Department of Defense Appropriations Act - Continued

Floor Speech

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: Dec. 27, 2012
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. I thank the chairwoman.

Mr. President, a little perspective before I offer these amendments.

We have before us a $60 billion-plus bill. There is no question there is great need in response to the devastation that occurred from Sandy. But what the American people need to know as this bill goes through the Senate is this bill is not going to be paid for. There is no amendment that has been approved that will allow offsets for this bill.

So as we clear this bill through the Senate--the $60-some billion we are going to clear--we are actually going to borrow that money. That is indisputable. I have spent the last 8 years outlining the waste, the duplication, and the fraud in the Federal Government. Those amendments were not made in order that would offset and actually pay for this by eliminating programs of the Federal Government that do not actually do anything to actually better the lives of Americans.

I am very appreciative of the opportunity to offer these amendments. I would also note we could have done these last week had we had an open and moving amendment process. We would not be here today working on Sandy. We would have finished it last week, but we chose not to do that.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this is a fairly straightforward amendment, and this is not to be construed as an amendment against the appropriators but, rather, an amendment for transparency.

What the underlying bill states is that 3 days before any grants are made under this process that the Appropriations Committee will be notified--not the whole Congress, not the American people but the Appropriations Committee. The reason for that is so the Members of the Appropriations Committee can then put out the information to the constituencies who are going to benefit from the grants that come through this.

Actually, the American people need to know the grants that are going to be granted through this process, the money that is going to be spent. So all this amendment does is change it to where the American people get notified of the grants that are going to be placed as a result of this bill.

This is about good government. This is about transparency. This is about letting all the Americans, who are actually going to pay for these grants, know what is going on, when it is going on, and how it is going on, who is going to get the money, and how much money they are going to get.

It is straightforward, very simple. It just says let everybody know--not a select group of Senators or House Members but everybody in this country who is footing the bill ought to know where this money is going to be spent. They ought to know it at the same time anybody else knows. It is just a transparency amendment so we all know where the money is spent, and we know it at the same time.


Mr. COBURN. This is another good government amendment.

One of the things that has happened since FEMA was set up is that what has occurred has created a disparity between the States. Let me outline, in the last 6 years the State with the most disasters--most of you would not realize--is Oklahoma. We have had 25 certified disasters in my State.

Now, how did that happen? It has happened because the per capita damage calculation has not been updated through inflation on a regular basis. So what is the effect of that? The effect of that is a State such as New York or California or Texas can have exactly the same disaster as Oklahoma, but it will not be declared a disaster because Oklahoma has less than 4 million people but we have X amount of dollars, but because we have such a smaller population, we qualify for a disaster declaration, whereas if the same thing happened in any of those three larger populated States, they would not qualify.

So this is actually an amendment that will not be beneficial to my State but is beneficial to us as American citizens to create equality in how we describe and how we grant disaster declarations.

So all I am doing is saying that between now and 2016, FEMA has to update. It will not have any application to what we are doing today, but it is a good-government amendment so that we will actually have a uniform process throughout the country so that disaster declarations are appropriately granted to States that appropriately need the Federal Government's help.

Remember, our definition on this is when we have overwhelmed local resources. That is the key. Then we use a per capita damage assessment to grant the declaration of emergency. So what I am trying to do is to create some clarity and also equality among the States so that everybody is treated equally. Right now, they are not. Quite frankly, my State is much advantaged, to the detriment of the larger States, because of our lower population, with the same amount of damage.

I would ask for concurrence on that amendment.


Mr. COBURN. This is an amendment some people do not like, I will grant you that. But I have some specific examples that are going on in New Jersey right now on why this amendment is needed. We have multiple contracts that were available that could have been utilized in New Jersey for debris removal. The company that got the contract actually is going to charge in excess of 20 percent more to the Federal Government for doing the same thing another competitive bid would have done. So we are going to spend at least 20 percent more on the contract for debris removal in New Jersey than we need to. That is because competitive bidding was not a requirement of Federal funds.

Here is some history. During Katrina, we know that $11 billion of U.S. taxpayer money was either defrauded or wasted. Let me say that again--$11 billion. Let me give the prime example of that. The Corps of Engineers was paid $62 per cubic yard to manage debris removal in Katrina. Through five layers of contracting, the people who actually did the debris removal in Katrina were paid $9 a cubic yard. So we paid six times what it actually cost to get the debris removal done because we did not have competitive bidding and we had multiple layers coming from the Corps of Engineers to national contractors, to regional contractors, to local contractors, to the actual guy with a backhoe and with a scoop and a dump truck. So we paid five to six times what it should have cost to actually get the debris removal taken care of. The same thing is going on in New Jersey right now. Right now.

So requiring competitive bidding--can there be exceptions to it? Yes. Are there times when you cannot do that? Yes. But as a general rule, especially since we are borrowing this money, we ought to be the best stewards of it that we can be. All this says is that we ought to require competitive bidding on these types of contracts to make sure we get value.

Why did New Jersey choose the more expensive contractor? Because the Federal Government is paying for it. This was a contract that was set that had been executed once in Connecticut. Because the Federal Government is paying for it, there is less decisionmaking about prudence and efficiency and effectiveness because there is not State money paying for it.

So what has happened is what was easiest, what was well-connected, what was well-heeled got the contract, and the one that would have cost considerably less did not get the contract. I would be happy to demonstrate for any of my colleagues showing them the difference between these two contracts on debris removal in New Jersey. So the same thing that happened in Katrina we are not learning from.

I agree that the debris needs to be picked up. We need to do it expeditiously. We had great opportunity to do that with both contractors, except we are going to pay a lot more because we chose to go a way that greased the sleds for those who were well connected.


Mr. COBURN. This amendment attacks one of the features of this bill that I think steals from the authorizing committees the authority they need to have on authorizing projects. Let me quote the language in the bill:

Provided further that any project that is under study by the Corps of Engineers for reducing flooding and storm damage risks in the future and that the Corps studies demonstrate will cost effectively reduce those risks is hereby authorized.

With one sentence, we have just taken away the total capability of the authorizing committee to hold the Corps accountable. All I am saying is that we at least ought to have authorizers say whether this is a priority. It does not mean they need to stop it, but they ought to at least be informed, and the authorization of that ought to go through a committee.

In this bill, 64 percent of the money is not going to even be started to be spent until 2 years from now, so there is plenty of time for us to create the authorization process rather than to deem the Corps of Engineers their own order and desire in terms of projects they wish to do. It is about good government. It is about good input. It is about good oversight. Allowing the Corps just to deem something authorized without the input of the appropriate committee of this Senate I think is inherently wrong and potentially very wasteful.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the Sandy supplemental bill provides the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers $3.5 billion in funding for new construction projects. Of that, $3 million from this account is directed toward future mitigation projects, future flood risks for areas associated with large-scale flood and storm events, and areas along the Atlantic coast within the boundaries of the North Atlantic Division of the Corps that were affected by Hurricane Sandy.

The legislation also increases the Federal cost share for these projects that are funded with this appropriation. It changes it from 65 percent to 90 percent. The purpose of this amendment is to bring that back to 65 percent. It is not about being a miser. It is not about wanting to save money. It is about prudence. It is about sound judgment. It is about common sense.

What do we know from the 1988 Stafford Act? Here is what we know. What we know is that when we changed the cost share to an appropriate level so that we did not get things done on the Federal Government's, the taxpayers' dime without significant participation of local input, what the studies show is that during that 1-year period, the Federal Government saved $3 billion because projects did not get funded that were not priorities because of the 65 percent Federal contribution and the 35-percent cost share. So what this does is reintroduce the 65-percent Federal payment and the 35-percent cost share to do that. Again, most of these projects are not going to start until 2015. So priorities are important.

So we are borrowing $60 billion--and this is just the first bill, I am told, and I am sure we are going to have to spend more, but shouldn't we be more prudent with how we spend dollars that are going to be borrowed against our children's future? All this says is revert it back to what has been done.

The second point I would make is that this is the first time in recent history where we have said--the people of Louisiana had a 65-percent cost share to the Federal Government, the people of Texas, the people of Mississippi, the people of Alabama, and all of a sudden, we are now going to say: No, that does not apply to the people in the Northeast. So it is unfair to the other areas that had major catastrophes that now all of a sudden, in time of extremis in terms of our debt and deficit, we are going to all of a sudden change that. Why are we changing that, especially since most of this money is not going to be spent--is not even going to be initialized--for at least 2 years?


Mr. COBURN. I am happy to do that. Let me tell you what crux of this amendment is. When we have disasters, we have real, legitimate needs. We have families who are hurting. We have businesses that are belly-up. We have homes that are destroyed. We have lives that are never going to be put back together no matter how much money we spend.

But there are people in our country who do not play by the rules. This amendment is specifically designed to not grant any of this $60 billion to true tax cheats. That does not mean something that is under discussion or under litigation; that is the ones who have already been deemed tax cheats. And the second thing is to not pay money to people who are deceased already.

What did we learn from Katrina? We learned that nearly $1 billion of Katrina money went to people who owed billions of dollars to the Federal Government. These were not disputable facts, these were real facts. We also learned that we spent significantly over $100 million giving grants and money to people who were deceased. So all we are saying is, on this bill, let's learn from our mistakes and let's not do the same thing.

So this puts a prohibition on money going to people who have a legitimate, adjudicated claim by the IRS that they are not paying taxes that are due to the Federal Government; that they, in fact, will not participate because they did not participate.

The second thing is if, in fact, you really don't exist any more in life, you really shouldn't be collecting money off our kids to pay for something that isn't a real need.

The final point of it is to really focus this on the Sandy supplemental, and that is the division on which we will have a separate vote, is for funding fisheries. I have no problem with funding fisheries. I have a big problem with borrowing from my kids to fund those very fisheries.

It is about priorities. We refuse to make priorities, and now that we have a bill that we don't have to cut spending anywhere from--we are going to borrow it all--we decide that we are going to add everything into it we can. I am not saying there is not a need in Alaska or on the west coast for this. What I am saying is there is a need for us to start making choices. The choice has to be not whether we will pay for it, it is what is a lower priority than funding the fishery? We tend to want to not want to make those choices. I am saying, in this amendment, that we ought to have to.

We will see what the will of the Senate is. I probably already know the answer to it. But the fact is that all we are doing is stealing from our kids. All of you know I can document over $200 billion a year in duplication, fraud, and waste in the Federal Government. We are not offering any of that to eliminate to be able to pay for this.

So if we are going to do the $150 million for fisheries, ought we not to cut spending somewhere else to pay for it? That is the whole point of this.

I would ask unanimous consent that amendment be set aside.


Mr. COBURN. I am sorry that the Senator from Louisiana has left the floor because if she would have checked my voting records, I have not voted for extending the Bush tax cuts because they weren't paid for. I said that on the floor. I have not voted to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan because they weren't paid for.

So when we hear blanket statements that the other side--``the other side'' does not tow the line, as would be expected by the Senator from Louisiana, I have to object. The fact is, I have been very consistent on those issues.

I don't think you give a tax cut without cutting spending in the Federal Government. That is what the debate is all about.

The reason we are here tonight--and we have a $60 billion bill that is not going to be paid for except by our grandkids, with interest, which is going to become $120 billion by the time it is ever paid back--is because we don't have the courage to actually go through and make hard choices about what works and what doesn't, what is a priority and what is not.

Now, I don't have any illusions about my amendments passing. I am very thankful that a couple of them have been accepted. But the real problem that America sees at the end of this year is a problem with us, that we think we can continue to do business the way we have always done it. You know what. We can't.

We are going to pass this bill, and it is going to die because the House isn't going to take it up this year, and we are going to have to come back and do it again. Hopefully, we are going to do it in the best way that helps the most people in New York and New Jersey and everybody else who was involved there.

Right now, the FEMA money is flowing, and we need to increase the money. I am all for that. We need to make sure the flood insurance money goes out right away. But we better get hold of ourselves as a Senate and as a nation. We can say we have always done it this way. We can say we can spend $60 billion and not pay for it. We can add all sorts of things. We have a crop insurance program for apples, but we are not going to cover it. We are going to go--even the people who weren't covered are going to get covered even though they didn't participate. Under this bill, they are going to get covered. So what we are going to do is actually undermine the crop insurance program for apples.

But the point is that we are doing the same thing that got us into the trouble we are in. We are at $16.4 trillion in debt. When you include all the debt the country has in terms of municipalities and States, that is how you compare apples to apples with everybody else. We are at 120 percent debt to GDP ratio. It is killing our economy right now. Multiple studies show that it is probably hurting our GDP by 1.5 percent. That is 1.5 million jobs every year, and we are sitting here talking about we are in a different time, that we don't have $16 trillion worth of debt, that we are not going to have trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. We are totally disconnected from reality.

So I am not going to win. I understand that. I understand there is a need, and I want to supply that need, but how we do it is important for the future of this country. It is also important for our kids.

So we can rationalize and say that we have always done it this way, that this is the way the rules work, but there is going to be a very big price to pay, and when that price comes, those who are sitting in opposition to my amendments are going to see the consequences of that opposition played out in the worst possible way.

The debt bomb in this country is going to explode, and we are going to be held accountable for it whether we are still here or not. Our lineage, our reputation, our history as Senators in this Congress is going to come back to us that we weren't up to the task of making the hard decisions that would actually save this country, that would fix the problems and put us on track to grow again and be the America we can be.

I thank the Presiding Officer for the time and the chairwoman for her consideration. I thank Senator Schumer for his consideration on the amendments.

I yield the floor.


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