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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks and listening last night to the Senator from Texas make a big point that Members of Congress in his opinion were not listening to the American people. I have a lot of experience listening. As a physician that is what I got paid to do.

I think the motives of Senator Cruz and some of his allies in the Senate are pure. Their tactics are tremendously erroneous, in my opinion, but I want to draw a picture for you in a minute about this idea of listening and what it means.

Even though I disagree with their tactics, I admire their spirit and their vigor. Having delivered 4,000 babies, I have had a lot of sleepless nights. I have gone 2 or 3 days with 2 or 3 hours of sleep over that period of time to care for people.

But I would make this point: As a physician, the first thing you are taught in medical school is to listen to your patient and they will you what is wrong with them. So we do have to spend time listening to our constituencies.

But doctors don't just listen to the patient. They observe the patient, they examine the patient, they do tests on the patient, and then can combine all that listening with all the other data they have collected, and then they make a decision about giving advice to that patient. They give what is called informed consent.

That is the big story that hasn't been told to the thousands and thousands of people from Oklahoma who have called my office. They haven't been given informed consent. They have been sold a bill of goods. When I have young interns and young staff in my office taking significant calls from people who have been misled, there is no way you are going to talk them out of a position that outside interest groups and a small number of people inside the Senate have planted. So I want to spend a few minutes addressing this. Then I want to go back to the patient for a minute, because in my broad experience of treating everything from newborn babies to grandmas to broken bones to gall bladders to you name it, I have gained a little bit of experience on how you judge inputs of information.

What we have had outlined--and I want those people who call my office to listen to this. What we have had outlined is a group of people who said somebody has a terribly swollen knee, and if you don't fix it they are not going to be able to walk, and that we have got to fix it right now. Nothing else matters. We have to fix it right now. Except they have a staph infection in their knee, a methicillin-resistant staph infection in that knee. But because we don't listen to all the facts and we didn't do all the studies, they don't recognize that that staph infection has already infected the heart valve.

The knee is what is red and hot and what they are complaining about, but the good physician will do the tests, the studies, the listening, and the exam and find out what the real problem is. The staph infection in the knee came from the staph infection in the heart. If you don't go after treating the heart of the problem, it doesn't matter if you cure the knee; the patient is going to be dead.

That is what we have had put upon us by some of my colleagues. They have been misdirected in terms of what the real problems are.

I would say nobody fought harder against the Affordable Care Act as a practicing physician than I did. I was still practicing, being a Senator at that time. I was still delivering babies on the weekends in Oklahoma.

Senator McCain said it was a fair process. It wasn't a fair process. The one bill that actually would have solved our health care problems never got a vote on the floor of the Senate. It is called the Patient's Choice Act. The majority leader wouldn't allow a vote on that amendment. It was a complete substitute. It actually fixed the real problems, and did so without putting the government between you and your doctor. But let me go back.

What Senator Reid, the majority leader, has said is right. What is the Affordable Care Act about? It is about ultimately getting to a single-payer system where the government controls all of health care. So Senator Cruz and Senator Lee aren't wrong about worrying about it, aren't wrong about wanting to change it. But we have a whole lot bigger problems than the Affordable Care Act. It is just one of them.

I want to spend a little bit of time talking about what this debate has taken our attention away from. The real problem in our country right now is that we are bankrupt. Our total unfunded obligations of the Federal Government are $124 trillion. The entire net worth of the entire country is only $94 trillion. We are $30 trillion in the hole and growing that hole. What that means is we are leaving a legacy of pauperism and debtor's prison to our children and our grandchildren.

So while we have had this big debate, nobody is focused on the fact that Washington is still lying about the numbers up here, including the bill that came across from the House. I am going to spend a little bit of time going through that so we can refocus on the infected heart instead of looking at the infected knee.

I am very glad they have raised the issue. The problem is we are double-minded and double-speaking when we talk about the numbers. Let me show this for a minute.

Congress, the President, the House, and the Senate voted for the Budget Control Act. We made a promise. We said we recognize we have some problems. The first thing we can do is we can start addressing some of those problems through discretionary spending. You had all of these claims that we made all these savings, over $2 trillion. Well, here are the real numbers. The real numbers are, in 2011, the base discretionary spending was $1.062 trillion. By the time you add up the emergency spending, the troops, spending for the war, we spent $1.221 trillion. In 2012, as we worked this Budget Control Act through, the base spending was $1.043 trillion. Real spending, when you add in everything else that was spent through emergencies and everything else, we spent $1.198 trillion. This is the discretionary spending. In 2013 through the Budget Control Act, the base according to that was $988 billion. With all the extra things we allowed, emergency spending, war spending, et cetera, we spent $1.145 trillion.

According to the CBO, reading what the law is and the promise to the American people, this next year it is supposed to be $967 billion. If you add what is expected in war and discretionary spending through emergencies, it is to be $1.114 trillion.

So what have we done? By forcing a discussion about the wasteful spending, we have set us on a path to slowly actually cut actual discretionary spending, something we are going to have to do if we are not going to have our kids in debtor's prison.

What is the bill we have coming over here? The bill we have coming over here is $985 billion. So it is $18 billion bigger than what we promised you just last year. Besides that, it is even $18 billion higher because we have got fake pay-fors in there, so it is actually $18 billion higher than that and something we call CHIMPS, where we assume something that we have assumed the year before but didn't count it the year before and will count it again this year. It is the type of accounting that anybody in a publicly-held company in this country would go to jail for. They would be convicted and go to jail. But what we agreed to in the Budget Control Act is 2014 would be the last year of discretionary cuts; then every year after that it would rise by 2.5 percent, i.e., the estimated rate of inflation, and that we could change the mix and we could get there. But we are not doing that.

Just to show, the spending is still going to rise. The discretionary spending is still going to rise. Here it is in terms of baseline and actual, and you can see we are not cutting spending anymore after this year. It is going up.

Which begs the question: What are we doing with this continuing resolution? We are breaking our word that we gave you last year and the year before. We can't help ourselves. We are addicted.

You can say--as Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the other party, has said--there is not anything else left to cut in discretionary spending. Of course, that belies the fact that the Government Accountability Office has listed 165 different sets of duplicative spending, wasteful duplicative spending--that is $250 billion a year--that if the Congress would do its job you could save half of that. So instead of doing this, we can be doing this.

What does that mean? That means your children have a brighter future. That means we don't waste money. We clean up the fraud and corruption in the Federal Government. That is what it means.

There are points of order that can be raised against this bill and I am hopeful we will do it because we violate the Budget Control Act. If 60 Senators want to say we don't care what we promised you before, we have to spend more money, then they will vote. They have to have 60-plus votes to waive that budget point of order. I predict they probably will because we cannot help ourselves. I will not, but we are going to spend more money than what we just last year promised the American people we would do.

Of course, that doesn't address any of the real problems that are facing our country, which are the mandatory programs. I want to give just a short flavor of some of the programs. I will just take green buildings, for example.

I ask unanimous consent to use an oversized chart on the floor.

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

Mr. COBURN. If you just look at this, nobody in their right mind would create this. But of course Congress is not in its right mind. We would not have a $750 billion deficit if we were in our right mind. Here it is for all the green building programs in the country.

We have in this different departments that are running a multitude of programs that all do the same. A cogent person would say if it is good to have green building programs, why don't we have one? Why don't we create a czar of green building programs, put him in charge, and let's have one set of grants, one set of incentives and one bureaucracy that runs it. But we have not done that.

Let me just go through, for a moment, this series of duplications that the Government Accountability Office has outlined and just see if you think we are doing our job. See if you think we are doing the oversight we should be doing.

Here is the first group. We have 15 unmanned aerial aircraft programs, of which we are going to spend $37 billion over the next 5 years. Why do we have 15? Maybe we need one for each branch of the service and they could subcontract what they deliver to Homeland Security if we need those for homeland security or for the intelligence agencies. Why do we have 15?

We have 18 different food programs running through 23 agencies at $26 billion a year. We have 21 homeless programs, 7 different agencies, 2.9 billion. We have transportation services for transportation of disadvantaged persons, 80 different programs in 8 different agencies spending $2 billion a year. Job training and employment, we have 47 job training programs for the nondisabled. We have 6 veteran job training programs and we have over 50 job training programs for the disabled, spending $18 billion for the nondisabled and a total of $21 billion combined.

What we did as the oversight in the State of Oklahoma was to look at that. What GAO says on this particular one is all of these programs overlap one another except for three. They all do the same thing, except there is no metrics on any of them to see if they are actually giving somebody a family-stabilizing, long-term job or the skills for a long-term job.

We have 82 different teacher quality programs run by 10 different agencies not at the Department of Education that we are spending $4 billion a year on. Food safety, military and veterans health, economic development, 80 different programs, $6.5 billion a year.

I can go on. I will not. I will not bore you. There are two other pages, 165 sets of different duplication, over $250 billion, and here is what Congress has done. We have addressed 8 percent of it. There have been hearings. That doesn't mean we have had an answer for it. We have addressed 8 percent of them.

When we look at the activity of Congress, of doing real oversight to solve the problems, to truly eliminate duplication, to truly eliminate fraud, to truly eliminate waste, most Members of Congress are not interested in doing that. They do not get the glory, but it is our oath, it is our responsibility to do that. Yet we fail to do it.

I heard the Senator from Virginia mention the debt limit. I am going to say again something I said in 2009. We do not have an income problem in this government, we have a spending problem. Do you realize the average American spends one-quarter of their life working to fund the Federal Government. Think about that for a minute. You are going to spend one-quarter of your life working to fund it, if you count the unfunded liabilities that we have and count the 25 percent of GDP where we are on spending today, you are going to spend one-quarter of your life funding that.

If I remember correctly, and if I read the Constitution correctly, this little book, what our Founders talked about was limited government, not a government that consumes 25 percent of your labor to run it, not a government that ignores the 10th Amendment or ignores the enumerated powers.

I introduced the Enumerated Powers Act. It is a simple act. It has 37 cosponsors. What it says is, before you introduce a bill on the floor of the Senate, you have to reference the area of the Constitution that gives you the authority to legislate in that area. Sad to say, I could not get any of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to join on that one very simple bill that would help bring us back to what our Founders thought about a limited government and our responsibility. Our Government is limited only to the extent to which it can borrow right now.

We have tons of structural deficits in our economy today. We have a job deficit in terms of creating jobs. We have a skills deficit in terms of matching the skills to the jobs that are available. We have a demand deficit because of the overbearing overreach of the Federal Government and the regulation that is imposed upon the citizenry. We have a deficit of watching out for those who cannot watch out for themselves.

We have programs that are supposed to do it, but when you go back and read our Founders' vision and read the Federalist Papers and read what this most wonderful government that was ever created was designed to do, first and foremost it was designed to be limited because our Founders knew that when it became 25 percent of your labor, your liberty was diminished, your freedom was diminished. Of course, that ultimately is what the fight is over, the

Affordable Care Act--what will it ultimately cost and how much freedom will you have when we give you something that some need, what will you give up when you receive that.

I will end with just the following. I think there are four questions the American people ought to be asking Members of Congress right now. There are four critical questions. I think too often we fail in answering these questions. Here they are.

Are you leading in such a way as to restore confidence in ourselves, our Government, and our institutions? Are you trying to unite us or are you trying to divide us?

I already described we are bankrupt. How do we get out of it? The only way we get out of it is working, coming together with real leadership that draws us together, that says, hey, folks, no finger-pointing here, there are lots of mistakes made. How do we solve these problems and how do we do it together without making somebody else look bad? How do we restore confidence we know we need?

I wish to tell a story. I did townhall meetings in August, and I went to Miami, OK. There is a wonderful plant there that grows mushrooms and vegetables. It is a big operation. The owner of the plant, Virgil Jurgensmeyer, came to my townhall meeting. He is probably my age, maybe a little older. He said: Tom, I am spending $60 or $70 thousand a month buying from my competitors right now to fill my orders. I could create a couple of hundred jobs with my own. It is not a big city. But I don't have the confidence in the future of the country right now to invest $5 million and go to the bank to borrow that to create those jobs because I don't think we have it together as a country anymore.

He is not partisan. I don't know what his political leanings are. But what I do know is he has lost confidence. That has happened all across our country right now because we do not have leadership that does anything except point out what is wrong with the other side.

What we need is leadership that brings us together, that compromises, that works to identify and solve the problems.

The second question I think ought to be asked is: Are you more interested in the short-term political game as a legislator than you are the long-term problems of this country? I am a term-limited Senator. I set my term limit when I first ran. I have a little over 3 years to go. I will never run for another office the rest of my life. I would like to think that most of my thought has been about long term since I have been in the Senate, not short term--of actually solving problems, the long-term problems, not the short-term problems.

I talked about our structural deficit. We have to get after it. We have to get after it now. If you look at the political dynamic, right now is the only time between now and the next Presidential election that it will be positive for Republicans and Democrats to join hands together to solve the problems of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, and our structural deficit. We have less than 3 1/2 months to come to an agreement to do that because the political dynamics will never allow that to happen until after the next Presidential election because everybody will be pointing fingers.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had the leadership that saw Republicans and Democrats come together, compromise, fix these problems? Even if you lose your election, fix the problem for the country, fix the problem for the children, fix the problem for our grandchildren.

But the selfishness of careerism drives us to do what is politically expedient and what is popular rather than what is right.

The third question: Are you willing to look at this institution of government and ensure that we are not wasting, duplicating or being defrauded in the programs that we authorize through a congressional continuing resolution? The answer to that question is we are being defrauded every day. We have waste every day that we are not working on, and we have duplication like crazy from the GAO that we are not even attempting to fix. I have to take my hat off to the President. If we look at his budget, he took more of the GAO recommendations that they made and put them into his budget than we have even considered in both the House and the Senate. At least he is listening to someone. They actually acted on them in his budget for the fiscal year 2014.

The question on this third question is: Do you have the political courage to fix what is wrong and compromise on the solutions to fix what is wrong? The GAO has told us what is wrong. Yet we fail to address it.

Then, finally, and maybe this is more of an Oklahoma thing--I hope not--but do you actually believe what the Constitution says about a limited role for Federal Government? Do we vote to ensure that the 10th Amendment that our Founders added is brought up-to-date and is revered?

Unfortunately, that is hardly ever a concern in the Senate.

I have been here over 9 years. We don't worry about the enumerated powers. We want to fix those, and in our good desire to fix things, we trample the Constitution. So now we are $17 trillion in debt. We have $124 trillion in unfunded liabilities, and that is growing every day.

So the one thing this debate we have had the last few days in the Senate has caused us to not focus on is the very thing that is the real problem facing this country, which is ineffective leadership. It is fixing the wrong problem. It is the heart, not the knee. It is the heart that is infected, and we have to address fixing the heart before we can ever hope to cure the knee.

I thank the Presiding Officer for his patience, and I thank the Senator from Missouri for his patience. We don't have one problem in front of this Nation we can't fix. If we restored confidence, we would be growing at 4 percent a year right now. If people had the hope that we were going to do what is right, not what is expedient, and in the best long-term interests for all of us--not me as a Republican and not just Democrats--and we had that kind of leadership, we could get out of our funk, we could get out of our debt, and we would be the America we had when I was growing up.

I yield the floor.


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