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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I want to comment a minute, before I talk about the individual amendments, on the process we have seen.

We are going to have several amendments, and this is well in excess of $1 trillion in spending. We have had four amendments voted on, and I think unanimous consent will give us seven or eight more. So we are going to have a total of 12 amendments. All but the first one were not tabled, but we are at 60-vote margins, which is fine. But for a bill that spends $1 trillion, to choke down the Senate in a way that does not allow either side the appropriate opportunity to impact $1 trillion worth of spending doesn't fit with either the culture or the history of the Senate, and certainly doesn't fit with the agreement going forward and the rules changes we had this year.

On a bill that has $1 trillion worth of spending, in past history--if you look at the 104th, the 105th, the 103rd Congress--bills of that size would have 70 or 80 amendments, and we are going to choke down to 11 or 12 amendments on this. The question is, Why would we do that? Why would we limit the discussion and the division of thought, manifested through votes, for the American people to actually see what we are doing? There are only two reasons why this is happening. One is--and from a phone call with the President, in his own words, he wants sequester to hurt.

Now, think about that for a minute. And he is my friend. I challenged him on that when he said it to me. But there is a philosophical divide in this country. The Federal Government over the last 10 years has grown 89 percent, while the average median income has declined 5 percent.

The reason my colleagues want sequester to hurt and be painful is they want to rationalize that bigger government is better, that we cannot afford to cut a penny out of the Federal budget. So what we do is the Federal Government is doing less with more money while every American is doing more with less money. That goes against the greatest tradition of our country. It is also a prescription for failure for our country when we are willing to sacrifice, in the short term, direct benefits to major segments of our population for a political point.

Nobody has done more oversight on the Federal Government than I have in the last 8 years, and I will tell you, conservatively, out of the discretionary budget, $250 billion a year is spent that does not positively impact this country in any way. Yet we cannot get up amendments to demonstrate that.

Not only can we not have an amendment up, we cannot even spend the time on it to have a real debate about it. That is because they really do not want to debate these issues of waste, duplication, fraud, and inefficiency.

Then the second reason we are not having amendments, or we are having amendments at 60 votes, is to provide the political cover. Our country is in so much trouble it should not matter what party you are in. What should matter is if we are fixing the long-term problems of our country in such a way as to secure the future of our country.

What we have seen through this process last week and this week is a focus on the short term, a focus on the politically expedient, a focus on the parochial--and from both sides of the aisle. This is not just Democrats, this is Republicans too. Senator Ayotte can't even get an amendment to eliminate spending for a missile program that is never going to be built. It is never going to be built, but we are going to spend $360 million on it next year because it is a parochial prize to a member of the Appropriations Committee.

Washington is not sick because it is partisan. Washington is sick because it is political, and it is short term in its thinking. Nobody in their right mind, no matter how much it benefits their State, would say they want to spend $380 million or $360 million--I am not sure of the exact amount of money--on a program that is never going to come into fruition unless they are thinking about them and not our country and not the families of our country and not the programs that have to be reformed to save them. Nobody would do that. Yet we have 60 votes on all these amendments we are going to offer because they are going to offer protection for people to vote on them to know that they will not even pass, but they can still get the cover for a vote. They can say: I voted for it but it didn't pass because it has to have 60 votes.

That is the smallest part of the problem. To have to go through what we have gone through over the last 5 or 6 days and only have had four votes says something about this place. I would just proffer that I bet had we had an open amendment process we would have been finished with this bill yesterday.

When I came here, for the first 2 years you could offer an amendment for anything at any time at a 51-vote threshold. So all this time we have wasted in quorum calls or on speaking on issues that have nothing to do with the bill in front of us is because we really do not want to govern. What we want is we do not want the body to do its work and have the input of both sides into a bill--other than in the committee. What we want is a fixed outcome that will allow the administration to make sequester as painful as it can be.

So when you shut down packing plants, when the USDA says they cannot have food inspectors there at the same time the USDA is advertising for social service workers and event planners--which, if you did not hire them, could at least give you 52 people not being furloughed for a week. What is happening to America today is we are focused inward on the politics rather than our country. We are focused on gaming the system rather than governing. We are focused on all the wrong things because it is all about the next election.

We have our eyes so far off the ball that now every bill that comes to the floor has to have essentially a rules committee of one, which is the majority leader, deciding whether he wants his members to vote on a bill. That doesn't have anything to connect with the history of the Senate. This is no longer the greatest deliberative body in the world because we do not deliberate; we do not have an open amendment process; we are too afraid of our own shadows to cast a vote and think we might have to defend it.

If you cannot defend any and every vote in this body, you do not have any business being here. To stifle debate and to limit amendments in the way this bill has done certainly will not breed any goodwill going forward and certainly does not do service that the American citizens are due.

Mr. President, I will now take some time to talk about the various amendments I have called up. Amendment No. 69 is the first amendment I called up. As the ranking member on Homeland Security and the ranking member on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, what we know is Homeland Security, in its grants program, through what is called the Urban Area Security Initiative, is out of control. They have not prioritized their funding. They have not put metrics on their funding. They have not controlled their funding.

We put out a report in December 2012 called Safety At Any Price, and we highlighted the problems with this particular grant program. No clear goals, DHS has not established any clear goals for how the funds should be used to improve national security. The 9/11 Commission warned against DHS spending becoming pork spending. UASI, this Urban Area Security Initiative, has become another porkbarrel program providing public safety subsidies to cities such as in my home State, Tulsa.

No. 3, what we found is a tremendous amount of waste in these grants. The lack of clear goals has led States and cities to use this funding on wasteful projects, including paying for overtime for employees; purchasing computers, printers, televisions, underwater robots, bearcats--all the things that do not really connect to national security and the prevention of terrorism.

This amendment prohibits $500 million allocated for the UASI grant program that has been wasted on items that do not relate to homeland security. It prohibits the use of funds on overtime, backpay--backfill pay, security at Major League baseball parks, spring training camps, attendance at conferences, and the purchase of flat-screen TVs.

The other thing we found in our report is the Department of Homeland Security doesn't know what this money was spent on. Not only do they not have goals and metrics for what the money is supposed to be spent on, they cannot tell us what the money was spent on because they don't actually have any record of it. We have spent $35 billion in total on all DH grant programs since 2003. We have spent $7.1 billion on this program.

What I can tell you is it has helped some communities, I don't doubt that, especially during our tough times. It has filled in. But if we are ever going to get out of the problem we are in as a country in terms of our debt and deficits, we have to have programs that have metrics on them that have to be followed up. The grants have to be followed, and they need to be held to account.

My colleagues, I have no hopes of this passing because most of my colleagues will not look at the research done on this, will not look at the ineffectiveness of it, will not look at the waste, and will vote a party-line vote to defeat this amendment. We will get 45 or 50 votes or 51 or 52, but it will go down. So, consequently, real problems that have been oversighted by the Permanent Committee on Investigations--really oversighted by the Department of Homeland Security--the real solutions to problems will not happen because of the way this place is being run.

Next, I would like to talk about amendment No. 93. Amendment No. 93 follows a recommendation of the President. It is not my recommendation, it is the President's recommendation. What this amendment would do is actually take money that has been directed for expired heritage area authorizations that were not any recommendations of the President--actually the President's recommendation was to cut this money in half--and we are going to do exactly that with this amendment. We are going to cut it by $8.1 million.

What heritage areas are, when we started them--the 12 heritage areas this is about are at least 16 years old. One of them is 25 years old. The whole idea behind heritage areas was to fund them with a grant program to get them started and then let them run on their own with State and local funds. They have become a dependency program.

The OMB and the President's budget said we ought to eliminate the dependency of these by trimming back the amount of money. Instead of becoming temporary programs directed toward self-sufficiency as originally intended, these national heritage areas have turned into permanent entities that continue to grow in number and funding amount--totally opposite the original authorization intent. In other words, they are parochial based.

As a matter of fact, one of them, the John Chaffee Blackstone River National Heritage, has existed for more than 25 years. They actually thought the funding might get cut, so they created another way to pay for it, just as the government had intended for them to do, and they raised the money for it this year. But we are going to fund them anyway in this appropriations package, this Omnibus appropriations package. It is not really a CR, it is an Omnibus appropriations. Of these, 12 have already received $112 million, more than half the total ever spent on national heritage areas.

So they have been in existence at least 16 years. They should have become self-sufficient. They need to become self-sufficient, and we should not be spending the money. What will we do with the money that will amount to about $16 million? We will turn that money into opening the tours at the White House, opening Yellowstone National Park and the rest of the parks. In terms of the way that money is spent out, we will be able to take $6 million or $7 million of that money and the national parks will open on time.

Most of you haven't heard about this, but in Jackson Hole, WY, and Cody, WY, the citizens of that State are raising private money to plow the snow so Yellowstone National Park can open on time. I want you to see the contrast because it is important to their livelihood and their commerce. They are going to sacrifice personally to get that park open on time. At the same time we are going to send money to 12 national heritage areas that have been dependent on the Federal Government for 16 years.

Tell me what is wrong with that picture. We are going to create a dependency, and then we are going to indirectly tax the people of Wyoming--one of their great areas of commerce, a place where visitors come to Wyoming to see Yellowstone Park--and have them use their own post-tax money to pay for that. That cannot fit with the vision of America that almost everybody else in this country believes in. It doesn't fit.

Other national parks have reported campgrounds that are going to be closed to reduce maintenance. So we are going to take this $6 million, and we are going to use it to help open these parks and allow the Park Service to have the parks open on time. In the original authorization, it was not supposed to get any money. They should not have been getting money for the last 10 years. Instead of creating a dependency in the program, we are going to take that money and do something for the American people.

The next amendment is amendment No. 65, as modified. And this is one that really gets my goat. The National Science Foundation funds lots of great scientific endeavors in this country. As a matter of fact, they have about four times as many applications for grants as they have money to give out. But they spend a considerable amount of money doing such things as funding ``research in political science.'' In 2008 they spent $8.6 million funding research in political science, $10.9 million in 2009, $11 million in 2010, $10.8 million in 2011, and $10.1 million in 2012. What this amendment does is prohibit the National Science Foundation from wasting Federal resources on political science projects and redirects that to other areas within NSF that are going to give the American people a much greater return on their investment.

Let me give some examples of what they fund: campaigns and elections, citizen support, and emerging and established democracies, bargaining processes, electoral choice, democratization, political change in regimes, transitions. Those are all important things if we were not in a budget and spending crisis. Tell me whether it would be better to have the next new computer chip generation developed through a grant at the National Science Foundation or if the actions of a filibuster in the Senate are more important to the American people. Which one is a greater priority? Which one is more important to the further advancement of this country? I guarantee it is the former and not the latter.

In the years hence, we are going to be making a lot of choices about priorities, and every amendment I am putting out here today is about priorities. Do we fund things that do not adequately or accurately help us in the short term in creating jobs, in being wise and prudent spenders of taxpayers' money, or do we fund things that are a low priority and let things that are high priority suffer? That is basically what this amendment does. It says: Until we get out of this pinch, we should not be spending money to--for example, the $251,000 used to study Americans' attitudes toward the Senate. We spent a quarter of a million dollars last year studying Americans' attitude toward the Senate; $106,000 was spent to study the rise of candidate-centered elections over those dominated by political parties; $47,000 was spent to study the President's level of cooperation with Congress when they utilize Executive orders; $28,000 was spent to examine the prohibition movement. It has been a long time since we had prohibition in this country. That has to be a priority for us. How about a quarter of a million dollars to investigate how people perceive the political attitudes of others? That has to be important right now. It has to be a priority right now for our country. We spent $144,000 to track how politicians change their Web sites over time. Who cares? That money--$144,000--will keep a whole bunch of meat inspectors at meat plants. There will not be any furloughs if we get rid of this kind of stuff. I could go on.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record what I consider nonpriority studies that the NFS has funded.


Mr. COBURN. This is where we should be doing our work. We should be making choices for the American people. We should be making the hard choices that say this is more important than this. We don't have enough money. We are borrowing $40 million a second, and we are going to fund these kinds of political studies that have no benefit except to the politicians and the political science professors because they are the ones who will read them. The average American doesn't care. But they do care whether their meat is going to be safe and whether they are going to get meat.

Mark my words, this amendment will go down. It won't be passed because we don't have the courage to make priority choices in the Senate. We don't have the courage to allow the number of amendments, such as this--there should have been 30 or 40 such as this--on the floor to make those choices.

Finally, I will talk about amendment No. 70. This amendment has been modified. The appropriators have requested that Homeland Security-related reports--which are demanded in this bill--come to them. They do appropriate for Homeland Security, but there is an authorizing committee. It happens to be the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. What this amendment says is: If you are going to give information from the administration to appropriations, you might want to think about giving it to the actual committee that has the authority to authorize and change the program.

I hope this will be accepted. We are going to get it 14 days after the appropriators. I don't know what that is all about, but I am willing to concede. I think Senator Carper and myself ought to see what the administration is saying to the appropriators about programs that are run through the Department of Homeland Security. So of all the amendments we have, I think this is the only one that has any possibility.

I yield the floor.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, the average age of the heritage areas in this bill is 16 years. If you look at the original authorization, none of them was supposed to get any Federal money now. As a matter of fact, the Senator's heritage area has planned and raised the money for his area and had an alternative plan to do it.

The fact is, the national parks will open with this amount of money on time this year, so it will make a big difference in Yellowstone and all the rest of the national parks. The National Park Service does have something to do with the White House tours because they can take this money and allocate that. It is not a Secret Service problem, it is a national park problem.

I ask for the yeas and nays.


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