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Public Statements

Offering of Amendments

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I am coming to the floor because we have not seen much action on the floor on this bill. We are hung up over the right of Senators to offer amendments, but the Senate works best when we have a free and open process of offering amendments. One of the amendments in particular that I was going to offer on the blending requirements for ethanol I now plan, at this time, not to offer. I have made that known to the majority leader but have still not been able to get an agreement to offer other amendments.

Our country is in a pickle. I have $20 billion worth of cuts that the vast majority of the Members of the Senate would vote for. Yet I can't get those amendments up because people don't want to take the difficult votes. I understand that. Senator Reid has been more than gracious in working with me. I understand his problem, but the problems are a lot bigger than the problems of the Senate. The problems facing our country are tremendous. They are not only tremendous, they are also urgent.

Here we have a small business bill, where we are trying to create jobs, and one of the ways we create jobs is making sure we are not sending money out of here that doesn't create jobs. So I come to the floor somewhat worried about our process and not critical of Senator Reid in any way. I wouldn't have his job. Being the majority leader is the toughest job in Washington. But it is somewhat worrisome, and yet amusing, that we will not take a vote to eliminate unemployment payments to millionaires. That is amazing to me. We can save $20 million starting tomorrow by not cutting unemployment checks to people who make $1 million a year through their investments but who are unemployed. I mean, $20 million. We could do that.

We could put a garnishee on the $1 billion owed by Senate employees and Federal employees in back taxes, where it has already been adjudicated they haven't paid, but we can't get an amendment up to do that. Isn't that strange?

Here we are, running $1.67 trillion deficit, and yet we can't go about solving our problems $1 billion at a time to help get rid of that. We can't have the right to offer an amendment to that effect.

How about the fact the GAO, 3 weeks ago, issued a report on duplication, and, according to my calculations, there is at least $100 billion in savings in that. I have an amendment that would save us $5 billion over the rest of this year on the easiest part of the elimination to carry out. I can't get that amendment up. We can't vote on it. We can't do the things that will start getting us out of our problems. Even though I have withdrawn the amendment on ethanol that is so controversial, I still can't get my amendments called up.

Covered bridges--$8.5 million. It is a good thing to do, if we had the money. But we shouldn't be spending $8.5 million right now on old bridges that are of historical significance, because we are borrowing the money to do it.

I have an amendment to identify and disclose every Federal program, one of the things the GAO report said would be very helpful to them to have--if every department would give, every year, a list of all their programs. There is only one government agency that does that today, and it is the Department of Education. The rest of them don't know all their programs. Isn't that interesting; they do not even know their programs? Yet we can't get an amendment up that will help us solve some of the problems with duplication and inefficiencies.

So I come to the floor tonight to ask: What is the deal? This is the Senate. We are expected to make tough votes. If Senators want to continue to pay millionaires unemployment, then vote against the amendment, but don't keep that amendment from coming to the floor that would save us $20 million. If you think Federal employees shouldn't pay their back taxes, then vote against it, but we can collect $1 billion--$1 billion that we wouldn't have to borrow. Vote against it, but don't block the amendments from coming up.

I have an amendment that I understand is controversial. I don't think there is a role anymore for us in funding the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to the tune of $ 1/2 billion a year. You may not like it, you may not agree with me but vote against it. Don't say you can't have the amendment. Because what goes around comes around, and we don't want to get into the dysfunctional state where because somebody can't have an amendment today, somebody else isn't going to have an amendment later. That is what we are going to degrade into, and it will not be because we would not want to vote on them. So what happens is the Senate gets paralyzed.

The unfortunate thing is that I have $20 billion worth of cuts we can make. Yet we are not allowed, under Senate tradition, to offer an amendment, even though, on the most controversial one I have, I have said: OK. I won't offer it at this time. Still, I can't offer an amendment. To me, I think that tells the American people what they already know; that we don't care about what the real problems are, we care about the politics.

We no longer have the pleasure or the time to worry about political outcomes. We need to be worrying about what the outcome is of the future of this country. When a sitting Senator can't offer $20 billion worth of cuts in a $3.7 trillion budget on a bill that is related to business--and this $20 billion will be money we will not be competing with against them for the capital to create jobs in this country--it strikes me that we have lost balance; that we need to reright the ship.

Everybody in this body wants to vote on the 1099. We know it was a mistake. I think there will be very few Senators who will vote against that. There is a controversial amendment--the Inhofe amendment--but this is the Senate. Let's vote on it. Whatever way it turns out, let's let the body do its work, rather than not allowing the body to work. So my hat is off to Senator Reid. He has been cooperative. But we can't run the Senate this way, saying people don't have a right to offer amendments.

I will never forget when I first came to the Senate 7 years ago and I had an objection to an amendment that was offered, another Senator from the other party came and said: You can't do that. This is the Senate.

We debate amendments. We vote on amendments.

Somebody on the other side of the aisle defended the process of the Senate. The fact is, we are in tough times. We are going to be taking a lot of tough votes--if not now, a year from now. But they are going to get tougher every year we take them because the writing is on the wall for America in terms of its spending and its debt.

If you look at what has happened to interest rates on our T bonds the last 2 days in a row, T bonds are strong, interest rates are going up. What does that mean to us? Our historical average interest rate on our debt is about 6.07 percent. We paid 1.97 percent last year. For every 1 percent that rises, that is $140 billion additional that does not help the first American. We ought to be about getting rid of things that we can get rid of that will survive OK on their own, that are not duplicating things we should be duplicating. The Senator from Alaska and I put in an amendment on the FAA bill getting rid of old earmarks, money that is parked. It will save us $1 billion. The fact is, we can do this if we will stand up and do the job we were hired to do. The job we were hired to do is to make the difficult decisions. My hope is that things will break loose and we will revert to the best of the tradition of the Senate, which is having real debate about real amendments, taking the tough votes, and defending them on principle. Take the political calculus out of it. It is not popular for me, in Oklahoma, to eliminate the blenders' credit on ethanol. We have a lot of corn farmers. But the fact is the very people who get this--British Petroleum, Valero, ExxonMobil, Chevron--do not want it. I have a letter from them saying they don't want the blenders' credit. That is who gets it. Only 16 percent of the ethanol is produced by farmer cooperative ethanol plants; 84 percent is not. It is produced by the big boys and they are saying they don't want it.

Why don't we save $5 billion between now and the end of the year, because we are going to borrow 47 percent of it? Why would we do that to our children? So I relented on that. We will have a vote on it. I will have to have a 67-vote threshold to do it but we are going to vote on it. Senator Reid knows we are eventually going to vote on it. We ought to be about being grown up and going back to the best traditions of the Senate and taking the tough votes. Our country is in tough times. Families are having tough times. Why would we want to duck making tough decisions? The only reason we would want to do that is political. It is so somebody can gain a political advantage rather than do the best, right thing for our country.

I call on my colleagues, whoever it is who is objecting to commonsense amendments, who does not want to fulfill their obligation to their own constituents by casting a vote, to look at what you are doing to the Senate. There is no reason we should get into this conflict--because I can't offer amendments I am eventually not going to let other people offer amendments? Why would we go to the childish resolution of this rather than the adult resolution? The adult resolution is to give people their votes, vote on them and go down the road and if you don't agree with them, defend it; if you do agree with it, vote for it. But don't duck on taking a position. That is belying the oath you have being a Senator.

Those who are objecting to cutting $20 billion out of this government, out of a $3.6 trillion budget, wake up. You are going to be cutting this money in the next 2 years, whether you cut it today or tomorrow. It is coming. Let's do it now, because every day we do it earlier saves us money. But it also preserves and enhances the future for our kids.

I will not harp on this other than to say I am disappointed because we had started this year out pretty well in terms of going to amendments. The leaders, both leaders, have worked hard to make sure that could happen. Now that we have tough votes people want to revert to childish behavior and not honor the reason they were sent here in the first place. Not voting on something is the chicken's way out. It is the coward's way out. Voting on something and defending your vote is honorable. You do not have to agree with me but don't say you cannot have an amendment and you cannot have a vote, because I assure you I know the parliamentary procedures to get a vote on every amendment I will ever offer. We will get votes on these amendments. The question is, if you are trying to duck, not having to vote on an amendment because you don't like the political choices, you are going to get a vote anyway, so why degrade the Senate into childish behavior because you want to duck a vote? We are not going to duck these votes. We are going to have them. I promise you, we are going to have every one of these votes eventually. I am talking over a short period of time. Or we are not going to do anything. We are going to live up to the tradition of the Senate or we are not going to function at all.

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


Mr. McCAIN. I have a couple of questions for the Senator from Oklahoma. My understanding is that he seeks to have an amendment considered that would eliminate the subsidies which are $4 billion?

Mr. COBURN. We do not seek to eliminate any subsidies. We seek to eliminate a blenders' credit that the very people who receive the credit do not want, and it is $4.9 billion between now and the end of the year.

Mr. McCAIN. It is $4.9 billion and the recipients themselves want it reversed?

Mr. COBURN. Yes. I have a letter from the refiners. I actually have it here and I will introduce it to the Record if we need to, that says they don't want it, they don't need it.

Mr. McCAIN. So the recipients of this government largesse would want it eliminated. What is the basis, if I may ask, of the opposition to the amendment?

Mr. COBURN. I think I can clarify it. The opposition is we are doing it abruptly rather than over a period of time and not allowing people to plan for the elimination of this. Those are the arguments I hear. The fact is, this is just one of a series of things we do for ethanol.

I am not going after ethanol. I am going after saving money for our country that is being spent. We have a mandate that says the country has to buy a specific amount of ethanol. Before we had that mandate, a blenders' credit was a smart thing to do if you believed that ethanol was a way to solve our problems. But the fact is, we now have a mandate that they have to produce it. It is going to 15 billion gallons a year. I can give you the exact numbers in terms of what we produce. But because we have a blenders' credit, last year we produced 397 million gallons more and we exported it to Europe. So the American people subsidized $200 million worth of ethanol consumption in Europe through these blenders' credits.

We are not going after all the other loans, the loan programs, all the other energy grants and everything else. We are not doing any of that. All we are saying is here is a simple thing that is no longer needed; 86 percent of the ethanol production is by majors, not small ethanol plants. They do not want this money, they do not need this money to blend ethanol because there is already a mandate there requiring it. I have already withdrawn--I have agreed that we will not vote this amendment until after cloture and I will file a motion to suspend the rules and then we will have a 67-vote threshold which we will not win. But the American people are going to lose. The American people are going to lose $4.9 billion.

Mr. McCAIN. If the argument is that maybe we ought to eliminate this but not abruptly, wasn't the message of last November 2 that they wanted a lot of things done abruptly?

Mr. COBURN. I think the message of the American people is they want the spending cut. They want it cut now. They want us to quit spending money we don't have on things we don't need, and this is a ideal program--just like the other portion of it. I have $20 billion worth of amendments. None of them can come to the floor because there is an objection to having votes on $20 billion worth of cuts.

Mr. McCAIN. That was my understanding, that as part of the beginning of the new session of Congress, the 112th Congress, there were going to be amendments allowed; that there would be kind of a different environment where it would not be bringing up a bill, filing cloture and shutting out Members from offering amendments. That is apparently not the case?

Mr. COBURN. I think it is the case, but to be fair, there is bipartisan opposition to this amendment. I understand it. It is from the corn-producing States. They are worried that this might have an effect on ethanol production and corn processors. Actually, CBO estimates that the maximum impact of this amendment on the price of corn will be less than 35 cents a bushel. Corn is near $7--record high.

Mr. McCAIN. Near an all-time high.

Mr. COBURN. Yes, so this might have an effect of 35 cents on the price. But let me carry that out for a minute. Corn is the primary feed source for cattle, hogs, chickens--the whole range of the things we eat. So what we have done, through just this portion of it, is we are raising the cost because 40 percent of our corn production this next year is going to go for ethanol.

It is not just that we have raised the tax because we have given $5 billion or $6 billion annually in credit to the blenders; we have also raised the costs for everybody else's food. But do you know what we have also done? We have increased the cost of our Food Stamp Program because we have raised the cost of food. So we are paying for it twice. It is not just the fact--it comes back to the point that is this is not an attack on the ethanol industry. I actually met with the ethanol industry yesterday in my office. I think Americans ought to be able to buy whatever they want, E-85 or 10 percent--I think they ought to be able to buy it. But what they should know is when you go buy a gallon of gasoline today, accounting for all the credits and incentives and everything else in there, there is $1.78 in your taxes in every gallon that you buy. So when you buy blended ethanol gasoline, you are not paying $3.50, you are paying $5.35.

Mr. McCAIN. I understand this amendment has been objected to by some ``conservative organizations'' that want us not to increase taxes in any way, shape, or form, something that has characterized the voting record of the Senator from Oklahoma and myself. But now you are being attacked for being a tax increaser?

Mr. COBURN. I would not worry about that so much.

Mr. McCAIN. What is the argument?

Mr. COBURN. The argument is they do not agree with the blenders' credit, but if in fact you take it away you need to give somebody else a tax break. I think the American people know, for us to get out of the problems we are in we are going to have to do a lot on both sides of the balance sheet. One of the ways--we have $1.3 trillion worth of tax expenditures in this country. A large portion of them--not a large portion, a significant amount of money is in programs such as this that are directing people to do things that they are going to be doing anyway and we are paying them to do it. So it is a tax expenditure. It is cutting spending is what it is. It is a true credit, so they get it. The more they blend, the more money we pay.

So if they blend beyond what the mandate is, they cannot sell it. Then we ship it to Europe or wherever else will consume it, but yet we are subsidizing. First of all, it hurts our own energy usage because we are taking a lot of oil and a lot of water to do it. But we are helping the Europeans with our own subsidy in terms of shipping this over.

So I do not care about the debate outside of the Senate. What I care about is that the American people ought to have a shot at saving $4.9 billion through the rest of this year.

Mr. McCAIN. And it seems to me that this issue has some complexities to it----

Mr. COBURN. It does.

Mr. McCAIN. That the average citizen would not understand. But I think they understand $4.9 billion and that those savings would accrue to them, along with the reduction in inflation and the costs of the products of corn.

So it is a very interesting situation. So when I go back home and some of my constituents are skeptical about whether we are really serious about taking on some of the sacred cows--and certainly ethanol has been a sacred cow around here--maybe there is some justification for their skepticism.

Mr. COBURN. Well, since we started the blenders' credit, the American people have spent $32 billion on it. And it is fine for us to look for alternatives, and I think it is great. I would like for them to convert corn to butanol instead of ethanol because it burns a whole lot better, it is more efficient, it does not pollute as much, it burns like regular gasoline, and it is not water-soluble, so it can be transported like other petroleum products. I would like to see them go there, and I think they are eventually going to go there.

But the fact is, markets work, and we are playing with markets--and the reason we have such an objection to this is because we probably have the votes to win it and they know it. So I have pulled it out.

But, more importantly, there is another $15 billion of amendments I would like to offer that are common sense, that a good portion of the American would absolutely agree with, and we do not have people who want to have a vote on that. They do not want to stand up and do their jobs.

I will read into the Record a letter from Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association.

Senator Coburn. NPRA, the National Petrochemical and Refiners Association, writes today in support of your efforts to end the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit through both amendment number 220 to S. 493, the SBIR reauthorization bill, and the bill you recently introduced with Senator Cardin, S. 520. The Association has a long history of opposing mandates and subsidies and this opposition extends to the VEETC. The VEETC is an unnecessary subsidy, particularly given the federal Renewable Fuels Standards requirement to bring 36 billion gallons of biofuel into the fuel supply by 2022.

So here are the people who are receiving the credit saying they do not want it.

Mr. McCAIN. Well, I think the Senator has made a strong point. I just wanted to have a clarification, and I hope that perhaps we can also start addressing the issue of sugar subsidies, which I think is probably one of the really great ripoffs in America today, again, causing the cost of any confection or anything that contains sugar to rise, and then, of course, the American consumers pay for it, and preventing sugar from other countries from coming into this country at a lower price.

Mr. COBURN. You know, the real issue is that we have spent 3 days this week not doing anything on this bill. We have borrowed $12 billion. I have amendments, if we could pass, that would save us $20 billion.

Every day that we don't take hard votes is a day we don't fulfill the responsibility given to us, the privilege given to us as U.S. Senators. No matter what your philosophy, the fact is we ought to be taking hard votes, and people who don't want to do that, their constituency ought to ask the question: Why are you there? Why are you afraid to defend what you believe to be right rather than disallow somebody else to make a point and a position with an amendment?

The Senator didn't hear my speech prior to coming in----

Mr. McCAIN. I was watching.

Mr. COBURN. These are the worst tendencies of the Senate. I want us to go back to the best tradition. I am not always going to be right, and I certainly hardly ever win, but the fact is, the issues in front of this country are so great that we don't have time for this anymore. And every day we do not work on this small business job-creation bill because people do not want to take tough votes is a day we are not fulfilling the obligations we have as Senators.


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