Veterans Jobs Corps Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: Sept. 19, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I want to spend a few moments this morning talking about the budget point of order. But a bigger topic is we are going to have a vote at noon, and the question, in my mind, is: Will we at some point in the future recognize the hole we are in?

When I talk to individual Members they all agree we are in a hole, we have a problem, and it is getting ready to bite this country in ways that are unimaginable in terms of its impact on the everyday citizens of this country. Yet in the Senate we have done nothing to address the bigger problems facing the country.

Now we have a bill that has a budget point of order that is lying against it, and the question is: Will we continue the behavior that put our country in the problems we are in today or will we take a new track?

The desire to help veterans is a noble desire, but there are a lot of points about this bill that the average American and the average veteran ought to be asking. There are also other questions, such as: What are the other things we are doing for jobs for veterans, and how well are they working.

We have six veterans job training programs. We already have a preference across the Federal Government for hiring veterans. We have SBA programs like crazy. We have contracting programs 8a and 8b. We have all these programs, but not one hearing has been held by the committee of jurisdiction oversight of the job training programs or the other programs we have to enhance the economic well-being of our veterans.

So what we have is a bill that is brought to the Senate floor that has good intentions behind it but shows the absolute laziness of Congress in terms of digging things out.

When the GAO issued its duplication report on the job training programs for veterans, four of them do exactly the same thing. None of them has a metric. So we don't know if they are working, and we haven't held a hearing to find out if they are working. But what are we doing? We are proposing another jobs program for veterans without having done the serious work of how we invest $1 billion.

Now, the other point that we should know is, we are spending $1 billion a year right now on veterans job training programs. This bill has $1 billion over 5. The second point I would like to make--and I think it was made by the ranking member of the Budget Committee--is there is no honest accounting in this bill regardless of the budget point of order or the blue slip, the nonconstitutionality of originating revenue bills in the Senate.

There is absolutely no transparency nor correctness nor character nor integrity in the financing of this bill. When we find ourselves $16 trillion in debt and we are going to pay for another bill over 5 years by 10 years of change, we never get out of the problem. We make the problem worse.

What are we doing and whom are we doing it for? Are we truly thinking about veterans when we do not solve the bigger problems? We have the manifest presence in this bill of the very problems we say we need to be addressing. Yet we are making them worse with this bill. We are making the financial problems worse with this bill.

I am befuddled and disappointed that we cannot, as a group of individuals who all love this country very much, come together on some certain baseline principles that we ought to be operating under in the Senate. The first of those ought to be we ought to do nothing now that makes the problem worse for our kids and grandkids. We are now over $200,000 per family of debt in this country. We are over $200,000--it is actually about $225,000. Think about the median family income over the last 4 years that has gone down 9 percent in this country, and we are going to make sure it goes down even further if we continue to do what we are doing in this bill. We have gone from $54,900 median family to $50,200 in the last 4 years, median family income, and we have gas prices as high as they have ever been and we are going to perpetuate a system that says we are going to continue to make the problem worse, not better.

There is also another little gimmick in this bill that if we were to do it in private, we would go to jail for it; that is, we are going to charge corporations more income tax than what they actually owe to get past 1 year, and then after the year is over, we are going to flip it back so we can say we paid for something when we did not. That violates all aspects of integrity and honesty. Do you know what the answer I hear as to why we are doing it? ``Oh, we have done that in the past.'' It was not right in the past, and it is certainly not right now to lie, to cheat, to be dishonest about the accounting principles surrounding this bill in terms of how we pay for it because, in essence, it violates pay-go--the very rule we said was going to help us get out of our problems that 67 times has been waived in the last 3 years. As a matter of fact, I don't know the last time a pay-go challenge was not waived.

The second principle we ought to be dealing with is we ought to follow the rules we set up for ourselves that are supposed to discipline us in terms of getting our country out of the problems which we are, regrettably, continually ignoring. If, in fact, we want to help veterans get jobs, there are a lot of ways for us to do it. One is make sure the job programs we have are working--and they are not. If they are not working, why are we continuing to spend $1 billion a year on them? No. 2, create a level of confidence in this country, by our own behavior, that we are actually addressing the real problems in front of the country rather than the political dynamics of an election that says we want to do something and everybody in this Chamber knows, even if we pass this bill, it is not going to accomplish anything because, in fact, it has a blue slip against it because of the Constitution.

On Monday mornings when I get up--I get up about 4:30 to catch a flight to come back here--I have noticed I have an attitude problem. I don't want to come anymore. The reason I don't want to come anymore is because we are not doing anything to address the real problems that are in front of our country. We are ignoring the real problems so we can create political contrasts for an election, all the while the country is sinking and sinking and sinking.

What it is is a lack of leadership. We can lead in the wrong direction, knowing what the problems are and making mistakes, and we can be forgiven for that. But when we know what the real problems are and we are ignoring them, that is an unforgivable failure of leadership. That is where we find ourselves.

I heard my colleague mention the Defense authorization bill. There is absolutely no excuse for us not to have passed a Defense authorization bill that gives the planning, the direction, and the commitment for this country's future in terms of our defenses--the No. 1 priority for us as a Congress, according to the Constitution. Yet we have not done that. We have made the immediate political situation trump everything. That is the opposite of leadership. It is actually cowardice, because when someone is a leader and they duck the real problems in front of them, they take everybody down with them--the well intentioned and the not well intentioned. That is where we are--as a country, as a Senate--by not addressing the real issues of this country.

I don't know what is going to happen on the votes on this bill, but I know what needs to happen in the Senate. There needs to be a renewed sense of awareness of the real problems facing this country and a redoubling of our commitment to shed partisan roles and get down to fixing the real problems in front of us. Parochialism has no place in that discussion. The political careers of Members have no place in that discussion. The real future of our country is at risk and we are, similar to the proverbial person with their head in the sand, ignoring that risk. The greatest country in the world is on the precipice of falling, predicted long ago by such people as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson--that the day would come that we, in fact, would put the political ahead of the best interests of our country. That is what we are seeing played out in Washington. That is exactly what we are seeing played out with this bill. The American people deserve much better.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Absolutely. Let me give people some hope. Virginia Foxx, a Representative in the House, who is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Workforce and Labor, has passed a bill out of her committee that consolidates 33 of those job training programs into 1, puts metrics on every one of them so we will know if they are working and requires mandatory oversight of them. The reason she did not do all 47 is 14 of them are not in her jurisdiction.

But add to it another $4 billion, and another 20-plus programs for the disabled, so we actually have almost 70 programs and $23 billion a year we are spending on job training, of which nobody knows--as a matter of fact I know they are not working.

We actually released a report on job training in Oklahoma. We looked at every Federal job training and State job training program going on in Oklahoma. Do you know what works? Oklahoma programs. Do you know what does not work? Federal job training programs in Oklahoma.

We have 1 city in Oklahoma that is 16,000 people, 17 Federal job training centers, and an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent; 17 different Federal agencies in 1 city of 16,000 people with an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. What we are doing is employing people in the job training industry--which may be good if they are having results. But we have results that are untenable.

Job training is just one area of our Federal Government. The GAO has released reports on duplication. Their final report will come in February of next year, where they will have looked at the entire Federal Government. What we know right now is if we did our work, the 100 Senators who care about our country did our work, over the next 10 years we could save $200 billion by eliminating duplication in Federal programs--$200 billion. I said over 10 years; that is, $200 billion per year. It is $2 trillion over 10 years. We could save over $200 billion per year.

We wouldn't be having sequestration if we did our job, if we did our oversight, if we consolidated programs, made them transparent and made them accountable and then put metrics on them to see if they were working and then did oversight to see that they are working. We would not be in sequestration. We would not have near the problems we have today. But the failure is us. The Congress has failed to do its job.

The consequences will not be borne by us. The consequences will be borne by the son of my health LA who was just born, by my new grandson who is
now almost 7 weeks old. That is who is going to pay the consequences--the children of this country--when we fail to do our jobs.

I appreciate the Senator's leadership. I am going to support his point of order. It is the right thing to do. I did not even talk about the areas he talked about in terms of--we set up this budget agreement for 2 years. I will tell you what, the CR coming--this is the irony of all ironies. Had we not had that budget agreement and we did a CR, we would spend $2.6 billion less next year if we had a clean CR than under the Budget Control Act we passed.

By doing the Budget Control Act, we are actually going to spend more money than we did last year.

So everything is upside down in Washington because everything is political or parochial and nobody is thinking long term about the big problems facing our country.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, I would ask to have a back-and-forth real debate on this, recognizing us both, with the Senator from Florida controlling the time, if he has no difficulty agreeing with that.

One of the reasons I came out is I don't agree with the substance of this bill and I don't want the Senator from Florida to make a statement on the floor that everybody agrees with it. We have six veterans job training programs that nobody is overseeing. Nobody knows if they work.


Mr. COBURN. Madam President, my colleague from Florida raises some good points about us wanting to help our veterans. I don't think there is anybody who does not recognize their significant sacrifice. As a matter of fact, it was not long ago that the 45th from Oklahoma lost 17 people in Afghanistan and hundreds were wounded.

The real question is: how do we help them the best? How do we really help veterans? We are going to have plenty of opportunities to say there is a reason to not do the right thing for the long-term best interests of our country.

We have never found ourselves in the predicament we find ourselves in today in terms of our financial exposure and the real risk to the veterans who have jobs today--which nobody is talking about but the real risk for them. Because when this thing goes down--and I am talking about the financial collapse of this country--when it happens, those who have jobs who are veterans today are going to lose them. So there could be no more noble cause than to make an exception for veterans, except that is not what the Senate does. We make an exception every time--every time.

Here is the question for my friend: Under what system of values, honor, and integrity did these veterans serve?

The highest and noblest of honor and integrity, without a doubt.

They put their life on the line so I do not have to, so my adult, mature children in their thirties and forties do not have to. The difference is, what they put their life on the line for was to ensure that the freedom and liberty and vibrancy of this country goes forward. We are taking a little pocketknife to one of the legs of the three-legged stool with our actions and slowly nibbling the support of that leg. We are taking it away by our very actions.


Mr. COBURN. If I could finish. Since the other side has the last 7 minutes, I will be finished well before then.

We are going to say the financial condition of the country does not matter. We are going to say it does not matter the $1 billion a year we are spending already on veterans job training programs. It does not matter. We are going to say here is a year's program for jobs for 20,000 veterans and that is going to trump everything else.

You would not have any objection from this Senator if you actually really paid for this, No. 1, if you did not violate pay-go and you truly did it in a way that oversighted the present job training programs we have and you truly did it in a way that matches the integrity and honor of our veterans. But we did not do that. No. We played games. We played games with budget rules. We played games with pay-go. We did not do any oversight. We did not even have a hearing. There was no hearing on this bill.

You took Senator Burr's suggestions, which were common sense, and applied it broadly across the government. But we did not match the honor and integrity and valor and purpose. When I meet with veterans in townhall meetings, I ask them why they serve. Do you know what they tell me? Because this is the greatest country the world has ever known and they want to keep it that way.

What we are doing today does not keep it that way. It perpetuates the same problems that created the very dangerous situation this country is in.

So when we make a claim about that everybody agrees with this bill, I just wish to say I do not agree with the bill. There are a whole lot of ways to help veterans that are better than this, that give them a permanent job. We passed the post-9/11 GI bill; right? They can get paid a stipend while they go to college to learn a new skill, the same as a noncom officer. They get paid for the books and tuition and everything else so they can become whole as they learn a skill. We have the capability for studies while we are in the military. We have six separate job training programs that we are spending $1 billion a year on.

The best way to help veterans is to fix this country's economic situation to create opportunity, and they will fly because they have already proven they have the initiative, the strength, the moral courage, the integrity, and the valor to accomplish anything they want to accomplish.

So I am in disagreement with my friend. I think we have a political device in front of us, and I am going to be very interested to see the character of the Senate on whether it succumbs to the parochial and political over the best long-term interests of the country. If it does, it just proves that the Senate needs to be changed to truly address the real problems in front of our country. That is what it is going to prove, regardless of the outcome: Do we have the character? Do we match the valor, honor, and integrity of the people who serve this Nation in the Armed Forces with our willingness to sacrifice our political careers to do what is in the best long-term interest of the country?

They set the example for us. The question is whether we will follow their example.

I yield to my friend from Florida.


Mr. COBURN. Through the Chair, I would ask the Senator, how did he vote on the tax extender package coming out of the Senate Finance Committee? Because that is the real test of whether the Senator wants to reform the Tax Code. As I recall, the Senator voted for it and I voted against it. There is a very big difference.


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