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Space Launch Liability Indemnification Extension Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I want to address my remarks, first, to the chairman and the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. I think you have done a lot of hard work. You have done something that even though I am not in the consensus, you have done what the Senate was designed to do, build a consensus around a bill. There is no question this bill will pass today. So my congratulations to you and my sincere thanks for some of the things you put in the bill that we have been working on that are good governance projects. So I want to say that from the start.

I am not going to talk specifically about the bill. I am going to talk in bigger, broader terms of the problems that are facing us as a country. I have in my hands a book that contains $9 trillion worth of cuts. Hardly anybody in the Senate has read it. They may not agree with 50 or 60 or 70 percent. But there is certainly somewhere in here consensus for us to actually save a whole lot more money than we are doing.

In 2009, a young lady by the name of Madeline showed up outside the Senate. This is what she had draped around her neck. ``I am already $38,375 in debt and I only own a dollhouse.''

Since that period of time, we have managed to markedly change that situation for her for the worse, because today, if she were outside, she would have this sign on her neck. It would say $54,602 and she would only own a dollhouse.

The point I am trying to make is this hole is getting deeper and deeper and deeper. Although I did not vote for the budget agreement, because I think it could have been done better, it was an agreement and had a consensus as well. My criticism is not that the Members of this body worked a consensus, which is exactly what the Senate is supposed to do, but I think as we have done these things we might have lost sight of the big picture. So I want to share with you for a minute what the big picture looks like, because it is not pretty.

According to generally accepted accounting principles, that is not the way we run the government, by the way. We do not use real accounting principles. We use all the tricks and smoke and mirrors we can. This number is indisputable.

The unfunded liabilities for the Federal Government are $127 trillion. Think about that. We cannot even imagine how much that is. Our national debt is $17.33 trillion as of last night. I checked it. There are 14 million households in America. If you take the Federal liability per household, it comes out to $1.11 million. So $1.11 million is what the debt plus the liability is for every family in this country. It is growing. I know we cannot solve this problem over 1 year or 2 years. I am so thankful to the Senator who is leading the Appropriations Committee in her position. I have the most wonderful respect for her. She is a listener. She wants to do right.

But what we have to do is change the direction of this. It needs to go the other way. That requires everybody. If you think about it, if the average family per capita income--this is what it was last year in this country, $53,000--can you imagine how we are going to leverage and afford just the interest cost on $1.11 million?

If you add 5 percent on a million bucks, that is $55,000. That is more--just the interest costs are more than the median family income in this country. So there are parts of this bill that are in front of us that I am highly critical of. I do not like the fact that we play a game with CHIMPs, change it to a mandatory program. To me it is not straightforward to the American people. It is not being honest about what we are actually doing.

What we are actually doing is digging the hole deeper. Let me outline some things we could have done that we did not do before we had the budget agreement, before we had this appropriations bill. The GAO over the last 3 years has identified about $250 billion we could take a large portion away from by eliminating duplication and by putting metrics on programs. Now think about that. That is $250 billion a year.

I have been out here giving speeches on all of this and everything that is duplicative. But the problem is that the appropriate committees have not met to look at the GAO recommendations. They have not acted on them. They have not responded to them. The administration, I will give them credit; in their budget the last few years, they have looked at those GAO reports and made recommendations in their budgets for elimination and consolidation. But we have essentially ignored them.

I know how tough it is to build a consensus in the Appropriations Committee that will get you the votes you need to accomplish that. From the parochial concerns to the budget concerns, I understand that. I am glad we have a number now. I am glad we have a bill that has a number. I think the number is too high if we are ever going to do anything about this. But the fact that we do not do anything that will make a difference in the future in terms of driving this number down--just think. Let's say the GAO is 50 percent right. Let's say they are only 50 percent right. What if we consolidated, put metrics on programs and streamlined them as they recommend and we saved $150 billion a year. That starts going in the right direction. It changes. We start going in the right direction. Now think for a minute. If we have no recessions over the next 20 years and we have great economic growth, 4 percent, we still do not solve this problem. Because the interest costs are greater than the GDP growth associated with our country.

I wanted to give the background of why I come out here all the time and raise the issue of why we are stealing the future from our children. Nobody can deny the fact that we have not done the work. The reasons we have not done the work are multiple. But most of it is we just will not do the work. We do not have the leadership that requires us to do the work.

Think about Madeline. Let's say she gets a great college education and is in the upper quintile in our country in terms of her earnings when she is 25. With normalized interest rates, she is going to fall behind. So I know we are talking out in the future, but one of the things Thomas Jefferson wanted out of the Senate was for us to be long-range thinkers, not to think about the problem right now, think about what the problem is going to be.

In my 9 years here, I have failed in my ability to convince my colleagues that we ought to be worrying about this problem. Because the promise of America was opportunity. The promise of the poor house is no opportunity. What we have set up for the average American family in the future is the poor house.

It does not have to be that way. We can fight among the priorities, but the one thing we should not by fighting about, the one thing that we should know that we can fix is why would there be 679 different renewable energy programs? Can anybody give any possible justification for that? It is just $15 billion a year, but if you consolidated them down to 20, you could save $5 billion a year. That is $50 billion over 10 years.

Why are there 253 different Department of Justice crime prevention grants? Each of them has an overhead. What we found when we studied this is people get a grant from one, then use the same grant application to go to another grant overhead in DOJ, get the grant from another section, another program, for exactly the same claim. The right hand does not know the left hand. If you consolidated them, one, you would get more money to each individual grant, and, No. 2, you would not have the duplication and fraud and lack of compliance we know these grant programs are loaded with. We have done the work. We have done the oversight.

We have actually studied them--or why are there 209? Think about this--science, technology, engineering, and math incentive programs, education programs, 13 different agencies, $3.5 billion a year. Why do we allow that to happen? This is the real face of who it is going to affect. Yet we won't do the hard work.

It is not the appropriators' job to do that work; I understand that. But one of the things appropriators could do is say we are not going to fund any of these programs unless we consolidate them and put metrics on them. Finally, if they expected to come out in March--and I am so pleased the chairman wants to run the appropriations bills and to get back to normal--to say to the Judiciary Committee, if you want these justice grants run, consolidate them, put restrictions on them, streamline them, and then we will fund them.

So everybody will know, we are prorating 1 year about $480 billion of money for programs that aren't authorized at all. One of the strengths of the Appropriations Committee could be that we could put some demands on the authorizing committee to clean this up.

I want to state a couple more.

Health care has been in the news. How many of us realize we have 91 different health care training programs spending $14 billion a year? Some of my colleagues probably know that, but in the committee of jurisdiction they have done nothing about it.

I don't object to spending $14 billion on health training programs or any of these other things as long as we are doing it wisely, but what I would suggest is for the 91 different programs--which should be probably 4 or 5--the overhead associated with the others is saved for the American public. We could save a significant amount of money for Madeline. Because the real story is our excesses, our lack of work, our lack of consolidation, our lack of streamlining, our lack of elimination and duplication, our lack of demanding the metrics so that we know the programs we are funding out there are working.

We are not going to pay the price for it, nobody in this room. The people who are going to be paying the price for it are Madeline's generation. How are they going to pay for that? What is going to happen? What is the real cost associated with that? It is not a pretty picture. This is what it is: It is a markedly declining standard of living.

Most people don't know that median family income in real dollars in America today is at the exact same level it was in 1989, and it is going backward. Even with a growing economy, it is going backward. The assets available to a family are declining while the obligations for that family are increasing, and we are responsible for that. It is not something we can't fix, it is something we choose not to fix.

I also would say that I have one large concern in this bill. We increased NIH back to $1 billion. We are still not where we were 2 years ago, but we started with $800 million more at the Defense Department, duplicating programs that are already running at the NIH. We are making my list bigger, not smaller. We are going in the wrong direction.

We have great people at the NIH. We have a great leader in Francis Collins. They have markedly improved the management of their grants, their oversight of their grants. Yet we are going to take $800 million and move it over to another set of overhead--with people not nearly as experienced, not nearly as knowledgeable. We are going to be spending money in the Defense Department to study things we are spending money for for the exact same type of thing at NIH. So we are not going to get great value for this money. What we are going to do is waste it. That $800 million should have gone to NIH and every other nonmilitary-related medical program over there. That money should have gone to the NIH.

When we talk to the Senators who started this, both Tom Harkin and our former colleague, now deceased, Ted Stevens, they would admit to us in private that it was a mistake to ever start it this way, because we are wasting a ton of precious dollars that could be used to save somebody's life, but somebody has a reason for that. I don't know what it is, but I will say in this bill we have $68 billion of appropriations for the Defense Department that have nothing to do with the defense of this country. We don't get all of these savings if we take it out of the Defense Department, but we get $3 billion or $4 billion if we take it out of the Defense Department. That $3 billion or $4 billion could fund NIH back at a level it should be funded or protect Madeline from further decline in her standard of living.

I have made my point. I understand my perspective is not in the majority, but I will guarantee my perspective is with the majority of Americans, that we ought not to have 679 renewable energy initiatives. I don't think we would find anybody in the country who would disagree with me that they ought to be consolidated. They ought to be run efficiently. They ought to have metrics on them, as well as the other hundreds of sets of duplications.

We are going to get another report next month from the GAO, actually in March. It will be their fourth. They are so discouraged because they do all this hard work, make recommendations, and then we sit on them. We don't act.

If I were to have a challenge to my colleagues, it is first to read the reports over the past 4 years and look at the data that shows where we are really wasting money. Then, please, for Madeline and the sake of her generation, act on it. Don't ignore it.

I know it is not easy work. It is hard work. I have done oversight for 9 years in the Senate. But it can be done, it should be done, and the Madelines of America are worth it.

I yield the floor.


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