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Public Statements

Orphaned Earmark Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. First of all, let me thank my colleague from Alaska. As somebody who has been working on areas of fiscal management in our Federal Government for the last 6-plus years, this is one small step. Whether it saves $500 million or whether it saves $1 billion, it is important that America knows we need to do this 1,500 more times.

We hear a lot in the press now from the Republican appropriators, the Republican budgeteers, about the battle of how much to cut. It is the wrong language. The deficit is $1.5 trillion this year. It was $1.4 trillion last year. We have tons of areas, as my colleague knows full well, as does our former colleague, the Senator from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, where we don't effectively utilize the money that has been given to us or that we are borrowing against our kids' future.

So this is a great start. We need to do this every day on every bill that comes before us. We can find it. We have identified 50 sets of duplication within the Federal Government, and they are not small duplications. There are 49 job-training programs across 9 different agencies. There are 105 science, technology, engineering, and math programs--something the President, in his State of the Union Address, said he wanted to enhance. We don't have a metric on any of them. We already have 105 programs. We are spending $18 billion on job training, and we don't know if it is working, and we don't know if the people we have trained have gotten jobs in the areas in which they were trained. So I am excited about my colleague joining with me. The hope is that we can set a trend so that with every bill that comes out, we will start looking.

By the way, we do have coming from the Government Accountability Office the first third of all of the government programs. When we inquired 2 years ago to the Congressional Research Service and to the Office of Management and Budget and the GAO, we said: Give us a list of all the programs. Do my colleagues realize that nowhere in the Federal Government do we have a list of all of the programs where we spend money? We are highly critical of the Defense Department because it can't pass an audit, and we rightly should be, but we can't pass an audit because we don't even know what we are doing.

So this should not be controversial at all. It should save us close to $1 billion when it is all said and done, and that is $1 billion we won't borrow from the Chinese. All we have to do is do that 1,500 more times. The fact is, we can. We are like that little engine. We can. We can get up that hill. But what it is going to take is reaching across the aisle, as the Senator from Alaska and I have done, and saying: Here is an area of common ground, it is based in common sense, and it is something that should be done and should be done now.

Just to show how silly this is, the data shows that in Atlanta there is still money for the 1996 Olympics. Fourteen years ago, there was $2.7 million sitting in a bank account. They can't spend it because the Olympics has already occurred, but we still have that money out there. That is the kind of silly stuff that happens when the Federal Government reaches into areas where it shouldn't be reaching.

What we can do--not to lay blame, not to say it is about earmarks or not about earmarks, but here is a commonsense solution that says: Here is a way to free up $1 billion or $500 million. If it is $500 million, great, but here is a way to do that.

I wish to also take some time on the floor now to elucidate that the President's fiscal commission outlined $4 trillion over the next 10 years we could eliminate that would go a long way toward starting to solve some of our problems.

So my hope is that with this amendment, we will start a trend where we can grab hold of and capture the things that make sense, that most Americans will never miss, and if they do miss it, it is because they are going to get something better instead and more efficient instead, and we start down this road. This is a great start.

I congratulate my colleague for his initiative in bringing this back up. What we need to do now is get on the phone and get our colleagues in the House to do the same thing and make sure, when this bill goes through and this amendment is adopted, it actually happens. Don't forget that the Bush administration wanted this to happen, and so does the Obama administration. Think about the amount of labor we are spending taking care of details on things that can't get spent or won't be spent and the amount of man-hours that goes into that.

I just thought I would finish with one of the recommendations of the fiscal commission, which is on the Federal workforce. There is a wonderful article that was published by Iain Murray on February 3 about how many Federal employees we have. It is easy for us to think about the fact that when we count true--just true--Federal employees, it is 2.8 million. But that doesn't come close to the actual number of employees the Federal Government has. When you add up what is actually there and you add in postal employees, you add in military, you add in contractors, we are at 11 million Federal employees.

We have a great Federal workforce. There are a lot of areas where we can be efficient and downsize. We don't have to lay anybody off; we can just not add. What we can do is, through attrition, markedly decrease the number of Federal employees we have, which will be that second, third, and fourth billion dollars.

The other thing the Commission recommended, which the Obama administration embraced, was a freeze on salaries, but most of us don't recognize that we have $3 billion owed right now to the IRS in back taxes by Federal employees that has already been adjudicated.

So there are all sorts of things we can do. We have lots of ideas. My pledge is to work across the aisle with our colleagues to try to find one of these every day or one of these every other day. If we do that together, we don't have to borrow 40 cents out of every dollar we spend in this country. We can take it down to 20 or 15 or down to zero so that we can, in fact, ensure the future for our children.

Again, I thank my colleague, and I yield the floor.


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