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Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I would note to my colleague from the State of Delaware, if I heard him correctly, we just now have had a hearing on a nominee for the DC Circuit Court. He is not even on the Executive Calendar because he has not even been voted out of the Judiciary Committee. So the Senator makes a lot of great points. But I think the fact we are talking about a potential judge who has not even cleared the Judiciary Committee yet may be a bit premature.

He will get a fair hearing. I think we have noted that more judicial nominees were approved in the last two Congresses than the two Congresses before under the last 4 years of the Bush administration.

I rise to say this evening there has been a lot in the news. One thing that has not been in the news very much is the third and final report of the Government Accountability Office in terms of looking at duplication within the Federal Government.

I hope as the American people listen to this, they will take a couple things away. No. 1, we have a great organization called the Government Accountability Office. They have done a wonderful job. We mandated this 4 years ago. They have been on time with their reports. What they have shown us has been tremendously revealing. The first thing I want Americans to note is Congress has failed to act on the first two reports--no substantive action whatsoever.

One significant thing in the Senate was the elimination of the ethanol mandate. With this report today comes an estimated $98 billion a year in savings. What we take by looking at this report could potentially yield us $98 billion in savings by eliminating duplication in what they just found in this one report.

Let me go through it for 1 minute. They found 679 different renewable energy programs across 23 agencies--not across the Energy Department. If we are going to have renewable programs, that is where we should have it. Across 23 different agencies of which we spend $15 billion a year, they found instances where we are giving grants from different agencies to the same projects for the same thing, spending three times as much money as we should be spending on the one project even if we did not have that.

So the potential for us to work our way out of the consequences of the sequester is at our fingertips. Here, drug abuse prevention and treatment, 76 separate programs, not run through the Department of Health and Human Services, run through 10 different departments with overlap that shows no metrics but multiple agencies having programs doing exactly the same thing: $4.5 billion a year. That is half the size of my Oklahoma State budget a year.

Catfish inspection. I saw in the President's budget today three different agencies where one has to meet the requirements before they can have their catfish inspected. The only thing they did not recommend in the budget today is getting rid of the Agriculture Department. They approve your cheese pizza. But the FDA approves your pepperoni pizza. So if you are a pizza maker, you have to comply with one agency on one type of pizza and another agency on a different type of pizza.

Defense foreign language support. Those are people who come in and help us learn other languages, interpret for us other languages so we can have an effective response and not have a communication error. We have 159 different programs in the Pentagon alone. What they are estimating is that we could save tons of money. We do not know exactly how much it costs because the Pentagon does not know how much they are spending on it, which is another one of the problems.

The GAO report said this week one of the reasons they cannot estimate the savings more accurately is because the majority of the agencies have no idea what they are spending on these programs. The question I have had is, why not? If they do not know what they are spending, why are we not doing something about it?

Higher education assistance: 21 different programs, four different agencies--not all in the Education Department, which is from where I think we would do education assistance, $174.7 billion a year. That includes Pell grants. That includes student loans, the cost associated with student loans.

Veterans employment training. We have six programs, not all of them run by the Veterans Affairs Department but run by the Veterans Affairs Department and other agencies. We are spending $1.2 billion. Here is what we know. We are running these programs, and veterans unemployment, even though they have a skill when they come out of the military, is higher than what the average is in the country. So it is obviously not working.

Also, in the report is something that is very important to me. Let me find it, if I might for a moment. GAO's report exposes a government office that does some good things. It is called the National Technical Information Service. It was established in 1950 and tasked with collecting and distributing certain reports. Despite the fact--here is what GAO found: 75 percent of the information that NTIS supplies, all you have to do is Google it. You do not have to go to NTIS. All you have to do is Google it. So 75 percent of their budget is spent providing reports to other government agencies and other people that you can get with the touch of your iPhone. Why would we continue to do that?

This is just one example that I bring up. We are continuing to fund an agency where three-quarters of what they do has no bearing on it. If it went away, it would not affect us at all. The other thing is they charge other Federal agencies a fee for this information that the other Federal agencies, at a touch of their computer, can get for free.

It is another case of inefficiency. What else did the GAO report show? What the GAO report showed is that we have done nothing of significance in the last 2 years based on what they have recommended we do given their first two reports. Our office calculates, based on the three reports that GAO has given us, that we could save in excess of $250 billion a year if we would follow the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office.

If you are sitting out there wondering why we are having tax proposals increased in the President's budget and that we are having such a hard time with the sequester, you only have to look at one place; that is, Congress. Congress refuses to follow and do the oversight. We have had GAO do a lot of it. We refuse to pass amendments that eliminate duplication. We refuse to make the tough choices. So, consequently, we are spending $250 billion a year--that is $2.5 trillion over 10 years--that we should not be spending.

Where does the money come from to pay for that? It comes from our kids. It doesn't just come in dollars, it comes from a reduced standard of living and limited opportunities in the future because we don't have the courage or the work ethic to address the very real issues which are in front us, on the tips of our fingers, where the money is, where we could actually save money.

We have had almost 1,000 days since the first report came out. We have done one significant thing in the Senate; we have eliminated the ethanol tax credit and saved $6 billion the first year and about $4 to $5 billion afterward. This is the one thing we did. We fought tooth and nail while we did it, but we did it.

This is one bill to save $6 billion in 3 years out of $250 billion. No wonder the confidence level in the Congress is at 13 percent. What we are actually doing is throwing away our kids' future as we fail to address these issues.

When we are spending money we don't have on things we don't absolutely need, and we are borrowing money against our children's future, I can't think of a greater immoral act of the Congress. It is not red hot lit up as some of the more controversial issues such as the gun bill we are doing or immigration; however, I will state it will have a profound effect if we were to address it in terms of the future of our country, the health of our country, and the job-creating capacity for our country.

Yet what is it about your Senator or your Congressman which keeps them from having the courage to challenge the status quo? I know what it is. It is the desire to get reelected by not offending anybody.

We don't have tough oversight hearings. We will not allow bills through committees which actually eliminate waste. There is a bill that has passed the House sitting on the docket right now called the SKILLS Act. It takes 47 job-training programs and puts them into 6. It saves billions of dollars a year and puts metrics on the outcome. We will not even bring it to the floor even though it saves $5 to $6 billion a year in addition to markedly improving the outcome of our job-training programs. It is not here.

It passed the House. The House is doing oversight in every committee right now. The Senate is not.

The House is reading the GAO reports and acting on them. They are not right 100 percent of the time, they are right about 95 percent of the time. Nothing is going to be done about it unless we have an oversight hearing to actually discover information. Nothing actually happens unless we write a bill to change things.

Yet this is not the emphasis in the Senate. There can be no greater emphasis than for us to get out of the financial troubles we are in. There can be no greater emphasis than for us to create an environment which produces jobs in the country when we stop wasting money at the Federal Government level.

Our answer is more government--not less, more. Our answer, according to the President's budget, is more taxes, not less.

I commend the President. He has $25 billion worth of programs he wishes to eliminate in his budget, $25.8 billion. He could send over what the GAO said and eliminate $250 billion a year.

The problems are not really with the President, it is with us: our intransigence to do our job and keep in our focal point what is most important. What is most important is our future and the capability for us to create opportunity in the future for our children and our grandchildren.

I have been fighting this for 8 years. There is a lot of oversight which has been done, tons of reports. The American people are going to eventually learn everything that is in this report because there is an app coming out which will be on people's cell phones very soon, and they may find out anything about everything where the government is wasting money. They will be able to look at an address in their own city and see how much money a company, business, or that farmer received from their Federal tax dollars. They will be able to see that in about 3 months.

When the American people discover our incompetence, it will not matter that we didn't offend somebody. They are going to see we didn't do our job. We are not doing our job because we are not addressing the things we actually have some control over.

What do we do now? Here is what GAO explains: Although Congress had made some limited progress in addressing the issues we have previously identified, additional steps are needed to address the remaining areas to achieve associated benefits. A number of the issues are difficult but not impossible. Implementing many of the actions will take time and sustained leadership.

The key word there is "leadership.'' Who is going to lead in the Senate to solve our problems? It is not party identified. Real leadership about solving the real problem is in front of us.

It is time for each congressional committee in the Senate to undertake the waste and overlap identified by GAO within their jurisdiction, begin writing bills to consolidate and eliminate these programs, and put metrics as far as performance on every one of them. It is also time for the White House to put real muscle into their proposal coming in through OMB.

I am thankful we will have a new OMB Director. She will be terrific. She has the skills, dedication, and qualifications. I praise the President for nominating her. She will fly through the Senate because she is superqualified for the job. Also, she knows what she is doing. But it will not matter what she does if we don't respond, if we don't do our work.


Mr. President, I would like to take the time now just to spend a moment or two on the guns issue.

I spent a lot of time over the last few months thinking about Sandy Hook. I actually met with a large number of those people today. I am an A-plus-rated member, a lifetime member of the NRA. I firmly believe in the second amendment, and I firmly believe in the tenth amendment.

We are hearing a lot of politics about the gun situation. What we are not hearing is how do we really keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them. This is what we need to be addressing.

Whether this would prevent a Sandy Hook, nobody knows. There are some things we do know. What we do know is the vast majority of people who are convicted the first time of a gun crime didn't steal their gun, and they didn't buy it from a federally licensed firearm dealer. They bought it from one of us.

The very fact we are going to have a piece of legislation go through here which will not solve the real problem of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally impaired and felons is a shame. There are ways we can do that.

I haven't spoken to one owner I know who hasn't agreed with the fact that they would like to know if they sold their gun--they don't want it to go into the hands of a felon or somebody mentally impaired. Yet we are hung up on records. The proposal which comes from Senator Toomey, Senator Manchin, and Senator Kirk is a step forward. I will not deny it. However, tell me how a record which will only be looked at after a crime is committed is going to help anybody who is a victim of a crime. It is not.

If we really wish to solve this problem, what we need to do is put into the hands of Americans who are law abiding the ability to know they didn't sell their gun to somebody who is on the NTIS list. Give me the ability to know when I sell my gun to a stranger that they are not on that NTIS list.

This has been rejected out of hand because there is no record with it. The reason there doesn't need to be a record is because we are putting an onus on responsible citizens doing the right thing. Also, the government has no right to have a record of when I transfer a gun. They do have a right to expect me to be a responsible citizen when I sell my gun.

The question is, Are we as a body going to take something which is far less than appropriate to actually keep guns out of the hands of felons and mentally impaired and call it a day? This is what is getting ready to happen. Are we going to make a difference and not impair second amendment rights at all and not impair tenth amendment rights because we give States supremacy on that? If they want to give us something more or different, they may.

We are going to go through a great deal of debate and have all these amendments. I thank Senator Reid for making it an open amendment process. I called and spoke to him last night. I said I was happy to support going to this bill provided we use the regular Senate procedures and we actually are able to offer amendments which are germane to this bill in any number of ways. He is going to allow this process. I take him at his word he will allow this.

When it is all said and done, will we have made a difference to those families who are wanting us to make a difference? Would we have made a difference?

If we don't allow responsible citizens the ability to know whether they are selling their gun to a felon or a mentally impaired person, we haven't made any difference. We have made a lot of noise, but we haven't made a difference.

Let me tell you why the Toomey-Manchin proposal will not work. The largest gun show in America is in Tulsa, OK. It is called the Wanenmacher Gun Show. Tens of thousands of people come to it twice, maybe three times a year. The sale will be impeded by requiring an FFL license, which is to say a gun dealer at the show will be required to do a background search against the NTIS list for somebody who purchases a gun at the show whether they are buying from that dealer or not.

The first thing which will happen is the Federal firearms licensed dealer will say: I want a fee for transferring this gun, for doing the work--and rightly so. I don't blame him. What is the option?

The option which will happen is the people who are going to make the deal buy the gun. Subsequently, 2 or 3 days after the gun show, they will buy the gun because they will not be at the gun show anymore.

Look at the opposite side of that. If we had a portal or we could get a certificate which says someone is not on the NTIS list and are able to buy a gun anytime, anywhere, somebody selling a gun would have a pin code to make sure their identity is correct and see their ID. Whether a person is in a gun show or outside a gun show, the responsible gun seller will know they didn't sell a gun to somebody mentally impaired or a felon.

We will have all sorts of statements, but what we are going to do isn't going to decrease guns in the hands of felons and the mentally impaired. We can say we need to win. If we want a bill to get through the Senate and get through the House which will actually make a difference in people's lives, that felons and the mentally impaired aren't empowered to buy guns, we need to do something different.

My friends in the second amendment community don't even like my proposal. I understand this. But there is no impairment when all you need to do is go to your cell phone to receive a clearance to know somebody is not on the NTIS list.

We get to decide. Are we going to do it in a way which smells good, looks good, but doesn't do anything? Are we going to fight to do something which actually makes a difference? I hope we choose the latter. I am not convinced we will.

The reason Senator Manchin couldn't get me to agree to what he had agreed to with Senator Toomey is because I don't think it is going to work. I think the vast majority of gun purchasers at gun shows are going to wait to buy them later from the very same people who were going to sell them at a gun show so they do not have to pay a fee and wait 3 or 4 days on a background check. If that happens, what good have we done? How have we made a difference? We haven't.

It is a sad fact, as a practicing physician, and having done training and surgery, I have had to operate on a lot of people who ended up with the consequences of a weapon being used on them.

Oklahoma has a gun culture, and I own multiple guns. I cherish my second amendment right. But with that right comes some responsibility to do the right thing. Liberty without responsibility isn't liberty, and it will not last unless we attach responsibility to it. So if we really believe in the second amendment, and if we really believe in the tenth amendment, we will relook at what we are going to do in terms of gun transfers. There is a way to do it that will actually make a big difference in people's lives in this country, and it may actually get through the House.

What we are proposing, what we are seeing proposed right now, is never going to pass the House. Consequently, we will have done something in the Senate with no long-term consequences and actually making a difference for the American people.

Mr. President, I thank the Presiding Officer for the time. I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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