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Shared Sacrifice in Resolving the Budget Deficit-Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. I ask unanimous consent that the order for the quorum call be rescinded.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have been listening to the debate this morning. It is concerning to me because as a physician, I am trained to diagnose disease. Disease, if you break that word up, is ``dis'' and ``ease.'' We are not at ease, and I hear us talking all around. I listened to the senior Senator from New York very carefully and what he had to say, and I wanted to spend a few minutes actually disputing what he had to say. Because the premise he said was if we don't raise taxes, the vital things that are legitimate roles for the Federal Government would have to be eliminated, and I find that very curious because what is lacking in the Senate body today is an actual knowledge of all that we are doing.

I go back to March when the GAO report came out on the levels of duplication within the Federal Government, and that report was eye opening to many Senators. The fact is that report only covered the first third of the Federal Government. I have long said during the past 7 years in the Senate one of our problems is the government is so big, we don't know everything it does. What came out of the report was a tremendous list of duplication, programs that do exactly the same thing in multiple different agencies. For example, we have 124 different programs to encourage students in math, science, engineering, and technology. Why would we do that? Why would we pay for 124 sets of administration? Why would we have the first program for science, technology, engineering, and math that doesn't have a metric on it to see if it works? Well, you know what the report said. None of them have a metric on it to measure whether they are effective.

We have 47 different job training programs. The report said all but three of them overlapped one another and none of those have any metric to see if they are effective or work. They cost $18 billion a year.

We have 42 different programs to teach Americans how to be creditworthy and financially sound. Mr. President, 42 across 6 different agencies? The fact is the Senate doesn't know what it is talking about. When we make statements that say if, in fact, we make major cuts in the discretionary portion of our budget, the things we count on will have to be sacrificed, it is not true, for there is at a minimum $350 billion a year spent on duplication within the Federal Government, and waste. It doesn't count fraud, which is at least $100 billion a year in Medicare. It doesn't count the Pentagon, where we have the Pentagon having duplicate weapons systems, noncompetitive contracts, cost-plus contracts where we have requirement creep so they end up costing much more than they ever should because we don't have the responsible person over there saying, no, you can't have everything you want. What you want is to have the things you need.

This whole idea that the sacrifices that need to be made are going to be highly paid for is not true because that is how much waste there is in the Federal Government--at least $350 billion a year, and that doesn't count the $100 billion in Medicare that is defrauded and wasted and wrongly paid. Their improper payment rate, which is 97 percent overpayments, is in excess of $10 billion a year. So if you have $100 billion worth of fraud, and then an improper payment rate that is around 10 percent, we could easily solve our budget problems by eliminating duplication and eliminating fraud, but it requires a lot of hard work to do the oversight. It requires a lot of legislative work to eliminate duplication. It requires us to stand and do what is necessary for our country. We don't have a problem, in general, with revenues. What we have a problem with is the Federal Government is taking 26 percent of our GDP to operate itself and 40 percent of that is borrowed.

As a physician, what my training would tell me to do is go directly to the disease. Don't treat the symptoms of the disease, go directly to where the disease is, and the disease is we have a magnitude, orders of magnitude, of duplication, all well meaning, all well intentioned, that we won't sit down and work on eliminating.

I thought I would spend a few minutes going through by department. The Department of Agriculture has 130 duplicative programs--130. I will submit for the record a few of these because I don't want the record to have too many. For example, biomass programs at the Department of Agriculture. We have the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Biorefinery Program for Advanced Fuels Program, the Biobased Products and Bioenergy Program, the Biorefinery Repowering Assistance Program, the New Era Rural Technology Competitive Grants Program for biomass.

Those could all be combined into one at one-third the cost with exactly the same results. But we do not have the energy, the time or the motivation to go solve these problems. So the problem is not the debt and deficit, the problem is the Congress, the lack of a work ethic to roll up our sleeves and dig into it.

We have 16 export assistance programs just for the Department of Agriculture; the Department of Commerce, 18 different duplicative programs; the Department of Education, 230 identical, duplicative programs in different branches. The only reason we know that is because the Department of Education is the only Department in the Federal Government that actually knows all their programs. There is not one other agency that actually knows all their programs. That is why it was important to get the GAO report, and we have just seen the first third of it. When we get the other two-thirds--the next third will come in February of next year, and we will have two-thirds of the Federal Government.

Do you know what it is going to show? Over $400 billion worth of duplication. The problem is not that we do not have enough revenue, the problem is we are wasteful in almost everything we do because Congress will not do the appropriate oversight for the things that are legitimate roles for the Federal Government--the first person who does not have to have any risk of no food safety, the first person who does not have to have any risk of not having Medicare or not having their Social Security, the first person who does not have to have any risk if the Congress will actually do its job. Yet we refuse to do our job because each one of these little programs has a little political body in itself that is taking and sucking off the Federal Government, many times not a legitimate role under the enumerated powers of the Constitution that is a role for the Federal Government.

I get letters all the time in my office: Please fund this. Please fund this. My answer back is: Show me in the enumerated powers where it is the role of the Federal Government to do that. If it is truly our role, I am for us doing it. But if, in fact, the enumerated powers--as originally written and as evidenced by the Federalist Papers--say it is not a role for the Federal Government, then the States ought to be doing it. Better yet, we as citizens ought to be helping other citizens who have a need.

But the fact is, we have created this monster, an out-of-control Federal Government. I am talking out of control because nobody is in control of it. Nobody has the information, which is the power to do it, which is why knowing all this stuff is so frustrating. We will not eliminate the easy things that will have no impact on 99 percent of Americans. The only people impacted are the people who are benefiting directly from administering or gaming the programs.

The Department of Energy. When the Department of Energy was created, it was to eliminate our dependence on foreign energy. Our dependence at that time was 30 percent. It reached a peak of 67 percent. Thankfully, due to horizontal drilling and environmentally sound fracking, we now are at 47 percent. We have gone down 16 points since the technology was developed to go after resources that are here.

The Congressional Research Service says--and this is a report published this year--that America has energy resources greater than the combined energy resources of China, Canada, and Saudi Arabia. We are the only country in the world where the citizens own the resources and their own government will not let them have it. We deny our own resources to our own people. Consequently, we see $4 gasoline, not because it has to be there--and we blame speculators and we blame the large oil companies. The reason gas is $4 is because the Federal Government will not let us utilize the very resources we have.

Mr. President, 92 percent of the 650 million acres the Federal Government owns is unavailable for resource production that can be done in a clean, environmentally friendly way, with no impact whatsoever. Yet supply us with valuable energy that does not make us dependent on countries that are not supportive of our liberties and our freedom.

So you are going to hear a lot of speeches today talking about those who have actually lived the American dream, people who have made it. I am not saying there is not excesses. I am one of the very few people on my side who thinks we ought to change the Tax Code, we ought to eliminate all the brackets, we ought to flatten the Tax Code, that it will be clearer, it will create confidence, it will create certainty, and we will see the money--the $2 trillion that is sitting on the sidelines that could be creating jobs in this country--actually come in and create jobs.

But our problem is not the people who have been successful. Our problem is we, the Members of Congress, are not successful in accomplishing the task we were sent to do.

The Department of Homeland Security. More unregulated grants, 32 duplicative programs, no followup on the grants, no checking to see if a grant that was given actually performed the purpose. There is a significant amount of fraud, a significant amount of improper payments, significant layers of duplication. Not even the Department of Homeland Security knows what is going on, let alone Congress, because we will not do oversight.

There are 40 duplicative programs inside the Department of the Interior. Then we have all the duplicative programs across agencies. I did not list all of them here. There are 35 duplicative programs in the Department of Labor, 53 in the Department of Justice, 6 in the Department of State, 19 at the Department of Transportation. Who knows how many there are at the Defense Department because the Defense Department does not even know.

The problem we need to address is our lack of aggressiveness in reviewing and oversighting the Federal Government and eliminating the duplication.

It is frustrating to me as a physician to see us continue to treat the symptoms and never go after the disease. This disease will eventually kill us. It is bleeding us now, like it is bleeding us as we borrow $5 billion a day--$5 billion. That is the entire budget of the State of Oklahoma every day we are borrowing. Now we have political games being played, finger-pointing, putting our finger in the eyes of those across political lines rather than getting down to work and solving the real problems America faces.

We do not have one problem in front of us that we cannot solve as a nation. We can balance our budget. We can accomplish what we are called upon to accomplish if, in fact, we will. But the one little thing that creeps in, that is nauseating, is the vast majority of the Members of Congress are not thinking about the problems that are in front of us right now. They are thinking about the next election: How do I advantage?

When you see that happen, what you see and what you should question is, what is the motivation of the Members of Congress? Is it just to get reelected or is it to fix the very real and urgent problems in front of us? I think too often it is about us and not our country, it is about us secure in the next election rather than our children and grandchildren secure in the next generation.

I would put forward, as you hear the debate over the class warfare and the unfairness that is propagated--that somebody has become successful and that 20 percent of Americans now pay 74 percent of all the taxes paid, that we want to tax those people more--I believe everybody in this country ought to pay taxes. I do not care who you are. I do not care what program you are on, if you get a benefit from the Federal Government that is rightly under the enumerated powers, something the Federal Government should be doing, you ought to pay a tax on it. Then you are participating. Then we would not have 55 percent of the eligible population voting; we would have 75 or 85 percent because they would have an involvement.

We have an earned-income tax credit program which we pay people who are working. We actually pay them every year. But fully 25 percent of that is fraud. That is $17 billion a year paid out to people who are not working who are defrauding the IRS. We have not done anything about it.

Mr. President, $17 billion over 10 years is $170 billion. That goes a long way toward reducing our structural deficit and debt. But we will not do that. The same thing on the child tax credit. That is a fraudulent program. Fully 20 percent of it is fraud. Yet we have not done anything about it.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has used more than his 10 minutes.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to continue, since nobody is on the floor.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

Mr. COBURN. I am sorry. I will finish in just a short period of time.

The question then comes over why we would not allow the States to decide whether they think we ought to have a balanced budget. It is true, it will take 5 to 7 years for it to be fully effectuated. But the sooner we start down that road and give the States the option of saying: We think you ought to live under the same rules we live under--we have all sorts of reasons why we should not have a balanced budget amendment but not one of them makes sense, not one of them fits with common sense, not one of them does anything except continue down the road we are on today.

Again I would say, as you hear the debate, think about the real disease we have rather than listening to the symptoms. The disease is we are outside the enumerated powers of the Congress. We have $350 billion worth of waste and duplication every year that Congress will not address. We have a Tax Code that costs one-quarter of a trillion dollars a year just to comply with and then still is not fair. Yet we will not address the real disease.

The way you address the real disease is identify the real disease and then give it the treatment it needs. The treatment it needs is discipline forced on Congress by a balanced budget amendment. I guarantee you, if we were to pass it out of here, the States would pass it and send it back to us and our children and grandchildren would be much better off with it.

With that, I yield the floor.


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