemployment.

Hard times require hard decisions. What we are seeing is the easy way out. The easy way out is to not pay for this. The easy way out is to charge it to our children and grandchildren. There is no difference in the level of compassion. Everybody wants to take care of those who are unemployed. The easy way is to put it on the backs of our children and grandchildren.

The question is, Will we do the right thing for the country? Will we do the best right thing for the country or will we do the easy thing, the politically expedient thing, class envy, ``I am going make somebody look bad because they don't agree with me on the timing of something'' or will we act as a body that will ensure both caring for the now and ensuring the future? It is easy in the Senate to spend money you don't have. The bias is for it. The hard thing is to take and do the best right thing. My colleagues, many on both sides of the aisle, in numerous cases over the last 5 1/2 years, have too often done the easy thing. We have all these fingers pointing at this administration did this and this administration did this. There are plenty of problems for every administration and every political party to be considered guilty on because too often both groups have done the short-term politically expedient thing rather than the best right thing for the country.

I had, at one of the events that my staff attended this weekend, an individual in Oklahoma who lost his unemployment insurance. He said: You tell Dr. Coburn to be sure and continue to pay for it. I want my unemployment insurance. I need my unemployment. I will not be able to make my house payments unless I get that. But I don't want that to come from my children and grandchildren. I want it to come from the excesses and waste in Washington today.

So there is another viewpoint, even though we hear it is a critically nonpertinent viewpoint. This isn't a partisan issue. This isn't a delaying tactic. This is a real philosophical difference on how we get out of the mess we are in.

A lot of my colleagues are not happy that I am a Republican a lot of times because I go after my party just as much as I go after anybody else's. But the fact is, core principles matter. Go look at the history of republics. The Senator from California talks about a defining moment.

The defining moment for the Athenian Republic was when they decided to start spending money they didn't have on things they didn't need.

Here is our option today. The reason we are going to have motions is because we were given no opportunity to amend. That is the only reason we will have motions to suspend the rules. It has nothing to do with a delaying tactic. It has to do with a debate and a Senator's right to offer amendments. The Senator from California would be doing the same thing if the shoe was turned the other way. If she was precluded from offering amendments, she would find a way to offer an amendment, if she believed from a position, a conscientious position that can be defended on the basis of facts. You don't have to agree with it, but you can't deny there are economic factors that should play in how we pay for unemployment insurance.

You can demean us. You can say we are mean. You can say we don't care. But the fact is, none of that is true. It is an absolute untruth.

The defining moment is, Will we embrace the quality that built this country in the first place? That is, being responsible for the problems that are in front of us and not shifting that responsibility to generations that follow. That is what this debate is all about. When we left here for one break, we had agreed with Senator Reid and Senator Levin about extending unemployment insurance. We were told by the Speaker of the House that she wasn't about to set the precedent of starting to pay for unemployment insurance. Why not? When we have a $1.6 trillion deficit, when we have $13.3 trillion worth of debt, when we are mortgaging the future of our children, we are stealing opportunity away from them as we do it, why not? Why not meet the challenges that are in front of us by responding in a way that says meeting people's needs today is important, and it is important we not take away from the needs of the future as we do so. Yet we are lectured that it is a partisan debate.

There is nothing partisan about this. In my soul, I want to help everybody out there who is unemployed and facing the tough times. But also in my soul is that I do not want to mortgage the future of any more American children, when we have tremendous amounts of waste, fraud, and duplication that can easily be eliminated.

One of the motions I am going to offer is to cut $40 billion from the Federal Government. America, tell me what part of this you do not agree with. The fact is, we are going to ask that we quit wasting money on real property. We spend $8 billion a year maintaining property we do not want. We have $80 billion worth of empty buildings. It is costing us $8 billion a year. Should we continue to spend that $8 billion or should we not spend that $8 billion and take that $8 billion and pay for unemployment insurance?

How about collecting unpaid taxes from Federal employees and Members of Congress. That is $3 billion. As to currently hired Federal employees, it is already adjudicated they owe $3 billion. I think we ought to pay it back. I do not think we ought to borrow from the future of our children and grandchildren because we do not have the guts to say: Pay up. Quit cheating the Federal Government, employee of the Federal Government. That is a small number in terms of the number of employees, but that is a big number: $3 billion. Let's have them pay up.

Why is it we are not going to eliminate $8 billion in bonuses to Federal contractors who did not meet the requirements to get a bonus, yet we gave the bonus anyway? Why not eliminate that rather than charge this to our children? Tell me why you will not vote for that? Do you think we ought to be paying bonuses to people who do not deserve them, contractors? It is $6 billion over a 4-year period in just the Defense Department alone. But you do not want to get rid of that? You would rather charge the money to our kids than make the hard choice of alienating some defense contractor or some government contractor because they got something they did not deserve in the past, when somebody is unemployed who deserves to get unemployment insurance? I do not understand it. Or eliminating nonessential government travel--one of the things President Obama wants to do. We spend billions--$14.8 billion, in excess of that--on Federal travel. We are some of the worst abusers. Yet we will not discipline ourselves and set an example that we can use a teleconference rather than getting on an airplane and going somewhere--a video teleconference. At a time such as this, when we are having an economic problem, we will not make the hard decision to make tough choices that are maybe not as fun, maybe not as easy. What I have found is a video teleconference is a whole lot easier than travel, but we will not make that hard choice. We are not going to tell the agencies they are going to have to do it.

We will not even put on a Web site all the times we violate our own rules on pay-go. On February 12, we passed a law. It used to be a rule in the Senate, but now we passed a law. It is called pay-go. It says you cannot have new spending unless you pay for it. Since February 12, when the President signed that law, we have violated it to the tune of $223 billion, where we said: Oh, time out. The pay-go statute does not apply. We don't have to pay for it. We don't have to eliminate all the inefficiencies, all the duplication. We don't have to go after any fraud. We are just going to charge it to our children and grandchildren.

Where is the integrity in that? Where is the integrity? Where is the character in that? Where is the courage to do the tough thing that accomplishes both helping the people who are unemployed but helping our kids and helping our Nation? There is not any. There is none. It is the easy way out.

Lest you think I am making up this stuff, let me give you some examples of Federal duplication. I will just give you four easy examples. We have 70 different government programs--70 different sets of bureaucracies--that spend billions of dollars a year, and on none of them is there a metric to measure whether they are effective to help people with food who are hungry. Why 70? Why across six or seven different agencies? Why not one or two programs keenly focused with metrics on saying: Are we feeding them or not? Why not eliminate 68 sets of bureaucracy and overhead? That is a small one.

We have 105 different sets of programs to incentivize our young people to go into math, engineering, science, and technology. It costs $3 billion a year, for 105 different programs, in 9 different Federal agencies. They are not in the Department of Education. They are everywhere.

Nobody knows the data, but nobody will vote to make them accountable, make them transparent, eliminate the overhead, streamline the bureaucracy. No, we do not want to do that. This body has voted against doing that multiple times when those amendments have been offered.

We have a total of 78 job training programs outside the Department of Labor, costing billions of dollars a year, none of which have a metric on them. Yet we do not want to streamline that, eliminate it, get it down to two or three that are focused--some on the chronically unemployed, some on the new workers coming in, some on those who are handicapped who might need special assistance. No, we are going to keep the 70-plus programs we have because they are somebody's baby, all of which are highly inefficient and none of which can prove effectiveness when you measure them with a metric because they do not have a metric. They cannot demonstrate they are effective.

So the debate is not about whether we want to help people who are unemployed. The debate is about whether we want to help the people who are unemployed as well as the generations that follow us.

I am amazed, and continue to be so, how easily this body can abandon common sense. I do not know if we do not have it to begin with or if we are similar to a magnet, and it is two positives, so we repel any common sense. But nobody would run any organization--private, public--business or anything else the way we run the agencies in the Federal Government.

When you start wanting to do something about it, the only thing you get is: We can't. Well, the American people are asking us today: Please, do what you can. Do what you can. What we can do is we can pay for unemployment for the next multiple periods of months by eliminating things that are absolutely unnecessary.

Do you realize we can save $4.5 billion over the next 10 years by not printing stuff that people do not want. It is all online. We can save $450 million a year just by putting common sense into the Government Printing Office. It has been voted down three times on this floor this year. Why not? Why do we continue to take the easy task when the future of our country is going to be determined on whether we take the hard road and do the hard thing that benefits both the coming generations and those who are experiencing problems today?

I tell you why it is. It is because we say we care, but we do not. We play the game, but we do not get in the game. Getting in the game means that you get criticized, that you offer ideas, some of which may work and some of which may not, but you are not afraid to change the game because our kids' future, our country's future depend on changing the game.

What we have heard today is the resistance to changing the game. We do not have a future if we do not start making hard choices. It is an easy choice for me to vote with the Senator from California to pay for unemployment benefits. I want those people to get it. It is a hard choice for me to vote against it and say: Let's pay for it. If, in fact, you will pay for it, I will vote with you. It is not like we cannot find $40 billion. Every third grader in this country can find $40 billion in this budget. There is no rocket science to it. There is so much waste, so much duplication, and so much fraud that anybody can find it.

The question is, Do we have the will to do the best right thing for this country? One of the things I have learned in 5 1/2 years in this body is that when people use straw men and people use half-truths, it is usually because they are hiding something. What is being hidden from the American public today? What is this debate truly all about? Is it just about unemployment or is it about we like the way things are?

We do not want to change the way things are, we do not want to get out of our comfort zone to solve the real problems of America, so, therefore, we will use all sorts of tactics to deflect what the real issues of the day are.

What are they? The Senator from California rightly outlines that millions of Americans need unemployment compensation right now. I am all for it. What is the other truth about where we are? The truth is, this country is on an absolute unsustainable course. The American people have awakened to it. They know it.

As the Senator from California knows, this is not new for me. I have been doing this for 5 1/2 years. So it did not matter if it was the ``bridge to nowhere,'' which a Republican authored, or unemployment compensation today, I think we use common sense and do the best right thing for America, not the politically easy thing.

So the challenge before us today is to go home and explain, when this bill passes, why we charged it to the least of us. That is whom we are charging it to: to the least of us.

I told a story not long ago. In my profession as a physician, I have delivered nearly 4,000 babies--maybe over that. I quit counting. But the thing that has always gotten me, when I am delivering a baby--and I have a mother there and a father there and that baby comes out--is to see the glow on the face and in the eyes of those parents. The glow is about hope and promise for the future and about what things can be and the potential that is unlimited when that new life is here. You see it in the parents, and you see them puff up and say: Wow, what a phenomenon.

As I think about what we do today, we are stealing that. We are taking it from those kids because we refuse to have the backbone and courage to do the hard, yet the best right thing for this country.

We will hear a lot of speeches about how bad we are because we want to pay for it. We will be talked down. It will be said that we want to obstruct. I honestly admit I don't want anything to go through this body that isn't paid for. You can count on it every time. Everybody on that side of the aisle, and most on my side of the aisle, have run in cross-wise with me on things that aren't paid for. They know. It is not a fetish; it is that I actually recognize the long-term future of this country depends on us getting our fiscal house in order.

So it is a defining moment, as the Senator from California said. But it is not the defining moment she thinks it is. It is the defining moment of whether this body is going to grab onto and truly accept the responsibility given to us by the American people. Will we truly accept it? How we act on it determines our commitment to this country.

I don't disagree with those who just want to get it through and get people paid. They have a right to have that position. I am not demeaning that position. I am just saying the country can't last if we keep doing it. Our kids don't have a future if we keep doing it. If we look at the budget projections for our country, we will run--even with the tax increases that are coming at the end of this year--we are going to run $1 trillion deficits until 2020.

Let me close with one final thought. We have a $4 trillion budget. We are going to run a $1.6 trillion deficit this year. That means we are going to borrow that from our children. The deficit by this time next year will be close to $14 trillion.

Have my colleagues ever thought about what $1 trillion is? My colleague from Georgia explained it to me. I didn't believe him, so I did the math.

If we spend $1 a second, so that means we spend $60 a minute, or $3,600 an hour--$3,600 an hour, the wealthiest in our country probably don't spend that, but let's say we did--how long would it take us to spend $1 trillion? The answer is 31,709 years spending $3,600 an hour before we ever get to $1 trillion. We get $1 trillion deficits $30 billion, $40 billion at a time, which is the cost of this bill. The way we start getting out of debt is to stop adding to it.

If we go back to February 12 when the law went into effect on pay-go, and we add this bill to it, we are going to be at $ 1/4 trillion since February 12 that this body will have added to our children's deficit. It is not our debt. Nobody in this room and probably very few people listening to this debate are going to pay one penny against it. It is all going to be borne by the children coming.

So what is pay-go about? Pay-go is about this, America: You pay and we will go spend. We are seeing evidence of it today on the Senate floor. It is not just that we pay; We pay, our children pay, and our grandchildren pay. We are going to pay with real dollars, but our grandchildren are going to pay with lost opportunity, lower levels of education, lower levels of everything in the future.

There is not one problem in front of this country we can't solve. We can't solve them by borrowing money that we don't have to spend on a good thing, let alone a bad thing, but on a good thing while we allow hundreds of billions of dollars to be wasted every year in this country.

So when we hear the cry that somebody doesn't care, we have to ask the question, What do they care about? Can we care for those who are unemployed today as well as care for our kids? Yes, we can. It is really not all that hard, with the examples of waste and duplication. There is $100 billion worth of fraud in Medicare that we can document. So there are all sorts of things we can do. The question is, Do we have the courage? Will we step to the line? Will we do what is best for our children and the unemployed? That is the question. It is not that somebody doesn't have compassion for the unemployed.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is a very straightforward amendment. It is a re-vote where we voted 100 to 0 to make sure we are transparent with the American people about when we change and go around pay-go.

All it does is create a Web site so the American people can see when we have done that and how often and what the total amount is. We voted 100 to nothing for it the last time it was presented to this body.

I yield back my time.


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