Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:  Thomas Coburn
Date: Feb. 11, 2013
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I wish to spend some time outlining some amendments I have to the Violence Against Women Act, but I also ask unanimous consent to use oversized charts, and even with the size I have, on the one chart, you can barely see it, in terms of the grant programs.

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

Mr. COBURN. I would also like to comment on the Trafficking Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2012, which is the Leahy amendment. When we first started working on this issue, it was 2001 and $31.8 million, with one or two Federal agencies involved. With this bill, we are going to create eight different agencies with responsibility for this. That is absolutely crazy, and it duplicates exactly what we have done in every other area of the Federal Government, which I will show here in a moment. It shows what we have done in the Justice Department in terms of grants.

Now, we spend $3.9 billion a year out of the Justice Department on 259 different grant programs, many of which--as a matter of fact, the majority of which overlap one another. We have found--and this is not my data, this is GAO data--that we have multiple entities making a claim for a grant in one area, and then they go over and make a claim for the same thing in another area. Guess what. The Justice Department doesn't know that. They have no idea what is going on with their grant programs. They do not do any followup, they do not put in any metrics, and so therefore the $3.9 billion or the $40 billion we have spent on these programs in the last 10 years has been highly ineffective.

These grants are well intended. I don't doubt that. The amendment of the Senator from Vermont, Mr. Leahy, on the Trafficking Victims Protection Act is very well intended. I am not disputing that. But we find that the vast majority of money in that amendment goes overseas for trafficking prevention and protection, not here in our country where it is coming across Interstate 35 and Interstate 40 through my State, coming from the west coast to east and from south to north.

When we find that the vast majority of money will be spent outside the country, especially in light of our present budgetary situation, we ought to reconsider this amendment. We ought to refine it down to one or two agencies, not eight. We ought to put line responsibility and transparency in it, and we ought to put in metrics to make sure the money we are spending is actually going to be measured so we will know whether we have been effective in spending the American taxpayers' dollars.

So I am opposed to the Leahy amendment because although well intended, it is a very wasteful throwing of the mud up against the board and hoping to hit something. It is not organized, it is not well thought out, and it is certainly not efficient in terms of the way the money will be expended.

Let me spend a moment on these three charts. I am going to have two more when GAO issues its release on April 1 of all the duplication in the Federal Government, but I want you to notice something here: the Department of Justice grants, 253 different programs not just run by the Department of Justice but 9 other agencies besides them, spending $3.9 billion a year. Now, one might say: Well, that is OK.

But let's look at the organization because we have this chart, which the Department of Justice doesn't have. So here they are, layer upon layer of administrative costs for all these programs--very well intended, all of them, but highly inefficient.

Now, what are we doing with this bill? We are going to add more to it. We are not going to add a lot of metrics to see if what we are doing actually works.

The other thing we are doing with this bill is we have an authorization that is far greater than the amount of money we are ever going to spend on it. Now, why would we do that? Is it political? Could it possibly be political, that we are going to authorize way above what we know is ever going to be spent? Yes, it is. We know we are not going to spend what is authorized in this bill.

Authorizations ought to be what we intend to be spent, not how we intend to soothe someone with what we say we are going to spend, yet knowing full well we will never spend the money. It is a very shameful sleight of hand because these are important issues. As a practicing physician, having delivered over 4,000 babies, I have seen violence against women in lots of ways. I have done a lot of counseling, spent a lot of time there. And any dollar we take from the American taxpayer, we ought to make sure it actually does something very positive.

I have several amendments to this bill. I didn't get all the amendments I wanted. One was denied, and I will explain to the American public what it was. It was to eliminate $200 million in expenditures for campaign conventions for the Democrats and Republicans. It passed here with 94 votes, but they wouldn't allow it to be voted on here. It passed the House. So here is a way to take $200 million and let the parties run their own conventions rather than the American taxpayers paying for the parties. But that wasn't allowed.

So we haven't moved forward yet in the Senate, where people can actually offer what they think will be good-government amendments that will save this government money and do what the vast majority of the American people want us to do.

Just look at this chart. And I want to add one other thing. There is only one agency of the Federal Government that, at the end of the year, if it doesn't spend its money, doesn't get to keep it. Guess what department that is. It is the Department of Justice.

We have set them aside. So even though we don't have good controls on the grants, we don't have oversight. We haven't eliminated the duplication which the GAO says is tremendous in terms of its goals. We had an opportunity to do that on this bill. We didn't do it. At the end of the year, whatever they don't spend they get to spend where they want to spend outside of the appropriations process of Congress. It is time we change that. It is time we know where every dollar is going.

Now, I admit this is a dizzying poster, but it equates well the lack of certainty, intelligence, and planning of Congress. Congress created that.

Think about that: 250-plus different grant programs, most of them overlapping and doing the same thing, with multiple grantees hitting multiple grants. Since we don't oversight them, and the agency doesn't oversight them, and they don't know whether the money has been spent on what it was supposed to be spent, we have no idea if we are accomplishing something good other than appropriating money to go to grants that go to the cities.

The other problem I have with this bill is that there is a federalism concern. One of the reasons we have been running trillion-dollar deficits, one of the reasons we are close to $17 trillion in debt, one of the reasons we have $86 trillion in unfunded liability--and if we used generally accepted accounting principles and measured our debt like every other country, we would be at about 120 percent of our GDP, and we would be in excess of $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities. And one of the reasons is because we step all over the enumerated powers of the Constitution.

If we were to take this act and look at it, 98 percent of it is for State violations of laws. Nobody will dispute that. Where in the Constitution does it give us the right to go down to the State level and direct and mandate how States are going to respond to their own tort and civil laws? Whether it is the Presiding Officer's Commonwealth of Virginia or the State of Oklahoma, what gives us that right?

I am for fixing these problems, but there is a bigger problem about to swallow our country, and we continue to blindly follow our hearts rather than putting a measure of common sense with our desire to do well. So I have a couple of amendments.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, one of the things the VAWA legislation fails to do is to address the duplication and overlap within the very grant programs and nongrant programs of VAWA operated by the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services. It doesn't address those.

At the beginning of every Congress, I send to each and every Senator information outlining the criteria that I would use--seven others joined me last year--in terms of determining legislation. Last Congress we sent this out, and what I will tell you is that this legislation significantly violates one of the principles that we have to do for us to get out of the hole; that is, to eliminate duplication and consolidate what is in front of us.

So this legislation does do some small consolidation. I will readily and freely admit it hasn't come close to eliminating all the duplication. There are several VAWA grant programs that are so broad that they duplicate one another, providing multiple opportunities, as I said before, to double-dip into Federal programs. They also duplicate significant programs with Health and Human Services. So you can get a grant at Health and Human Services and you can get a grant at the Justice Department. So the whole proposal of this amendment is to force the Department of Justice to make recommendations on what is duplicated, what is effective, and capture those savings to more quickly address the deficits we have in terms of DNA collection and identification.

We have hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence that could significantly change both the cost and the time period in which we address both violent crime and nonviolent crime. According to the GAO, we wasted billions of dollars over the last 10 years in these grant programs. So what this amendment says is we are going to put it to the Justice Department--they know where they are--to come forward, save this money, and let's direct this money to clean up the CODIS system, the DNA backlog, and bring it forward and infuse that money into both technology and catch-up so we are timely.

Why is this important? It is important for a lot of reasons. Sitting in those hundreds of thousands of cases is the very clue to solving hundreds of thousands of cases and others that we don't even know may be connected.

The second reason it is important is there are people sitting in prison today who are innocent, and that data collection and DNA input could clear them of a wrongful conviction.

So what this is asking the Justice Department to do is to identify every program. By the way--and most people don't know--there is only one Federal agency that actually knows every program they have. That is the Department of Education. Go call anybody at the Justice Department and nobody over there can tell you. We know, because we have studied it, but they don't know. They can't even publish all their programs. They don't put it out.

Consolidate unnecessary duplication and apply the savings toward resolving rape cases and DNA data cases and with the remainder that is left over to go to reducing the debt. It is simple. Nobody in America except the Federal Government would run programs like this. Nobody would blindly create more programs rather than make the ones they have work now, except that is what we are doing.

So this is simple, straightforward math. I don't expect it to pass. We have only had one amendment pass in the Senate in the last 2 years trying to eliminate duplication, and therein lies the problem. We are afraid to do what is best because we would rather protect a constituency of one of these small grant programs than fix them all and still solve the general intent of why we put the money out there in the first place. We are conflicted.

So when GAO, at the end of March this year finishes the review of the Federal Government--which we had to mandate by an amendment that I put into law--we are going to see in excess of $200 billion a year in duplicative costs that shouldn't be there.

I want you to think for a minute. If you look at every one of these grant programs, every one has an administrator. Every one has a staff. Every one has grant approval people. Most of them have grant investigators--most don't. Some have fund managers--most don't. So each one of these has a bureaucracy. And when the vast majority is duplicating one another, we are saying we are well intended, but we are spending money on the process, not on the problem. The intent of this amendment is to strike that balance between truly getting to the solution to a problem and at the same time solving another problem, which is the CODIS and the rape backlog.

In the bill--and I am thankful that the Cornyn amendment is there. The grant system previous to the Cornyn amendment said the vast majority of the money had to be spent on why you can't get the DNA data up rather than working on the backlog. What this will do is force us to get caught up. This creates $600 million of savings over a period of time that will then be applied to solving this problem once and for all. But there is great savings to come from that because what it means is we are not going to double-pay for things that we intended to solve.

I get dizzy looking at these charts. I have one for every branch of the Federal Government now. We actually know what is going on. Actually, we know what is not going on because we know what Congress intended, and we also know what isn't happening with the dollars that are coming from that.


Mr. COBURN. This is an amendment that is critical to my home State of Oklahoma and every State that has Native American tribes.

Oklahoma now has the largest number of Native Americans of any State. I believe we are at 36 recognized Federal tribes in Oklahoma. Inside this bill is a direct violation of the Bill of Rights of American citizens who are not tribal members because what we have allowed is for tribal courts to try U.S. citizens in their courts--for very good reasons--in terms of sexual assault, assault, abuse, and other items. The reason we are doing that is because either U.S. attorneys or the U.S. Justice Department has not effectively carried out their charge to represent the Native American people in terms of prosecuting people who might have performed those acts.

What we have done with this solution is to trample on the Bill of Rights of every American who is not a Native American. I have no doubt--I am 100 percent certain--that this portion of the bill is going to be thrown out by the first Federal judge that hears it.

You cannot take away the rights of U.S. citizens under the Bill of Rights at any time, any place, any way domestically. What this bill does is totally eliminate the Bill of Rights for U.S. citizens in tribal courts. Most would not understand that most tribal courts don't recognize our Bill of Rights. Some do but the vast majority do not.

So are you guaranteed rights as a U.S. citizen? Are those rights enshrined in the Constitution and the statutes of this government and this Republic? Can we, as a Senate, forget about that and pass a law that says all of a sudden we are going to violate those rights because we are going to put people under the jurisdiction of a sovereign nation that does not recognize those rights?

This is simply an amendment to strike that section of the bill. I don't expect it to pass--which, again, tells us part of the disease that is in Washington: We pay lipservice to the Constitution rather than to believe its truths and rely on its guarantees of individual liberty and justice.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, this amendment is a perfecting amendment from the last Violence Against Women Act, which I coauthored with Senator Biden--then-Senator Biden--and Senator Specter.

When a woman is raped, right now in our country she gets raped two, three, four times through our justice system. Let me explain that to you. We have deadly diseases that are sexually transmitted--HIV, sometimes chlamydia. Now we have untreatable strains of gonorrhea. So a woman is raped and, under most State laws, she doesn't have any right, once an indictment has been placed against a defendant, to have them tested. By not having them tested what we do is we make the woman go through testing again and again and again, especially in light of HIV. So they are the ones who have to be tested because they cannot know that the accused perpetrator of their rape is not carrying HIV, is not carrying gonorrhea, is not carrying syphilis, is not carrying chlamydia, because they cannot be tested. What we do is we put them through that trauma once a month for months because the perpetrator, or at least the accused perpetrator, has the right not to be tested in this country.

We put a provision in the last bill that says you will lose 5 percent of your grant money if you do not institute these changes at a State level so that the woman who has been raped has at least an equal footing to know whether her health, other than her psychological, emotional, physical health, because of what occurred during the act, will continue to be deteriorating. Guess what. The vast majority of the States said we will do what we want and we will not take that additional 5 percent.

All this amendment does is it puts some real teeth in it. If you are going to say that somebody who has been indicted for rape has more of a right to not be tested than the woman who was raped, and she has to continually be tested to know whether she might have an outcome that is adverse for her long-term health, what this amendment says is it is going to be 20 percent.

I do not expect this amendment to pass either, because if we are really against violence against women, what we will do is start putting some of the consequences of that on the men who actually caused the violence. Being tested for HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis is not a hard test. It is what a prudent man would do.

Some people say don't worry about it, just treat them. They obviously are not aware of the side effects of all these medicines that we would use to blast this, the treatment for all these diseases. Not knowing and then sometimes covering up, what most people do not realize is that two or three of these diseases actually will affect the long-term fertility of the woman. But we have decided, at least the States have that are taking this grant money, that the rights of the indicted perpetrator are greater than those of the victim who has been raped.

It should not be. I have cared for those women. I have walked with them emotionally for years afterwards, wondering if the HIV infection was going to show up, never knowing for sure.

Here is the other thing that happens. We get all these plea deals of rapists and here is the plea that they cop: If you give me X lower sentence, I will submit to testing. So all of a sudden the person who perpetrated this ghastly, cowardly crime negotiates a much lighter sentence so that the woman can have some peace of mind and not have a question mark for the next 4 or 5 years. We need to fix that, and 5 percent obviously did not do it. Twenty percent will.

I got up very early this morning to get here today to be able to offer these amendments. I hope my colleagues are able to get in. I know the airplanes are backed up coming into Washington. But thinking about the real purpose, to stop violence against women--if you want to stop it, you have to make it effective. You have to spend every dollar as though it is the last dollar, and you have to measure every dollar. You have to quit having the waste in the Justice Department and the grants that are associated with them. You have to have every grantee know that if they get a grant from the Federal Government under one of these programs, they are going to be checked, they are going to be measured against performance, and if they do not perform they are going to send the money back.

We can do a lot better than we are doing with this bill. These are improving amendments. My hope is, my prayer is, that some of them will pass because they really will have a positive impact on both women and our freedom.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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