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Public Statements

Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I come to the floor today to talk about where we find ourselves. Nobody has spent more time in the last 6 1/2 years on this floor talking about the problem in front of us. Hopefully I can do that in a way that would never impugn the motives of my fellow Senators.

I enjoyed the speech of the Senator from Nebraska, because one of the things he stated is we have to come together. You are not going to get coming together when we have the speech we just heard, when you have a speech that impugns the motives of the people in the other body trying to solve some of our problems.

The first point I wish to make is we are at a place where we are going to vote on two bills with no amendments. Since when did the Senate give up its ability to try to amend bills going forward? The reason we are not is because, had we not agreed to it, the tree would have been filled and we would have either voted for cloture or not to have cloture, but the fact is in this body we ought to be about amending what we do not like in the bills.

If the Senator from Oregon does not like what is in the bills, he ought to have a chance to try to change it. Yet we find ourselves with a very short period of time to debate what is the No. 1 risk for us as a nation today.

I have read all the economic studies that have been put out on H.R. 1. I have also read what the economists on the other side say in terms of the false assumptions that have been made in it. I don't know which ones are right, but the fact is we are not going to have an actual debate on advancing amendments.

Let me describe where we are today, so everybody knows. We are adding $4.507 billion to the deficit every day. We

are borrowing in the international market $3 billion a day. By the time I finish this talk, we will have added $98 million to the deficit. Adding something to the deficit, what does that mean? That is the same thing as saying we are taking the opportunity away from the children and the generation that follows us by putting them in debtors prison. That is exactly what we have done.

I don't care where the blame lies. What we have to start doing is not spending money we do not have. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have. It is very interesting that a week ago this morning, this past Monday, the GAO issued a report. It covers one-third of the Federal Government and lists the duplications they found. We asked them to do that with the last debt limit extension in the Federal Government.

According to my calculations, there is at least $100 billion that is not touched by either of these bills that could be eliminated tomorrow and saved against our children's future. We do not have an opportunity to offer amendments to do that on this bill. Here is real data compiled by the Government Accountability Office where multitudes of Members from this body have called me and said how do we help you do that?

The first way you help me do that is make sure we have an open process on the floor where we can offer an amendment to do it. Let me highlight for a minute some of the things that were in this wonderful report put forward by the GAO.

We have 47 job training programs across 9 different agencies that we are spending $18 billion a year on. Not one of them has a metric on whether it is successful or actually is accomplishing what it is supposed to do. Why do we need so many different job training programs? Why do we need any job training program if we cannot show it is working? Why are we spending money on a job training program that is not working?

We have five departments, eight agencies, two dozen Presidential appointees who oversee our work on bioterrorism. We don't have one agency responsible for it, one group of people. We are spending $6.5 billion a year on bioterrorism and the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing.

We have 20 agencies and 56 programs dedicated to teaching America financial literacy. We have no moral authority to teach anybody financial literacy when we have a deficit that is going to be $1.65 trillion this year and we are $14.2 trillion in debt.

We have 80 economic development programs across 4 different agencies where we spend $6.5 billion a year. We don't know if they are working. Maybe they are but we ought to know it before we spend money we don't have on things when we do not know if they are working.

We have 15 different agencies covering 30 food safety laws--15 different agencies.

We have 18 nutrition programs, separate nutrition programs. We spend $62.5 billion a year, $30 billion of it is borrowed, and we do not know the results. Why shouldn't we have one? And why shouldn't we put a metric on it to know whether it is working?

We have 20 homeless programs. We heard mentioned the homeless programs. We are going to spend $2.9 billion at seven different agencies, and if you add up the money over the last 10 years that we spent on homeless programs we can buy every homeless person in this country a $200,000 home. Yet we continue to spend money. We don't know if the programs are working. They certainly would be better off if they had $200,000 for their care for the future rather than continue the programs we have no metrics on.

We have 82 teacher training quality programs--82 of them. They are across 10 different Federal Government agencies and we spend $4 billion a year on them and we have no idea whether they are successful. As a matter of fact, we do know if they are successful--we are not successful in our country today. Are we getting value for what we are spending? Remember, 40 cents of every dollar we spend on these programs we are borrowing from the Chinese.

We have 52 programs for entrepreneurial efforts. Since when is that a role of the Federal Government? We have 35 programs to oversee infrastructure; 27 different programs for commercial buildings; 28 programs to oversee new markets outside of this country--28 programs; 20 programs for business incubators, and 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness. We have 17 different grant programs for disaster preparedness; 34 areas where Federal agencies, offices, or programs have redundant objectives or are fragmented across several departments; 2,100 data centers for 24 agencies. Consolidating them could save $200 billion over a decade. We cannot even offer that amendment on this debate. That is $20 billion a year. That is a third of what the House wants to save.

We have the ability--there is the waste, there is the incompetency in what Congress has done through its duplication of efforts and its lack of oversight--to solve a great portion of our fiscal problems.

We can do it. But we cannot do it when the process does not allow for debate and votes on those specific issues. I want to talk for a minute about what is ahead of us as a nation because I think it is important. I am very sorry my friend, President Obama, has not led on this issue.

Let me tell you what is in front of us. What is in front of us is rising interest rates. What is in front of us is rising competition for capital to fund our deficits. The historic rate for us on our debt as a nation over the last 35 years has been greater than 6 percent. Last year we paid less than 2 percent for what we have on the books, less than 2 percent average.

Our historical timeframe on when that money is due is usually about 10-plus years. We are now financing that at 59 months. What is going to happen in the world next year? Well, the difference in terms of sovereign financing--that is, other countries that also need to borrow money, including us--and what is available to finance that next year is $7 trillion. In other words, there is a $7 trillion shortfall in terms of what is going to be available to finance.

If we are going to borrow $7 trillion in the world more than what is available, what do we think is going to happen to interest rates? What is going to happen? Well, they are going to rise. So we are going to be faced with one of the following two dilemmas unless Congress gets its act together. Here are the two dilemmas: The first is, our average interest cost goes back to its historical cost. If that happens, immediately we are going to see $640 billion more a year in interest costs--$640 billion. We only have less than $200 billion this year. We are going to see a $640 billion increase. That does not help any person who has a need. All that does is that is paid out to our debtors. That is a very real risk for us right now.

That goes to say that we do not have a lot of time because what we know is interest rates are going to rise. So it is mandatory that Congress do what the American people have known for a while we need to do; that is, live within our means.

Now, let me describe the second problem or second solution; that is, what the Federal Reserve will do. The Federal Reserve will just print more money. Well, if we print more money and we do not have any base for doing that, that creates what is called inflation. It is called debasing our currency.

What happens in America if we decide that the way we are going to get out of our problem is to debase our currency and print more money, like the Fed is doing right now, what is called quantitative easing 2?

They are printing $600 billion worth of money between now and June. Well, what happens is the value of everything we own in real terms declines, in nominal dollars goes up, but the purchasing power of the average middle-class family in this country declines tragically, and the safety net this country has been known for, for those who are far less fortunate than the average American, will be absolutely unaffordable, totally unaffordable. So we are talking about the destruction of the best of America, our middle class. We are talking about taking opportunities away.

So what is the answer? The answer is not to have more partisan statements by Senator Merkley impugning the motives of people who are trying to do what is right even though it is different from his opinion. The answer is for Congress to get together and recognize the threat to our future and give up long-held positions to solve the greater good. That means we have to move. That means we have to recognize that we cannot have it all our way.

How do we actually do that? Well, the one failure of Congress, in my time in Congress, both in the House in the mid-1990s and now in the Senate since 2004, is we do not do oversight. How did we end up with this report that shows $100 billion in duplications? The only way it could happen is we were not watching. We were not doing the oversight.

So one of the things that needs to happen is the chairman of every committee ought to spend 90 percent of their time in oversight on things we are already doing rather than working on creating new bills and new programs.

Second, what ought to happen is we ought to have a vigorous debate with amendments on the floor of the Senate to solve some of the very real problems. It is not all that hard to solve these problems. But what happens is in partisan bodies, people talk past one another. Nobody would decline the fact that we ought to get rid of unused property. We can save $8 billion a year if we get rid of unused Federal property. Does anybody disagree with that? But we have not done it. There is $8 billion. We are going to get out of this $1.6 trillion hole a couple billion dollars at a time. We ought to do that. We ought to get rid of the wasteful printing at the Government Printing Office, save several hundred million dollars over the next 10 years.

We ought to quit paying bonuses to contractors who do not do their job--and we have documented that multiple agencies are doing that--performance bonuses when they do not meet the performance requirements.

We ought to collect the unpaid taxes from Federal employees; it is $3 billion. Those are the settled claims; these are not the unsettled claims.

The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Cardin.) The Chair notifies the Senator he has 10 minutes remaining.

Mr. COBURN. I thank the Chair. Here is a list of ideas that comes to $380 billion, of things that we would, as normal Americans sitting at our family table, say: You are in trouble. Forty percent of your budget you are spending you do not have the money for. Your credit cards are maxed out. You cannot do it. What can we spend? Here it is.

There were 72 amendments last year. Two of them passed the Senate. I heard the Senator from Nebraska talking about some pain that might occur in his district. I want to tell you, there has to be shared pain all across the country if we are going to get out of the problem we are in. We can no longer kick the can down the road without spilling the soup all over our kids. The time for action is now. The time for leadership is now.

If we look at history, what we find is the average age of a republic is 207 years. All republics before us have failed. How have they failed? What is it that caused them to lose their economy and their freedom? Was it an invading army? Was it some natural disaster? None of those things. If we go back in history, every one that has failed has failed over fiscal issues, the very issues that confront us today.

I think it is time America cheats history. I think it is time we come together and solve these big problems. It is going to be painful for everyone.

It means some Senators are going to lose their seats if they do the best, right thing for America. There cannot be a greater calling than that, to do the best, right thing for our country. It means following a pattern of leadership that says personal sacrifice by me in a leadership position has to come first, demonstrating my ability to understand the problem.

So we are going to have a limited debate on two bills, both imperfect. But certainly one of them goes more toward the problem that we have than the other. We are going to spend $3.8 trillion this year through September 30. The deficit is going to be $1.6 trillion.

The savings from the House cut is this little, bitty green line down here. It is only $57 billion. The savings from Inouye is $4.7. You cannot even see a line. It does not begin to address the duplication, the waste, the fraud and abuse, the incompetence of what we have created in the Federal Government. It will not solve our problems.

It will be a nice starting point for partisan debate, but it takes us away from what we need to do. Here is the cut. Here is the deficit. This is a pie chart. It is showing--it is nothing--$57 billion is nothing. What we have to do to be able to compete in a world financial market is send a signal that we get what the problem is, that we are willing to make the difficult and tough sacrifices and choices to become viable and reliable and have people loan us money in the future. We have to extend the term and period of our debt where we buy the time to make these things possible so the least amount of pain--although very real--comes about.

For goodness' sake, we have to stop spending money we do not have on things we do not absolutely need.

I yield the remainder of my time to the Senator from Louisiana.


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