Federal Spendingby Senator Daniel Coats
Posted on 2013-02-04
COATS. Mr. President, I come to the Senate floor today, as I have
virtually every day since we have been back in session, to address what
is perhaps the most critical question facing this Nation: how to rein
in the out-of-control Federal spending that threatens to bankrupt the
country and saddle future generations with a burden of
debt that will dramatically reduce the quality of their lives.
Yesterday morning on ABC's ``This Week with George Stephanopoulos,'' Senate Majority Leader Reid claimed: ``The American people need to understand that it's not as if we've done nothing for the debt.'' I would argue that the American people do understand, but what they disagree with is the majority leader's statement that we have done something to reduce the debt we are accumulating at a record rate. We all know we are spending nearly $40,000 of taxpayer money per second. We know it has now been 1,377 days since we passed a budget in the Senate or one has even been offered by the Democratic leadership. Our debt continues to accumulate and now stands at nearly $16.5 trillion, and anybody who looks at the debt clock sees that the numbers are rotating faster than the eye can see. So, no, I don't agree. I don't think we have done much to address our debt. And rather than recognize the real problem of our debt, which is spending, the majority leader talked about the need for yet more taxes and higher revenues.
After all the debate about making the wealthy pay more in order to pay down our debt, the fiscal cliff deal barely changed the Nation's long-term fiscal outlook, particularly if spending continues on its present course.
A report from the Peterson Foundation released this week puts U.S. debt on a track to reach 200 percent of gross domestic product by 2040. Keep in mind that many respected economists--economists without a partisan position to promote, those who have looked at this impartially--have said to us that historically, without exception, once a nation's debt reaches 90 percent of GDP, it becomes very damaging to the economy, and it is something I believe we are now experiencing the early phases of in America. So 200 percent of GDP, if we stay on the present course, will take this country and our economy down, and it will take away our ability to provide the needed and necessary functions of the Federal Government.
The plain fact is that our debt is going to continue to spiral upward until Washington tackles its spending addiction.
The President and some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are claiming that in the last few years they have already cut the budget to the bone. These so-called savings they talk about are savings anticipated by drawing down troops in Afghanistan and Iraq that are already set to wind down. So we can't just simply say: Well, we have solved the problem because we are now going to take this money which we anticipate we won't have to spend.
By the way, that assumes there will be no more overseas contingent operations that will have to take place in the next 10 years. If we look at what is happening around the world, if we look at the instability and threats that are happening around the world, it is pretty hard to assume we simply don't or won't need to spend any money over the next 10 years to address something that is a direct threat to the United States.
All of this basically says it is pretty hard to take seriously the suggestion by the majority leader and the President that we have done our job in cutting spending to reduce the debt.
If I were able to take the time to list the wasteful catalog of duplicative spending and wasteful spending of the taxpayer dollars on this floor, I would use up the rest of the day--and more. But let me mention a few examples from my colleague from Oklahoma, Senator Coburn, who I think has done this body and the American public a great service by delineating and outlining some of this unnecessary spending of taxpayer dollars and giving us a route and a roadmap and a pathway towards addressing unneeded wasteful spending of tax dollars, particularly at a time when we are having to borrow nearly 40 percent or more in order to keep our government functioning. This spending Senator Coburn has listed comes out of official government reports--the Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Research Service, and other government entities. These have been documented by our own official national government agencies: There is $1.6 billion spent annually to maintain unneeded Federal property. If it is unneeded, why do we have to maintain it year after year at a cost of $1.6 billion? Let's put a ``for sale'' sign up there and receive some revenue from these assets that are documented as being unneeded.
Another $1.6 billion is spent by the Federal Government to provide free cell phone service. Now, the Congress passed legislation for certain categories of low-income people to receive free cell phones. Whether you are for that or against that or voted for it or voted against it, what has been laid out here is the fact that many of these phones are going to people who don't qualify for this handout, and hundreds of thousands of those go to people who already have at least one phone. Offer somebody a free second phone, and they are going to grab it. But do they need it, and does the taxpayer need to pay for it? Also, $50 million of taxpayer money went to the IRS for a public relations effort to try to improve its image with taxpayers. Good luck with that PR program. I think we know their opinion of the IRS. And is this really a necessary expenditure? The IRS sent a prisoner who filed a bogus tax return a refund for $327,456, and they even sent it to the correctional facility. You would think that somewhere along the line, somebody would say: Maybe we ought to look into this. Hopefully we will be able to get this one back, along with $30,000 that was sent to a jail where a murderer collected $30,000 in claimed unemployment benefits. Well, yes, he was unemployed, but that is not exactly what our unemployment system is designed to do. So while we are going after the $327,000, maybe we can collect this $30,000 on the way.
Every day we hear of reports of food stamps being used to pay for beer, cigarettes, cell phone bills, and even cars. That hardly needs to be mentioned because it is something we have come to understand--there is a lot of misuse of tax dollars.
On and on it goes, and I could list more and more.
Just the other day, Senator Coburn listed some duplicative programs, and he thought: Well, maybe we don't need multiple numbers of these. Maybe we can consolidate.
We have 18 domestic food assistance programs, 45 separate job- training programs. And I love this one, my personal favorite--more than 50 financial literacy programs provided by the Federal Government.
The first question we need to ask is what does the Federal Government have to say about financial literacy, given our current financial situation? Hopefully it is using its own dysfunction as an example of what not to do.
These outrageous spending items and duplicative Federal programs are not isolated examples. Just a few weeks ago the Treasury Department issued its year-end report for fiscal 2012. One of the bombshells in this report that has received virtually no coverage or commentary is the estimate by the Government Accountability Office that $108 billion was lost to improper payments by the Federal Government.
Since over one-third of all Federal spending wasn't even examined yet by the GAO, the total amount lost obviously will be much higher. The fact that this escaped the notice of much of the media and many of my colleagues is very telling. Unfortunately, we are so used to the notion of inefficient or wasteful Federal spending, a government report verifying over $100 billion in waste, fraud, and abuse doesn't even register.
When my colleagues come down to offer amendments and are voted down, amendments to offset spending for new programs such as disaster relief and a cacophony of rejections comes their way saying, ``How dare you even think about trying to offset this, you are taking money away from babies and children and mothers and essential functions of the Federal Government?'' Then you start to read down the list of wasteful programs and duplicative programs and they say they cannot come up with a dime to offset needed expenses.
Let me say we are not here to undermine or destroy the necessary function of running an efficient government. But the key word is efficient. We want to spend taxpayers' dollars in a way so taxpayers understand we are doing the [[Page S453]] best to spend their hard-earned dollars on essential programs.
I have suggested to the Appropriations Committee that each program for which we appropriate money be put through a system of what I call triage. We ask each agency before it presents its budget to us, annually, for the appropriations to pay for their expenses and distributions, that they first address this question: Is this an essential function of the Federal Government? Is this a function we might like to do but can no longer afford to do? And separate that from those we no longer need or never should have been put there in the first place.
At a time when we are suffering from the plunge into deficit spending and debt, should we not apply some standards and principles as to where and how we allocate funds that are sent to us by the taxpayer? I have asked each agency to do that. We have not received any reports back. All we hear, from a number of voices around the town, is: Oh, no, we cannot touch any of this; every dime we spend is absolutely necessary.
I think what Senator Coburn has begun to do and what I hope to do, and to work on with him and others, is to identify some of those areas and literally ask the question to my colleagues and to the American people: Do you think this is an essential function of the Federal Government? Is this something that maybe we would wish to do but do not have the money to do? Or is this something that, frankly, has not lived up to its promise, is wasting money, or is this something that never should have been passed in the first place? If we do not apply those principles to our future spending, we are going to continue down this road. We all know the big three--Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare--have to be reformed to save these programs, but have to be reformed because they are unsustainable in their current form. I will be talking much more about that later. But what I do want to acknowledge here today is that without getting to those programs, which we have to do if we are going to solve our long- term problem, we also need to seriously look at how we spend money on all the discretionary spending that comes before this body. We have to look at those things that simply do not measure up in terms of a responsible way of handling our taxpayer revenues.
I am going to continue coming to the floor, I am going to continue pointing out areas where I think we can save money, and continue to make the case that this Congress has not begun to do the job it needs to do in terms of dealing with our spending.
I yield the floor.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Maryland.