Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, if anybody has been watching the Senate today, there was a point of order made that the spending we are going to pass to pay for unemployment insurance extension benefits and benefits for health insurance for those people, in terms of buying through their former employers, as well as the sustainable growth rate formula, failed to be overriden.
We will have another vote on that because the majority side was missing one Member, and they will eventually win on that. What that says is, we are once again back to the point where we refuse to make the hard choices to pay for things we need to do today by eliminating things that are not as important.
The point of order was on the fact that it is an emergency so, therefore, we can say: Time out. But those who voted to override it fail to recognize the other major emergency that is happening in our country. We have $12.8 trillion worth of debt as of today. We are going to add another $1.4 to $1.5 trillion this year, this calendar year; that the increase in the cost of that debt over the last 12 months will require an additional, next year, $125 billion worth of expenditures.
There has to come a point in time when we grow to the responsibility that has been given to us; that is, make hard choices. It is very easy to pass an unemployment insurance bill by charging it to our children. The majority leader has graciously agreed to give me an opportunity to offer three different ways to pay for that. I am going to put those out today. One amendment now, which we will vote on, another amendment later, and then a third amendment later.
Most of the ideas for cutting spending, quite frankly, have come from my colleagues on the other side, and many of them you have already voted for. So it is going to be an interesting exercise today. The majority leader also spoke to me before lunch saying it did not matter because I was going to lose anyway.
That sends a signal. The leadership of our Senate today says: We do not have to pay for things.
Prior to leaving here, we agreed on a compromise of tax loophole closures that would have paid for this for a period of 30 days. The bill we voted on back then was for 30 days. We have now before us an identical bill before us for 60 days. It is going to cost $18.2 billion. That is what CBO says. The question I have to ask is, is it morally right for us to steal that money from our children's future or make hard choices about wasteful spending today? The choices are not hard other than in our
stubbornness that we don't want to agree.
When businesses are taken over, when a larger business buys a smaller business, the first thing they do is become great cash managers of the business. In other words, they make sure the money in the business is always working for the business. So if there is excess cash lying around in accounts, they take that money and reduce whatever outstanding debts they have or forgo borrowing money and use that cash in a more efficacious and serious manner. The first amendment I will offer is asking us
to do nothing but the same.
At the end of last year, the Federal Government had on its books money it borrowed but had not spent of $676 billion. That is what is sitting in accounts, money we have borrowed that is not being utilized efficiently. At the end of next year, at the end of fiscal 2011, according to the OMB, it will be $614 billion. That is almost half of the debt we will borrow this year. This first amendment simply says: Let the administration utilize its executive prerogatives and instead of us borrowing $18.2
billion from our children and then paying interest on that--and, by the way, the interest on that $18.2 billion that will go on in perpetuity, because we are not retiring any debt, is about $900 million, almost $1 billion a year. Why would we borrow money when we have money sitting there that is not being utilized effectively and pay almost $900 million every year? Why would we borrow again next year an extra billion to pay for the money we are going to borrow to fund this program?
Let me give an example of where this money lies. In our own accounts to run the legislature, we have $1.450 billion sitting there. In other words, it has not been promised to do anything. It is sitting there. It was sitting at $1.876 billion at the end of last fiscal year. It is projected to be $1.481 billion next year. We are keeping that money in the bank and not using it.
The Department of Agriculture has $20 billion and is estimated in 2011 to have still $12 billion sitting in an account that we are paying interest on that is not being utilized, not obligated for anything at the time, unobligated.
What all these figures show when you total them up is that we are sending money so fast to agencies, they can't spend it. In other words, we are throwing money at the agencies far faster than they can spend it, and it would be wise and prudent of us to send less money--still with the same rules, still with the same instruction, to utilize their money better.
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Congressman [Page: S2276]
Obey, has already agreed to do that on the summer jobs program in certain accounts.
The idea behind this amendment is to take some of the $1 trillion that is sitting in accounts that is not obligated--in other words, it will not be utilized this year; it won't be utilized for at least 2 years--and utilize that rather than charge our children.
I have used Madeline's picture a lot, but I don't think you can overutilize this picture. This little girl was caught on the street outside of Washington protesting. Obviously, her parents put her up to it. At the time she was wearing a sign that says: I am already $38,375 in debt and I only own a dollhouse. At the end of this fiscal year, she will be $45,000 more in debt, and she will still only own a dollhouse. Why would we want to do that?
This bill adds $500 for every man, woman, and child in this country. Why wouldn't we want to not charge it to them and utilize what we have in excess now, the inefficient use of the cash balances we have, to pay for something we all agree we want to pay for but the disagreement is over whether we should steal it from our children or actually make hard choices? These are not even hard choices. These are easy choices. We were told, when we came to an agreement prior to the April recess, that the
reason this wasn't acceptable in the House is they didn't want to set the precedent of starting to pay for things when we are spending money. I would put forth that the American people are ready for us to start doing that. They are ready for us to start making tough choices. They think we need to make tough choices.
Out of every dollar we spend, we are borrowing 43 cents against the future. That is what happened last year. It will actually be probably higher this year. Maybe not. But somewhere about 43 cents out of every dollar the Federal Government spends is borrowed. Is there a time that we should stop and pause and say: Maybe a review is in order of our priorities, looking at the priorities of the Federal Government? I know that builds a lot of resistance in this body. But what I would like somebody
to tell me is, when is that time? Is it when the Chinese won't buy our bonds anymore? Do we wait for the firestorm to come where we are at critical mass and then the choices are limited and few? Or do we start making the proper decisions now and live up to the authority and responsibility given to us?
There is a saying that the easiest thing in the world is to spend somebody else's money. I also think it is the most addictive thing in the world. We can see that. It doesn't matter whether it is Republicans in charge or Democrats. We have not seen the kind of behavior in Congress that will get our Congress out of the financial problems we face.
In terms of an almost $4 trillion budget, $18 billion doesn't seem like a lot, but if you keep doing that every 60 days, in a year you have done over $120 billion that you will add to the debt. Our kids will get to pay it back, but they will get to pay it back on compounded interest.
The interesting thing is what the OMB and CBO agree to. Actually, CBO came out with the latest numbers. We are going to borrow $9.8 trillion if we don't change things over the next 9 years, and fully 50 percent of that will be borrowed money to pay interest on the money we have already borrowed. Should we not do what is right for the unemployed but also what is right for the Madelines of this world in terms of protecting their future?
I call up amendment No. 3723 and ask for its consideration.
Mr. COBURN. Here is a fairly painless way--just more efficient management of the money we have--of paying for this needed program without charging it to the children. We don't have to go to the bond market to borrow more. We don't have to incur an additional $900 million a year of debt, a tremendous benefit to those who follow us. The question is, when will we decide to start being responsible?
I am going to be offering two other amendments, if this one is not agreed to, that will give specific choices. Wait to hear the howling. In other words, nothing is less important than unemployment insurance. Said the other way, everything is more important. In other words, we can't cut anything to pay for unemployment insurance.
Let's talk about that for a minute. Just through competitive bidding, if we had mandatory competitive bidding in the Federal Government--in other words, we will not buy things that are not competitively bid--we would save $62 billion a year. But we have sweetheart deals out the kazoo. We have earmarks that have noncompetitive bidding. We have contracts that the government does without competitive bidding. We could save $62 billion a year by instituting competitive bidding.
Here are examples. It was recently reported that the Defense Department rewards no-bid work to small contracts for repairs at military bases costing taxpayers $148 million more than they were competed for. This is in 1 year on repair contracts. That is just on the repair of small items on military bases. We could save $148 million a year. Federal funds were spent by the State of Wisconsin, $47.5 million, on two Spanish-made passenger trains, no competitive bid. The Legal Services Corporation,
37 out of 38 consultant contracts had not been competitively bid. The Department of Interior inspector general issued a report on sole-source contracting within the Department of Interior total savings; $44.5 million, had they used competitive bidding.
If we go through all of the agencies, what we come up with is a potential savings of billions and billions of dollars; as a matter of fact, enough to extend this same bill for 7 months, if we use competitive bidding. But that will not be considered important. It is going to be too important to do that so we will borrow the money from our children.
Let's look at ourselves. In 2010, the legislative branch received $4.7 billion in discretionary funding, a 6-percent increase over last year. Do we know of any other people who got those kinds of increases who work in small business or private enterprise in a down economy? Last year and this year alone, every day without this bill we are adding $4.3 billion to our debt a day. Is that an emergency? I think that is the real emergency, that we are absolutely stealing opportunity from our children
When Members of the Senate or the House don't utilize all their funds--and I average turning back about $600,000 a year--that money does not go back to the Treasury. It is consumed in other areas of the legislative branch. There is a disincentive for Members to be efficient with the dollars they are allotted as they represent their individual States.
We ought to change that. There ought to be an incentive to be efficient. We ought to change it to where whatever we turn back goes to retire the debt, not goes back to spend on something that is not a priority.
If you look at the Department of Agriculture, for which one of my amendments will have some recommended eliminations, there are hundreds of millions of dollars that are wasted every year. But when we offer an [Page: S2277]
amendment that is going to have a program that both the Bush administration and the Obama administration have recommended be removed, we are going to have people say: Oh, no, you can't do that because maybe 1,000 people or 1,500 people want that
gravy train, when we have 10 million people unemployed. So we are going to keep the gravy train for the small numbers and borrow the money from our children and grandchildren to take care of unemployment benefits.
In 2009, the Department of Agriculture made errors in payments and overpaid by $4.2 billion in that year alone. Think about that. That is just the Department of Agriculture. Should we not eliminate that to pay for unemployment insurance or should we borrow from our children? Which is it we should do? Should we make the hard choice and force the Department of Agriculture to clean up its act or should we borrow the money from our kids? It is a lot easier to just borrow it from our kids. Then we
do not have to work. Oh, by the way, we do not get any of the complaints from the administration that: You are making our job too hard--let alone the fact that they are not efficient and oftentimes not effective.
In 2008, the Agriculture Department had 7,000 different employees attend conferences around this country. There was $22 million of expenditures in 2005 alone. The USDA is ranked among the four worst Federal agencies in paying its travel credit bills on time. As a matter of fact, they get charged interest because they cannot even pay their bills on time. Ten percent of their travel cards are in delinquent status. They have embezzlement cases on their credit cards. But have we done the work to
clean that up? No. Have we gone after the $4.5 billion in overpayments? No. Mr. President, $4.5 billion a year for 10 years is $45 billion. Just cleaning up one aspect of improper payments at only the Department of Agriculture will pay for this bill for 4 months. But we will not do the hard work. We do the easy work. And the easy work is to put the credit card into the machine and not think about how that is going to steal opportunity and potential from those who follow us.
The Department of Defense--everybody says: Well, you can't go after the Department of Defense. My question is, Why not? It is the only Federal Government agency that cannot even come close to an audit anywhere. We cannot even audit their books they are in such a mess. But what we do know is we can save at least $36.5 billion from the Department of Defense by putting in competitive bidding, by making cogent management changes that every small business in this country runs on in the practices that
are there. But it has not been changed. We have not insisted it be changed. We have not limited funding in areas that are noncritical to our troops to force the Department of Defense to come up and save this $36.5 billion.
Mr. President, 10 to 15 percent of everything that is spent in the Pentagon is wasted. Why wouldn't we go after that? Because somebody will accuse us of not supporting our troops? Well, what are our troops fighting for? They are fighting for the future of their kids and our country. Yet we refuse to look where the payments can be made in a way that is more efficient in the elimination of waste and fraud, with the institution of competitive bidding so we are not borrowing $18.2 billion against
our kids and grandkids. Why do we refuse to do that? Is it too hard? Do we love our jobs so much that we love our jobs more than our children and our grandchildren? I do not think that is the case. I think the case is that we are focusing on the wrong emergency.
The emergency in front of us is that in 2020 we are going to have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 90 to 100 percent. Every economist in the world will agree that will suppress our potential growth by at least 2 percent a year. So we will go in a downward spiral. When you have that kind of a debt-to-GDP ratio, what happens is the debt service--the money that pays the interest--is not available to invest in capital and equipment to grow jobs, to improve efficiencies, to expand our Nation's economic base.
We are adding to that problem by being irresponsible in terms of paying for an $18.2 billion program.
Over the past 4 years, I have identified in the Federal Government waste, fraud, abuse, and duplication in excess of $350 billion a year. When I bring those amendments to the floor, they get voted down--not because they disagree with them but because we do not have the political will to make the hard choices.
The Congress, in a historic move, passed the health care bill that is going to continue to allow $150 billion of fraud a year to come out of Medicare and Medicaid. We did not do anything to fix it. There are no significant changes in the health care bill that will address a source of $150 billion in losses. Why? Because it is too hard? Kids are not important?
We are at a turning point in our country like we have never been before. We have never been walking into a financial situation that will totally limit our ability to get out of a situation. We can come out of this recession. But if we do not change the trajectory of the way we spend money and put the government back within the limited role the Constitution says it is to have, then the future will not only be economically not bright but not bright from a standpoint of liberty.
I have told my colleagues--and we are going to have this on every bill that comes before the Senate--it does not matter if it is a supplemental spending bill for the war, we ought to be paying for it. Rather than borrowing it from our kids, we ought to be paying for it. We ought to be making the hard choices about what is not as important as supporting our troops rather than charging the extra funding to our grandkids. So we are going to go through at least three cycles of votes on every bill
that comes to the floor that is not paid for, that will add to the debt. I am not going to serve my last year in the Senate and say I did not do everything I could to try to put us back on track. So when we vote that this is an emergency and we do not have to pay for it, we are not hurting us. You are not hurting Tom Coburn. You are hurting the generations that follow us.
It would be different if we had an efficient, effective, well-run Federal Government that was within the bounds of what the Constitution said we were supposed to be doing. But we are not anywhere close to that. There is so much fraud, so much waste, so many well-connected goodies going to the well-endowed and well-heeled in this country because they have a connection politically, and we need to clean it out.
Everything ought to be competitively bid. There is no reason for it not to be competitively bid. To pass up that $65 billion a year because we do not do it--there is another thing we do. We spend $8 billion a year maintaining properties the Federal Government does not want. Think about that. For 3 years, I have tried to get through real property reform and cannot get it through. We either need to tear these structures down so we quit spending money on them or sell them, but we should not continue
to spend $8 billion a year on buildings and properties we do not need. We have not done a thing to solve that problem in the last 3 years.
I have a book full of further examples. Just think about this: We want people to go into math, engineering, science, and technology. Everybody agrees with that. We know if we can get our younger students going into those areas, that is where they are going to have their greatest benefits of having a wonderful living in utilizing those skills.
The Federal Government has 105 different programs through six different agencies to incentivize math, engineering, science, and technology. The administrative cost for 105 different programs is ridiculous, and not 1 of
them has a metric on it of whether it is working. So every time somebody raises the issue, some Senator comes and creates another new program, and we pass it, and we never look at what we are doing already. We do not eliminate things that are not effective. We do not put metrics on it to say we are going to look at this every year, and if it is not working we are going to get rid of it or we are going to fix it, and we are not going to create another program. Yet we have 105 different programs.
In the month of December, my staff found 640 separate instances just like that where we have duplication of programs across government agencies. In [Page: S2278]
the last debt limit extension, we passed one of my amendments that said the GAO must report to us a governmentwide assessment of all the duplications in all the programs because Congress does not know it. We do not know what is out there. So we see another problem. It does not matter that we may have 105
programs working on it; we go create another one. That is called incompetence. It is also called laziness.
Just inside the Department of Education are 230 duplicative programs and $10 billion in waste, fraud, and mismanagement--230. Why? Because we refuse to do the hard work of oversight.
So when we vote on this amendment, what we are going to be voting on is whether we have the courage to start making choices. If you vote to defeat this amendment, what you are saying is you lack the courage to do the hard work to pay for something out of waste today and mismanagement of Federal funds and you think the Madelines of this world ought to pay for that lack of integrity and lack of hard work. And there is not another reason for it.
We are going to hear why you should not vote for this. We are going to hear why it is going to be hard if we take $18.2 billion out of the management accounts of all these agencies. It is just going to be, out of what is there, about 3 percent of the cash that is sitting idle--about 3 percent of what will be idle in 2011. What is idle this year, it will be less than 3 percent; it will be about 2.5 percent. Yet we are going to vote it down. We are going to vote it down because we care more about
making a political point than doing the hard work of getting our country back on track.
We do not have forever to get our country back on track. If we get to 90 to 100 percent of our GDP, the job of making these decisions becomes 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and 7 times more difficult because we will have less growth. We have a precarious economy right now. It is coming out of a recession. We want that growth to boom. We want those jobs to be created. When we borrow more money, we are putting a brake on that.
So if we can utilize the money we already have, we get the stimulatory effect of getting people unemployment insurance that buys the necessities of life, but we are not adding to the debt, which depresses the economy.
I will close for right now on this amendment. I will ask for the yeas and nays at a time that is agreeable to the majority leader.
I note the absence of a quorum.
Mr. SESSIONS. Mr. President, we seem to be muddling along here with short-term extensions and incremental stimulus bills to deal with a failure as this Congress decides what we are going to do about unemployment insurance and physicians' pay and things of that matter that are in the bill.
I believe this is an important discussion, I do, and I am worried about where we are. This legislation before us would add another $18.1 billion to the national debt. Just like that, another $18 billion. Oddly, that is almost the same amount of money that was tacked on to the Defense bill last year, and I produced a chart about it and demonstrated what happens when we get into that mode of appropriating, when we forget what our budget is and we treat everything as an emergency and just ignore
our budget and spend. The truth is, this cannot continue.
Every witness we have had before the Budget Committee--every one--two-thirds of which are usually called by our Democratic leader, and usually about one-third are Republican witnesses--have all said our spending and our debt is at an unsustainable rate. They didn't say that lightly. What they meant was it is unsustainable. We cannot continue to spend like this and to borrow this amount of money on top of the $800 billion that is now being spent that we appropriated last year--$800 billion. Every
penny of that $800 billion is borrowed because we don't have the money. We are already in debt to fund another $800 billion in stimulus, and we will have to, of course, borrow that.
I think a lot of people haven't understood that. People tell me, when I am in my State, that they are shocked, stunned, and worried about our spending. They know we are spending too much, but I don't think they know how much we actually are spending and how much we are adding to our debt and that it can threaten the future viability of the American economy for a short-term benefit.
I will just remind my colleagues that the history of stimulating an economy with borrowed money has not been too good. If it was, Japan would have a booming economy today. They have been trying this year after year and it has not worked for them.
We were told we would have an unemployment rate that would stop at 8 percent if we would just pass this $800 billion and borrow the money and spend it today to stimulate the economy. It sounds so good. It sounds so tempting. But I didn't believe it was an appropriate allocation of that much money, No. 1; and No. 2, that the money we were being asked to spend was going to be spent in ways that would stimulate the economy and create jobs.
I cited here before the vote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by Gary Becker, the Nobel Prize winner from the University of Chicago. Mr. Becker said that, in his opinion, the bill fell far short of being the kind of stimulative spending that would create jobs and help this economy bounce back and, therefore, he had to oppose it. Mr. Becker is in his seventies and he was just sharing his experience. He had another person participate with him in the research that led them to that recommendation.
Was Mr. Becker proven right or not?
The great tragedy--the biggest tragedy with the stimulus package--was what little stimulus we got. If you spend $800 billion, it is breathtaking how much that can be done with it. The Alabama general fund budget for the entire State, including State government and State troopers and all of that is less than $2 billion. But $800 billion? That is huge. So I am worried about what we are doing.
At the time the legislation passed--this stimulus package that added so much to our debt--the Congressional Budget Office, whose Director is hired by our Democratic majority, had good people working in that office. They try to do a good job. They have some economists who I think have been successful in years past at predicting things. They said: Yes, if you spend $800 billion in the next 2 to 3 years, you will have an economic benefit during that period, there is no doubt. They didn't predict
a lot--not nearly as much as a lot of people said it would do--but they predicted some benefit.
But do you know what they said? They said over 10 years that this economic spending, this borrowing to spend, would actually weaken the economy and the total growth over 10 years would be less than if we did not pass the stimulus package at all. It does appear if they were in error, their error was that we did not get as much growth as they predicted in the short run. But when you spend $800 billion, surely you are going to get some benefit--some, economically. But we have not gotten what we
need. It was not crafted in that way.
It was a bill that said it was going to fix crumbling infrastructure, and what happened? We spent less than 4 percent of this money on bridges and roads. We spent it mostly on social spending, we spent it on State aid, we spent it on a lot of different things. But at least when you build a road you have a highway that is there and it will be there for another 50 or 100 years, making the Nation more productive and efficient. But this other kind of spending has produced so little for us. I express
my concern about that.
All of this is where we are. The point is simply this. The spending track we are on is unsustainable because in 2008 our total public debt was $5.8 trillion. It is more than that if you consider the gross debt, the internal debt, but this is what is held by private investors from around the world and in the United States--$5.8 trillion. By 2013 it will double to $l1.8 trillion; by 2019 it will be $17.3 trillion, and there is no plan to pay it down. But in 2019, 2020, we are talking about deficits
of almost another $1 trillion a year. So we are not even close to moving to a balanced [Page: S2279]
budget, much less paying down this debt.
Where does the money come from? As I said, we borrow that. This chart shows what the borrowing costs are. When you borrow money, people pay interest, you pay them interest on the money they give you. They loan you money, you pay them rent on the money. They do not give you money for no good reason.
In 2009 we paid $187 billion in interest that 1 year. Remember, Alabama's general fund budget is $2 billion; the Federal highway bill a year or so ago was $40 billion. We spent $187 billion, almost five times the highway bill. But look what happens in 2020 after we spent all this money and run up our debt--$840 billion in interest payments in 1 year. That exceeds the Defense bill, it exceeds any other bill in our budget. It is a stunning number. These are Congressional Budget Office numbers based
on the President's budget. Surely something will intervene. We will elect somebody, somewhere--in this Senate, probably--who is going to say no to this because the American people are getting hot about it. Some people are going to be wondering why they are no longer here, if they keep up with this kind of stuff.
They say don't worry about this, it is just $18 billion, and after the $800 billion, $18 billion may look small. But let me show you what I demonstrated previously with $18 billion when you cheat, or you add it and bust the budget by one $18 billion expenditure.
In 2010 we slipped another $18 billion on the Defense appropriations bill, and added it to the debt. People said don't worry, it is just $18 billion. But it goes into the baseline. It goes into your basic funding of the government. So what happens next year when you say OK, we are not going to spend this $18 billion. They say: You are cutting spending. We cannot do that. You can't cut spending. Besides, we need an increase in spending--inflation was 2 percent. We need at least 2 percent.
The State Department got a 30-percent increase in funding this past year. The Environmental Protection Agency got a 30-percent increase in funding.
Look at that. What if you do it another year? You come up with another $18 billion. You got around the budget, you declared it an emergency event and you spent another $18 billion. It is not just $18 billion because you have $18 billion in the first baseline, you add another to it and that year it has cost the taxpayers $36 billion. Let's say the next year, 2013, now you are adding $18 billion to $36 billion and it is $54 billion in your baseline. You have another budget gimmick to add $18 billion
and you end up with $72 billion that year.
This is how we get out of control. And you end up, that $18 billion, when it goes into the baseline and we do not understand how it occurred, increases our spending to a degree that we should not do. So that ends up, if you add it up, to $990 billion from an $18-billion-a-year gimmick, manipulation, violation of the budget.
What I want to say is this bill before us today violates the budget. It is for unemployment compensation, it is for other things that are not emergencies. They are part of our governmental operation that needs to be paid for. Luckily, we have some money to pay for it. We have it in an unspent stimulus package. We have some opportunities that our Democratic colleagues have said they could take money from in the past. If we put all those together we could pay for this, fund this bill without having
to borrow it all.
I am at a point where I am not inclined to go along with this anymore. I think the American people are of the same mind. What we have to do is we have to lead and we have to be responsible like our Governors. They are having to face challenges. Our mayors are having to face challenges. They are making tough decisions. But not us. We spend more, not less. We are spending more. I believe we have done enough. We have gone beyond what is logical and reasonable. We are in the realm of reckless and
dangerous and it is time for us to begin having a national discussion in this country and in this Congress about how much we can borrow to spend today to make our life better today and then shift that debt to the future.
The reason CBO said that the $800 billion would not advance the economy over 10 years, it actually would hurt the economy over 10 years, is that you crowd out investment. If the government borrows $800 billion, it is not available for private people who need to go out and borrow money. It has already been loaned to the government. It crowds out, the economists said, private borrowing.
Also, we have an interest on it that we have to carry and pay every year that is a burden on every generation. Every young person after us will carry that interest burden. It hurts them and makes them less able to prosper and to have economic growth. So it is a moral question: How much can we afford to benefit ourselves this very day and shift it to our children and to what extent do we need to be responsible? I think it is time to get responsible, so reluctantly I feel an obligation to vote
no to this legislation.
I yield the floor.
Mr. VITTER. Mr. President, I stand in strong support of the comments of my distinguished colleague from Alabama. Of course I agree with virtually every single Member of the Senate that these programs need to be extended. But I also agree with many Members here, and the huge majority of the American people, that we need to pay for it. We cannot keep running up the deficit as though it had no consequence to us and our economy and our children and grandchildren. The American people get it. Certainly
my constituents in Louisiana get it. They say of course you need to extend necessary programs and of course you cannot run up the deficit to do it every 2 months.
Mr. President, $18 billion--the distinguished Senator from Alabama has used the figure over and over, and he is right, $18 billion, but it is $18 billion for 2 months of extension. So we are supposed to come back every 2 months and put another $18 billion on our kids' and grandkids' tab? It is $108 billion over a year of increasing deficit and debt that is already at historic levels. That is crazy.
We can do better. We can meet both of those commonsense objectives of the American people. We can extend necessary programs and we can do it in a way that does not add to deficit and debt. We have several ways to do that. We have a menu of proposals. We will have votes a little later on about doing that. In fact, before the recess we had discussions on the floor of the Senate and we had come to agreement here in the Senate about an extension without increasing the deficit and debt. Unfortunately
it was rejected by the Speaker of the House. So it is not as though this goal of achieving both of those important objectives is impossible. It is absolutely possible and many different Members have laid out how to get there.
Let's follow the common sense of the American people. Let's follow the common sense of folks all across Louisiana who say of course you need to extend necessary programs and of course you cannot add to the deficit and debt every month, every 2 months that you need to do this, $18 billion a pop, $108 billion. That is a good part of $1 trillion over 1 year.
I want to focus on a particular part of this package that is particularly galling, quite frankly, for someone such as me from Louisiana. A tiny part of this overall bill is extending the National Flood Insurance Program. Again, I hope everyone agrees we need to extend the National Flood Insurance Program. I certainly agree with that. I have certainly fought for that. It is about 1 percent of this bill.
Do you know what percent it is of the debt increase, the deficit increase? It is zero percent of that because that extension does not even increase the deficit or debt in any way. So it should not be held up by this debate in any way, shape, or form--a necessary program, 1 percent of the bill in terms of dollar figures, zero deficit and debt increase, zero impact on that central issue. Why can't we at least come together and extend that necessary program immediately and not have that held up
at all? It never should have been held up before the recess. It should not be held up now. There is a simple way to fix that and the simple way is to take that portion of the bill out; to extend it immediately. I do not think there is any opposition to the underlying extension of the program. It has zero impact on the deficit and debt [Page: S2280]
so there is no reason for it to be caught up in this other debate.
With that in mind, I ask unanimous consent that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of S. 3203. That is a bill I have introduced that extends the National Flood Insurance Program for the same amount of time as this underlying bill but does it separately. I ask that the bill be read a third time and passed, and the motion to reconsider be laid upon the table.
The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Franken.) Is there objection?
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, reserving the right to object, I might note that the Senator seeks to take up and pass one of the specific provisions in the underlying bill, section 7 in the underlying bill. Since the Senator seems to be endorsing a part of the underlying bill, and the pending Baucus amendment, I might ask the Senator to amend his request to provide for the passage of all of the underlying bill and pending Baucus amendment.
Mr. VITTER. I will be happy to do that in a version that is paid for, incorporating the very sensible, commonsense objections that have been offered to pay for all of this extension. So I would be happy to amend my request in that manner if the Senator would agree to it.
Mr. VITTER. Not if it increases the deficit and debt $108 billion a year. No, sir, I am not. And the American people are not. And the American people are getting fed up with it.
Mr. VITTER. Reclaiming my time, the suggestion was pretty simple. There is the one element of this bill which is a necessary program for all of the United States, particularly for flood-prone areas. It is 1 percent of the overall bill, but it is zero percent of the deficit and debt increase. It has no impact on deficit and debt. So the suggestion was pretty simple: Why don't we take that out? Why have that stalled because of this broader debate? Let's take that out and pass it. There should be
no objection to that. Everybody is for the program. It does not increase the deficit and debt. Unfortunately, there is objection from the Democratic chairman.
I hope we have given the chairman and other Members of the majority the detailed proposal. It is, as the chairman said, taking section 7 out and passing it separately because it has no deficit and debt impact. I would urge the chairman and others to look at that and to hopefully agree to that because--I heard the objection. I don't understand the basis for the objection, and I would be happy to hear the basis for the objection because I just don't understand it.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, the Senator from Louisiana supports part of the bill. I would just ask the Senator to broaden his mind to support all of the bill. That way, we can get this done.
Mr. VITTER. Sort of like the ``Louisiana purchase'' with health care reform. Let's put one sweetener in the bill to pass something really bad--a $108 billion debt increase over a year. Let's take one hostage, including folks who are held hostage who need this insurance, to pass a debt increase that big because otherwise that is a stinker.
I get it. I have seen that deal played out over and over, including with the ``Louisiana purchase'' for health care reform. I am not taking that offer, no offense. I hope the Senator will reconsider my very reasonable proposal.
I yield the floor.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the following staff be allowed floor privileges during the consideration of the pending bill: Randy Aussenberg, Claire Green, and Dustin Stevens.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, there are a number of reasons to oppose the amendment offered by the Senator from Oklahoma. First, it would reverse the considered judgment of the Congress as expressed through the annual appropriations process. Congress has spoken on appropriations that are authorized and obligated, and his amendment defers that considered judgment. I will defer, frankly, to the chairman of the Appropriations Committee to address these concerns in greater detail when he arrives on
Second, the House of Representatives has made it clear that it views unemployment insurance and the other provisions in this bill as emergency provisions. The House has made clear that it would send the bill back to us again if we adopted the amendment by the Senator from Oklahoma. That is clear. I have had conversations with the House. It is clear that it would be sent back, and that would needlessly delay much needed aid to the people receiving unemployment insurance benefits. Let's not forget
that there are so many people--200,000 people, in fact--who are not receiving benefits because we let the legislation expire. It has expired. So 200,000 people today who are entitled to unemployment insurance payments are not getting them, and if we send the bill back to the House again, that is further delay. It will not be long before that number of 200,000 is going to double to 400,000. That is just playing games with the lives of unemployed Americans.
Third, and perhaps most dramatically, the amendment would delegate powers to rescind $20 billion to the unelected Director of the Office of Management and Budget. This would be a breathtaking abdication of Congress's power of the purse. In the Federalist Papers, the power of the purse is described as the most singular power to protect the rights of the free people. We should not quickly surrender that power, and the Senator's amendment would surrender that power to the tune of $20 billion. The
Senator's amendment would give the Director of the Office of Management and Budget a blank check. It would give him the power to cut whatever unobligated balances he should choose. This is truly a sweeping grant of power, and it is truly a dramatic surrender of that power.
The Senator from Oklahoma talked about budget deficits. He and I agree. We do, as a nation, need to address the budget deficits. As a rhetorical question, he asked: When is the time to make the changes to balance the budget? The Senator asked the question as if the answer were self-evident, but the answer is not self-evident.
A wise person once said: For every difficult question, there is usually a very simple answer and it is usually not true. This is an example of that maxim at work.
The simple answer in this case would be to require the government to balance the budget every year, year-in and year-out. That is pretty simple. That answer, even though it sounds nice, would be wrong. The Nation should balance the budget over the course of a business cycle. We should spend in a recession and exercise more discipline when the country is very prosperous to get the budget under control.
But the Nation should not attempt to balance the budget in the grips of a recession. Why is that? That is because in a recession, business slows down. People actually pay less tax revenue to the government. In a recession, spending on automatic stabilizer programs automatically increases, like unemployment benefits, food stamps, and many others. That is what should happen during a recession. To do otherwise would be economically disastrous.
To try to balance the budget in the grips of a recession would mean raising taxes or cutting spending even more than is automatically occurring. That would reduce the amount of demand in the economy, and that would further slow economic growth and put even more people out of work. So most reputable economists would say you should not try to balance the budget in a recession. There is pretty broad agreement on that point among reputable economists.
So that is why it does not make sense to try to balance the budget this year. Yes, we should balance the budget over the business cycle, but we should not try to raise taxes and cut spending even more to balance the budget right now. And that is why it does make sense to spend money on unemployment insurance benefits as an emergency matter.
As the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said, spending on unemployment insurance benefits is one of the most effective things Congress can do to increase economic growth. It is one of the most effective things we can do to save and create jobs. For every dollar we spend on unemployment insurance benefits, the Congressional Budget Office says economic growth is increased by up to $1.90; it is [Page: S2281]
almost a 2-to-1 return on our investment. That is
a pretty sound investment.
That is the economic reason why it makes sense to spend now on unemployment insurance benefits and to balance the budget over a longer period, but even more compelling is the human reason. The human reason is people such as the single dad in Missoula, MT, who depends on the extra unemployment insurance benefits to support his daughters and put food on the table. He called the Montana unemployment office, and we learned that this fellow said he honestly did not know how he was going to make ends
meet without these benefits. The Senate should not be playing games with the lives of people like this man and his daughter in Missoula and all of the other men and women around the country who desperately depend on unemployment payments to make ends meet. Congress should not balance the budget on the backs of the unemployed.
Last of all, we must reject amendments like these. That is why we should pass the underlying bill.
I yield the floor.
Mr. INOUYE. Mr. President, this is the third time we find ourselves debating the same rescission amendment that sounds like good policy on first blush but in fact is not.
Members need to understand that this amendment is irresponsible governing, and causes harm to our national and international security, and to our economy.
Members on the other side of the aisle have frequently criticized the majority party for asking them to vote on measures that they have not had a chance to thoroughly read or comprehend.
But that is certainly what Members are being asked to do today.
It is irresponsible to vote in support of this amendment that indiscriminately cuts $20 billion from discretionary projects and services given that we do not know what programs are impacted by such significant cuts.
On January 27 of this year I spoke at some length about an almost identical amendment offered by the junior Senator from Oklahoma, and again on March 3 about an almost identical amendment offered by the junior Senator from Kentucky. Today it is the junior Senator from Oklahoma's turn to offer the amendment again.
I would like to take just a few moments to remind my colleagues of why they voted against this amendment twice already, and why I hope they will again choose to vote against this financially irresponsible and harmful amendment.
The majority of unobligated balances are not eligible for rescission under this amendment because they are, in fact, mandatory funds.
Second, because of the small amount of unobligated funding eligible for rescission, this amendment indiscriminately rescinds prior year unobligated funding from certain critical programs, jeopardizing our national defense, and our homeland security.
I have mentioned this before, but need to mention it again because nothing has changed between January, March and today.
While we cannot say with certainty which programs are impacted by this amendment, here are some of the expected impacts based on current discretionary unobligated balances available.
We require the Department of Defense to budget up front for all the costs required to procure military equipment such as ships or aircraft. But it takes several years to complete construction.
For shipbuilding specifically, funds provided to the Department of Defense are available for obligation for 5 years.
Rescinding unobligated funds now could require the Navy to cancel contracts for ships under construction and layoff thousands of workers across our Nation's shipyards.
In terms of our veterans who have returned from war or have fought bravely in past wars, this amendment could impact the construction of new hospitals by the Veterans Administration. It takes a few years to build a hospital. The Veterans Administration requests full funding for a construction project in the first year. As a result, the VA has 43 active major construction projects at various stages of completion totaling over $1.6 billion in unobligated balances. This could be wiped out. Over
49,000 construction jobs would be terminated with the loss of that funding, further delaying critical services to our brave men and women who have served. We made a solemn promise to them.
Rescinding unobligated balances in the Department of Homeland Security could stop the construction of the Coast Guard national security cutter and would rescind funding for the purchase of explosive detection systems. Rescinding unobligated balances in NOAA could create a minimum 6-month gap in coverage for the geostationary weather satellite system which focuses directly over the United States and constantly and accurately monitors storm conditions. Over 200 employees would lose their jobs.
The Senator from Oklahoma argues that if funding is not spent immediately, then it is not necessary. This reasoning is irresponsible when it comes to overseeing taxpayers' dollars and the capitalization of large projects such as ships, hospitals, and satellites. I am certain everyone in this Chamber knows that a ship is not built in a year. I hope everyone knows that a hospital is not built and equipped in a year. I hope everyone knows that satellites are not built and launched every year.
In addition to the potential impact on large procurements, this amendment could impact the funding of programs the Congress voted on and agreed to provide only a few months ago. The impact of these cuts could have significant consequences for many critical services such as HUD programs providing affordable housing to our Nation's low-income citizens--we had a great debate on that here--or funding for climate change research or funding to purchase explosive detection equipment for airports.
This is a bad amendment with bad consequences. It is time for us, the Members of the Senate, to act responsibly. We have a well established process for funding the Federal Government. It involves the Budget Committee that sets our allocations. It involves the consideration and approval by the Senate of every appropriations bill. I can assure my colleagues in this Chamber that the Appropriations Committee takes this responsibility seriously. Every agency budget is reviewed and oversight provided
throughout the year. Each year the Appropriations Committee recommends rescissions of funds that are not needed, but those rescissions are based on detailed oversight and understanding of the programs, not indiscriminate action such as this amendment.
This amendment is not based on careful review, would harm many worthwhile programs, and fails to meet the test of proper oversight.
Therefore, I urge my colleagues to oppose the amendment.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
Mr. REID. Mr. President, the Republican leader and I have discussed this vote that will take place at 5:45, if the unanimous consent request is granted, and we are going to keep the vote open for a while. There are a number of things people have to do this evening, and there is one Senator, because of the funeral of his best friend, who is going to be getting here late, so we will keep the vote open until he returns from the funeral. Everyone knows that. I have spoken to the Republican leader
and he is fine with that.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that at 5:45 p.m. today the motion to proceed to the motion to reconsider the vote by which the Budget Act was not waived be agreed to, the motion to reconsider be agreed to, and the Senate then proceed to a vote on the Baucus motion to waive all applicable Budget Act points of order.
Mr. DORGAN. Simply, GEN Michael Walsh is someone I have known for a [Page: S2286]
long time. He is an extraordinary soldier and a patriotic American who doesn't deserve, and never deserved, to have his promotion derailed for 6 months by one Member of the Senate. That is not fair. That is using this person, this patriot, as a pawn in trying to extract from the Corps of Engineers something the Appropriations Committee has already voted against, in one case.
In other cases, it is something that the Corps of Engineers cannot legally do without authorization from Congress. We cannot do that to soldiers who have served their country. That is not fair.
I am not going to ask consent today because my colleague, Senator Levin, previously asked consent, and Senator Coburn from Oklahoma, on behalf of Senator Vitter, the other day objected to this promotion. But I will ask my colleague from Louisiana to stand down on this and give this soldier the respect and honor and the due that is owed him by the Congress.
The Armed Services Committee, with its chairman and ranking Republican member, unanimously decided that this good soldier should be promoted to the rank of a two-star general. That was 6 months ago. Six months later, he is a pawn on the floor of the Senate held by one person trying to extract from the Corps of Engineers some things that the Corps cannot possibly do, and some things that are not wise to do, and I would not support in any event.
As I said when I started, I would not come to the floor of the Senate and criticize a colleague without first informing him of that criticism. I did that. I don't take any measure of satisfaction in criticizing a colleague. But I will tell you this: What happened to this general is just flat wrong. There is no way for anybody in this Congress to justify holding this general hostage for 6 months in his promotion to major general.
I ask my colleague from Louisiana to end this hold, to give this soldier his due. This soldier has earned his second star, and 6 months ago this Congress should have voted in response to the unanimous vote by the Armed Services Committee to give this soldier his second star. I hope that soon my colleague will delete that hold so my colleague from Michigan can seek unanimous consent to do right by GEN Michael Walsh.
I yield the floor and suggest the absence of a quorum.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, before the Senator yields, in the form of a question, I deeply appreciate the Senator's statement. He is on the right track. I believe the Internet should be free and open, too. I was stunned by the circuit court decision.
I ask the Senator if he could tell us how he thinks the FCC can remedy the situation now without legislation, and if the FCC cannot, we need legislation. But I am asking for the Senator's view again. He already stated it once. Maybe he can expand on it further.
Mr. DORGAN. Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Montana. Let me state the reason for the urgency. I described it today, but it has been said in other venues. Mr. Whitacre from AT&T most famously said it: These are my pipes. I want Google to pay for the use of my pipes. That was a famous statement by Mr. Whitacre. Yes, those pipes belong to the providers, but there is a requirement there be a nondiscrimination approach to the use of those pipes. We do not want providers to set up tollbooths
or gates to say: OK, you are a big site out there. We are going to charge you to use this. Maybe that person cannot pay the charge. The billions of people who would access that site now will not have access because there is a gatekeeper who said: We are only going to allow these folks to be on our site. That is the point of it.
There is, it seems to me, a potential problem that could not have existed previously when the nondiscrimination rules existed. But now that the nondiscrimination rules were obliterated, we need to restore them.
The Senator from Montana asked the question how can the Federal Communications Commission do this. I believe there are general powers in the Federal Communications Commission Act, and I believe the Commission itself has general powers that will allow it to act in a manner that the court would view to be in compliance with the law.
The FCC is not interested in doing something that it does not have the legal authority to do. I believe they have the capability. They certainly have the capability to determine that the Internet is regulated under Title II in which they would have the capability to enforce the nondiscrimination rule.
Again, this is not going to be one of those headline issues, but nonetheless it is a very important issue and one we need to get right. The last time we had a discussion about this issue in the Commerce Committee, it was a very contentious discussion. Senator Snowe and I offered an amendment that lost on an 11-to-11 tie. This is not an easy issue. There are a lot of people who feel strongly on both sides, but I come down on the side of saying the way the Internet was conceived and the
way it grew and the way it flourished was with nondiscrimination rules that say anybody--it is the ultimate democracy--anybody anywhere can set up a site and anyone in the world can access that site. That is the genius of this great innovation in our lives.
Mr. President, I yield the floor. I suggest the absence of a quorum.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, the Senate just rejected the previous Coburn amendment by a vote of 51 to 46. The Senate, I might say, rejected an attempt by the Senator from Oklahoma to give the Director of the Office of Management and Budget sweeping powers to cut unobligated balances by billions of dollars.
The Senator from Hawaii, Mr. Inouye, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, explained why that would be unwise. Essentially, there are many contracts which take more than 1 year to be fulfilled--building ships, for example, aircraft carriers, and so on. It takes a good number of years to build them, and it would make no sense to rescind all those unobligated balances.
The Senator from Oklahoma has two more amendments. One in particular is virtually the same amendment. It gives the Director of OMB powers to cut unobligated balances by billions of dollars, so the arguments of the Senator [Page: S2288]
from Hawaii would apply there as well. So the same reasons given for opposing the Coburn amendment just a short while ago--and the one that was defeated--should be the same reasons that would apply with respect to this next Coburn amendment
that we will be voting on in the not-too-distant future.
The Senator from Oklahoma has another amendment which would reverse decisions of the Congress through the appropriations process, and it also would, I might say, affect some tax provisions that would be inappropriate if we were to pass them now.
I would remind my colleagues if the Coburn amendment were to be adopted, there is another problem with it; that is, the delay of the extension of unemployment benefits. Because if it were to pass, it would have to go over to the House, and I am not quite sure how quickly the House would accept the Coburn amendment. They have said many times they would not accept it; that they would send it back, probably as is, without the pay-fors on the extension of unemployment benefits. So we would just be
delaying unemployment benefits to people who were cut off a few days ago because of the failure of Congress to act on the extension.
So I would suggest to my colleagues that the other two amendments the Senator from Oklahoma has offered are very similar to the first amendment he offered. The Senate defeated that first amendment by a vote of 51 to 46, and I suggest that these other two amendments be defeated when they are brought up because then we can give needed unemployment benefits to people who need it during this time of recession.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.
Mr. BAUCUS. Mr. President, not to belabor the point, but at a hearing I held in the Finance Committee this morning, we heard from Mark Zandi, who is the chief economist and cofounder of Moody's Analytics, and he was talking about unemployment benefits.
In fact, part of the hearing was to determine ways to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of unemployment benefits. Actually, the panel came up with a lot of very interesting ideas. Different States are, frankly, using the unemployment program to help create jobs as well as make payments.
Anyway, at this hearing, Mr. Zandi volunteered, frankly, that now is not the time for extension of unemployment benefits to be paid for. He said that is self-defeating. It is unproductive. He said, now that we are in a recession, frankly, unemployment compensation benefits should not be paid for.
Who is Mark Zandi? Mark Zandi is a moderate economist, very well respected by Senators on both sides of the aisle. He also was the adviser for Presidential candidate John McCain--Mark Zandi was. The point is, clearly, he is not a liberal, leftwing economist. I don't know even now if he is a moderate economist. But whatever he is--moderate, leftwing or liberal--he is an economist, and he has worked for Presidential candidate John McCain. He volunteered today on the record at
the Finance Committee hearing that it would not be wise to pay for unemployment benefits at this time because that would be self-defeating.
I suggest the absence of a quorum.