Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act--Motion to Proceed--Resumed

Floor Speech

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: June 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I assume we are in morning business. Because we are in morning business, I am going to use that time to talk about four amendments I have to the Agriculture bill. I want to make one acute observation to the American people on what is going on in Washington.

The four amendments I will have on the Agriculture bill are a symptom of the disease that is in front of our Nation. This year we are going to run about a $1.3 trillion deficit. At the end of this fiscal year we will have 16.25 trillion dollars' worth of debt. I am 64 years of age. My children and grandchildren are going to pay back my portion of that debt. I am not going to be paying it back. The questions in front of our Nation are, No. 1, how did we get to this point, and, No. 2, what are we going to do about it.

What we are going to hear today as we begin voting on the amendments, what we are going to hear from the Senate, is why we cannot cut spending, why we cannot limit our appetites, why we cannot end subsidies to some of the richest co-ops in the world, why we cannot stop sending money to the Republican and Democratic Conventions out of the Treasury, why we cannot limit some of the conservation programs that go to millionaires--why we cannot do it. We are going to hear why we cannot.

This country cannot wait for us to continue hearing excuses about why we cannot trim our expenditures. The real problem is the Federal Government is going to take in $2.6 trillion, and it is going to spend about $3.8 trillion. That is the real problem. We ignore it politically by not making hard decisions, by not reforming the Tax Code for a progrowth, lower rates, broader base where everybody is participating in the Tax Code. People, through their well-connectedness, don't have to get out of special benefits to them, which is $30 billion a year for the very wealthy in this country in the Tax Code. We refuse to do those things. We have campaigns going on all across the country and nobody is talking about the No. 1 threat to this country, which is our debt and our deficits.

The reason there is no job creation is not because politicians don't want job creation. It is because they refuse to reform the very things that are keeping job creation from happening.

I am going to have four amendments. All of them actually save money for the American taxpayers, our kids, and our grandkids. They are all common sense. Most people outside of Washington will agree with them except the very people who are getting the benefits. They are the well-heeled, and they are the well-connected who continue to get things for themselves to the detriment of our future.

The question the American people have to start asking is when is Washington going to grow up? When are they going to start taking responsibility for their addictive behavior? Everybody who comes into my office who has lobbied me on these four amendments say: You can't take anything away from me.

Do my colleagues realize what the answer is when anybody says: You can't take anything away from me? The answer is bankruptcy and a position, in terms of the economics of this country, that will be far worse than the Great Depression ever was and far worse than anything our country has ever experienced. But everybody says: What I am getting now I have to keep, regardless if someone is a multibillion-dollar conglomerate co-op and we are sending someone $100 million every 10 years to advertise their product.

The second point I will make before I outline these four amendments is the one thing we refuse to look at that can guide us on how to make these decisions is article I, section 8 of the Constitution. What is the real role for the Federal Government? I will tell my colleagues as we look at these four amendments, we are going to have trouble squaring what our Founders said was our role with what we are doing now in these four areas and then saying we are not violating the Constitution by spending money we don't have--money we are going to have to borrow to be able to spend--and spend it in areas that help the well-heeled and the well-connected.

All of these amendments are very straightforward.

I wish to make one other point. We spend $200 million a year through five separate programs of the government to promote agricultural products outside of this country--$200 million a year. That is $2 million every 10 years. Let's show how effective they have been by looking at this chart. Whether one thinks it is constitutional, what kind of a job have they done since 1997? I don't think that trend line looks very good. So if we are going to spend $200 million paying for the promotion of agricultural products outside of this country, maybe we ought to ask the question: Why are we on a declining slope, as far as percentage of the world's agricultural sales, at the same time when farm income in this country has never been higher? Why is it? Because the Federal Government is not very good at doing things the private sector is very good at.

We have five separate programs within the Department of Agriculture to do this, and the question the American people ought to be asking is: Why do we have five programs? If, in fact, it is a role for the Federal Government, which I highly doubt under the Constitution, why do we have five? So that is how well we are doing.

I will talk about the first program. The market access program is one of the five programs the Federal Government has within the Department of Agriculture to do this. The Obama administration actually agrees with this amendment. In their budget, they put a recommendation to trim this. Yet all we have heard from everybody out there who gets the soft ride on this is that we can't take any money away from this program. If we can't take $40 million a year out of a program that is ineffective, history is here. We are going to be belly up, and the consequences of that will be devastating not just for our kids but for us, because it is going to come in the very near future.

All this amendment says is out of these five programs, let's cut this one 20 percent. The Obama administration recommended doing that. The GAO says there is nothing to say that this is effective use of tax dollars. One would think we are pulling toenails, to hear the people scream. I won't go into the details on this amendment because my time is limited. It means we are still going to spend $160 million on this one program, which is one of five, to promote agricultural products when we are not being successful in spending that money anyway.

The question is, Why would we vote against it? Because there is a parochial interest somewhere that we are going to be beholden to that is greater than our interest and fidelity to the U.S. Constitution or our interest and fidelity to the future of this country. That is why people will vote against this amendment. It doesn't have anything to do with common sense. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that we are going to run this significant deficit when we have a $16 trillion debt. It has to do with how do I make sure I am not in trouble with the parochial interests rather than doing the right, best thing for our country.

The second amendment--and I have received a lot of criticism for it--is in conjunction with Senator Durbin. For those people with adjusted gross incomes of greater than three-quarters of a million dollars a year, all this amendment does is decrease the subsidy the middle-income, hard-working factory worker or service worker in this country pays with their taxes to subsidize a crop insurance program that guarantees a profit and yield. Instead of a 62-percent subsidy by the Federal Government when they are making more than three-quarters of a million dollars per year, we take it to 47 percent. What do we hear? Oh, we can't do that. If a person is making $750,000 a year farming, that person's capital should be in pretty good shape and they should be able to afford to take on some more of the risks.

We are going to hear: Well, this will be too hard to implement. There isn't another agriculture program that doesn't have an income payment limitation of some type associated with it, except this one. When, out of every dollar spent on crop insurance, the average, hard-working American is paying 62 percent of it, it is not too much to ask those who are on the upper income stream in the agricultural community to participate a little bit more in helping pay for that subsidy by taking a reduced subsidy. So all we are doing is taking 15 percent of it.

Under this agriculture bill that is on the floor, there are three ways to ensure profit, and every one of them the American taxpayer who is not a farmer is paying for. There is no other business in this country where they are guaranteed that profit and revenue will be there through an insurance policy that is paid for by the rest of us.

The GAO report said we should actually limit it to $40,000 and we will save $5 billion over the next 10 years. This amendment will only save $1 billion over the next 10 years. But the way we get rid of $1 trillion deficits is to ask everybody to share a little bit. All this amendment is doing is asking the most well-off farmers--the ones we have been subsidizing for years; the ones who are taking hundreds of thousands of dollars every year from the American taxpayers--to pay 15 percent more on their crop insurance so the average individual in this country isn't taking off their table to subsidize somebody who is making three-quarters of a million dollars a year.

The third amendment is an amendment to end conservation payments to millionaires. Almost every other program we have in terms of our farm programs has some limitations on it, but the Department of Agriculture has an exception where

they can exclude this limitation. All this amendment would do is say to somebody who has an adjusted gross income of $1 million a year: Wouldn't that money be better spent somewhere else in the farm conservation area, No. 1; and No. 2, if it is in the best interests of the farm or production of agricultural acreage, and somebody has that kind of income, isn't it in their best interests to do these things?

It is a very simple amendment that says: If you are making an adjusted gross income of $1 million or more a year, then we are going to put some limitations on how much money we spend on your property and then go spend it on other properties where we might, in fact, have more effective resource conservation.

The final amendment I have to the bill has nothing to do with the agricultural bill but it has everything to do with the problems in this country. In February of this year, the U.S. Treasury wrote a check to the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention for $18.4 million each. When the Presidential checkoff system was created, the politicians in Washington wired it so that we thought we were giving money to a Presidential campaign when, in fact, they took a percentage of it for both parties. We don't have $18.4 million to spend on a Republican convention or a Democratic convention. The nominees of both parties are known. So what we have done, besides spending $100 million in security for both of those events--$50 million apiece--is we sent $18 million to the heads of both parties to spend any way they want to spend it. What is wrong with that? That $18.4 million we borrowed from the Chinese. So we are borrowing money from the Chinese to fund a hallelujah party in both Tampa and Charlotte this year, each one of them getting $18.4 million. It is time that kind of nonsense stop.

This amendment is going to require 60 votes. I don't know why they put it at 60 votes; maybe so a lot of people can vote for it but it still won't pass. But here is a test vote on whether the Senate gets the problems this country faces. If somebody votes against this amendment, what it says is they believe politics is above principle, that careerism trumps character, and that they can pull the wool over the eyes of the vast portion of American citizens. What could we do with $18.4 million times two? Well, there are tons we could do. The first thing is we could quit paying interest to the Chinese for it. The second thing is who could we help in terms of their health care or their housing? How many HIV patients who are waiting on ADAP who can't get the treatment they need could we help with $18.4 million?

The point is this amendment is probably going to get defeated, but I want my colleagues to look in that realm of the universe in America where all the politicians reacted with disdain over the GSA conferences spending $880,000 in what was said to be a foolish way. If they made any comment about the excesses of governmental agencies on conferences and parties, how can they not apply the same standard to their own political party?

My hope is that America will wake up. I am in the twilight years of my life. I have seen vast changes in our country, both good and bad, but we have maxed out the credit card in our country. We can't get another credit card without severe pain. We are trying to not do the right thing in the Congress of the United States. We are trying to kick the can down the road. We are trying to not make the hard decisions. And everyone who comes and lobbies says: Yes, I agree there is a problem, but please don't take anything away from me.

The answer is leadership that says we all have to sacrifice to get our country out of the depths of the problems we are facing today. This will be a great key vote on whether the Senators understand priorities and the depth of the problems we are in.

There is no way we should ever again send taxpayer funds to the Democratic Party or the Republican Party for a convention, and this amendment would eliminate that in the future.

Mr. President, I yield the floor and note the absence of a quorum.


Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.