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Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I appreciate the time to be on the floor. I want to continue talking about what I think are the real problems with where we are today.

What we are hearing in the press is that there is no agreement on a continuing resolution, that there is conflict and lack of discussion in Washington, that the debt limit is coming up, yet Washington is not capable of solving its problems.

I made some points yesterday about the reason we are not capable of solving our problems is that there is an absence of leadership. We are not only bankrupt financially, we are bankrupt when it comes to our leadership.

I want to dispel the rumor that our problems are not insolvable. They are imminently solvable. We have $126 trillion worth of unfunded liabilities for which Americans are responsible. We have $17 trillion worth of debt, and we have $94 trillion of total assets in this country if you add what the Federal Government and everybody else owns. So the difference between $128 trillion and $94 trillion is $34 trillion, and then another $17 trillion--that is $51 trillion we are going to have to account for. What is in front of us--and by the way, the Affordable Care Act will add $6.7 trillion to those outstanding liabilities net of any tax revenues and tax increases it collects.

So what are we to do? What are the American people to think? They see impasse, lack of conversation, lack of compromise, lack of resolution, and no reconciliation. So I wanted to take a few minutes today to kind of give a little history, first of all, and then outline what is possible--I am not saying we must do it--over the next 10 years that we could do that would put us on a pathway to where we would be solving the problems and not leaving our children an inheritance of debt.

I made the point yesterday that the median family income in this country today in terms of real dollars is exactly where it was in 1989. We are going backward. We are going to go backward this year. What that really means is that the standard of living is declining. The American public is getting further and further behind.

One of the quotes I use--and I don't know if it is accurate--has been attributed to Alexander Tytler, a Scottish historian. Let me read it:

A democracy--

In this case a constitutional Republic--

is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It will continue to exist until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes with the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.

Where are we in that line? Is $50 trillion in negative net worth not a sign that we are going there? Is declining median family income not a sign that we are going there?

What we have seen in this last so-called recovery is the wealthy have done very well but nobody else has. So what we are seeing is history repeat itself in terms of what has been outlined and observed in the past.

Alexander Tytler was also accredited with this, but nobody can prove it:

The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During these 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence: From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependence; from dependence back into bondage.

I think we are somewhere in here, if history speaks accurately, or at least his observation of history.

So what we ought to be about is making sure we cheat history--all of us, together, liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Independents--we ought to be about cheating history. How do we do that? Are the problems we have in front of us so big that we can't solve them? I don't think so. Are positions so hardened that we can't think in a long-term way about solving the problems that are in front of our country?

When we talk about the debt ceiling--I have been accosted a lot in the news media in the last 48 hours because I don't believe the debt ceiling equals default on our obligations in terms of our sovereign debt. It just so happens Moody's, the rating agency, agreed with me today; that, in fact, they are not the same thing and they say there should be no effect. That doesn't mean we should. I am not proposing we should. But the scare tactics of saying the Earth is going to collapse if we somehow fail on time to raise the debt limit is not true. The Earth will collapse for Americans if we don't address the underlying problems facing our country--this $50 trillion in unfunded liability and negative net worth.

Here is what we know has happened in the last few years, and it proves the point. It is why median family income is going down. It is because our debt is growing twice as fast as our economy.

Here is our GDP increase over the last few years: $1.199 trillion. Here is our debt: It went up $2.405 trillion. To say that another way, that is 2.4 billion millions. These numbers are unfathomable, but the graph shows it all. Our GDP has increased. So what is happening is that for every $1 in debt we go into, we are getting a deepening decrease in return in our economy, and it is continuing to go down. So the more we borrow, the less well off we are in terms of being able to grow our economy. So the problems in front of us and what we see is what I would say as careerists don't want to solve the problem because the thing that comes to the careerist's mind is how does that effect the next election.

I don't care what happens in the next election in this country; what I care about is whether we are going to address the real problems and secure the future for the country. Whether they be Democrats or Republicans, liberals or conservatives, I don't care. We are all in this together. When our living standard goes down, we all go down together.

So how do we solve this problem? The first thing in any addiction--and we have an addiction to spending--is to recognize we have an addiction. We have an addiction to spending. We have an addiction to not living within our means. We just passed $600 billion in January of increased taxes on the American economy, most of that coming from the people who are doing much better during this tepid recovery. Will that solve our problems? Can we tax our way out of this? Can we have confiscatory tax policies that will not hurt our economy and get us out of this? The answer is no, and everybody recognizes it.

What else does everybody recognize? They recognize that a big portion of the problem is entitlement spending, and no political party wants to be blamed for being the person who ``fixed'' entitlement spending unless we do it together. So we have a great opportunity to, together, modify our mandatory spending programs and make significant savings. But having spent the last 9 years with my colleague from Delaware who is on the floor oversighting the Federal Government, I can tell my colleagues there are more things we can do other than that.

So I thought I would spend a few minutes to go over a publication I put out a couple of summers ago, and it is called ``Back in Black.'' It is not perfect. I will be the first to admit it. I know we will not ever pass $9 trillion worth of savings over 10 years. But here is $9 trillion worth of options we could look at and take half of them and actually get on the road to health.

What would getting on the road to health look like? It would be rising personal incomes, not declining personal incomes as we are seeing today. It would be rising median family incomes. It would be faster economic growth.

Mr. President, am I out of time?

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has used his 10 minutes.

Mr. COBURN. My request was for 30 minutes when I came to the floor. Evidently, that wasn't made. Is the order of the day 10 minutes?


Mr. COBURN. I would ask for just a short period of additional time if my colleague from Delaware would allow it.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Delaware.

Mr. CARPER. May I ask unanimous consent that the doctor be afforded another 10 minutes.

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

Mr. COBURN. I will spend some time tomorrow then going through what this is. But it is solving our problem in such a way that it doesn't kick the can down the road, which is what we are getting ready to do.

What I would say in conclusion is by increasing the debt limit, we let the politicians off the hook because then they don't have to make the hard choices required for us to live within our means.

Mr. CARPER. Mr. President, I have a parliamentary inquiry, if I may.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Delaware will state his inquiry.

Mr. CARPER. I have no objection; I can stay 10 minutes, 20 minutes. I would like for the Senator from Oklahoma Dr. Coburn to have a chance to explain what he wanted to say. I don't mean to interrupt.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I would just inquire if there are other speakers after Senator Carper.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. There is no apparent order of speakers, and if there is no objection, the Senator from Oklahoma can take an additional 20 minutes.

Mr. COBURN. I thank the Chair. I truly thank my colleague. He is a great colleague to work with. People are always telling stories about how people don't work together. I can tell my colleagues that the Senator from Delaware Mr. Carper and I work together. He is my chairman, and I am the ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where most of this information came from, and he helped dig it up.

What I say is we have an opportunity to do that. We have an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to come together, forge a compromise, make major changes that are necessary and absolutely required if we are going to have a secure future. I think we ought to look at it.

So we put together a plan that has $3 trillion--that is $300 billion over 10 years--in discretionary spending; that is nonmandatory. It has $1 trillion in defense spending, which is about what we already have. Health care entitlements is $2.7 trillion, and we can go into the details of that. Tax Code simplification, $1 trillion to come back to the Federal Government. Interest payment savings of $1.3 trillion, and Social Security reform that says it will be healthy for the next 75 years. That comes to $9 trillion that our kids aren't going to have to pay back. That is $9 trillion in money we are not going to borrow. So even if we just took half of that--$4.5 trillion--and said we are going to get on the path to health, we are going to float that $3 trillion that is sitting in cash in Americans' bank accounts and give them the confidence back to invest it in our country, it would make a massive difference in our country because what is going on right now is a crisis of confidence.

The American people don't trust Congress. I think we got a pretty low rating this week and deservedly so. The approval rating of President Obama is at his alltime low. So how do we fix that? We don't fix that individually. We don't fix that by pointing out what is wrong with the other person. We fix that by coming together and solving real problems that will give the American people confidence that we have their best interests at heart--not in the short term, as Alexander Tytler was talking about, but in the long term; that, in fact, we want to secure the future for our kids and grandkids.

I think we ought to be about cutting up the credit card. I know I am in the minority in the Senate. I don't believe we should have another debt limit increase. I think the thing to force us to make these hard choices--because there is certainly not the political will to do it--is to put ourselves in the position where we are forced to make the hard choices.

We are going to make them eventually. Everybody agrees with that. We are basically going to make these changes because there will come a time when we will not be able to borrow money no matter what interest rate we pay. So we are not talking about defaulting on our sovereign debt. We are not talking about not paying interest on our sovereign debt. We are talking about forcing ourselves into a position where we have to prioritize what we spend.

What do the GAO reports tell us? In the last 3 years, the GAO has given Congress wonderful information which Congress has not acted on. What have they told us? They have told us we have 91 different health care workforce training programs--91. They have told us we have 679 renewable energy initiatives, none of which have a metric on them. They have told us we have 76 different drug abuse and prevention programs run by the Federal Government. They have told us the Department of Defense has 159 different contracting organizations, none of them being held accountable. They have told us that at Homeland Security, where Senator Carper and I chair and vice chair the committee, they have six different R&D facilities, three of which are doing exactly the same thing. We have 209 science, technology, engineering, and math programs--209. We have 200 different crime prevention programs. We have 160 homeowners and renters assistance programs. We have 94 private sector green building assistance programs, none with a metric, and the agencies don't even know how much money they are spending on them. They told us we have 82 teacher quality programs run by the Federal Government, half of which are not in the Department of Education. I will not continue, but my colleagues get my point.

What have we done about those things? Nothing. Where is the oversight on them? There is none.

So the whole idea for me--I am thinking about the future more than I am a political career--is I think we ought to be working on those things. I think the American public expects us to work on them.

I will finish by saying we have been running the credit card for a long time. Do we, in fact, have the right or the privilege or the ability to ask for an extension and a raising of our debt when, in fact, we have not acted responsibly with our spending? Nobody else in the country gets their credit raised when they have not acted responsibly. They actually check your credit score. They know what kind of bills you are paying, whether you are getting further behind. So should we, in fact, tear up the credit card? Should we force some good old adult supervision on Congress, where we will actually be forced to make difficult decisions about priorities on how we spend America's money? When I say ``America's money,'' I mean the people out there working hard every day. They may not be the highest tax payers, but it is unconscionable to me that when we spend their money, we are wasting 15 to 20 percent of it all the time.

So I think we ought to tear it up. The way we tear it up is we just tear it up. We tear the credit card up. We shred the credit card, and we say: You are going to live within your means. You are going to start making the hard choices. You are addicted to spending. You are addicted to not being responsible with the dollars you have.

Congress needs to be in a 12-step program, and it should start with us.

Mr. President, I thank my colleague the Senator from Delaware for his patience and his friendship.

I yield the floor.


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