A picture of Senator Tom Coburn
Thomas C.
Former Republican OK
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    Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2013—Motion to Proceed—Continued

    by Former Senator Tom Coburn

    Posted on 2014-01-15

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    COBURN. Madam President, I came to the floor to spend some time on the unemployment insurance, but I have to comment, after hearing my colleague mention his esteemed favor of the bill that will be in front of us, I have to say my perspective is totally different.

    We have a 1,500-page bill that nobody has read, other than my staff, and we have read it completely and outlined it completely. We have a bill that is dishonest, because you still have changes in mandatory funding and programs and you create $17.9 billion out of nothing, which everybody on the Appropriations Committee knows allows you to spend $17.9 billion but not pay for, and you transfer that sleight of hand to our children.

    But it doesn't seem to bother anybody on the Appropriations Committee that we actually lie to the American public about how much we are actually going to spend. The bill actually spends about $63 billion, the way you have written it, more than we did last year--about 6\1/2\ or 7 percent. The bill is loaded with parochial benefits, which is the pleasure of the appropriators, I understand, but it doesn't pass muster in terms of no earmarks.

    But there is one point that I agree with. This has been an agreement between Republicans and Democrats to bring the bill to the floor. And it will pass because it is an agreement, because people did work together. Whether I like it or not, they worked together and came to a conclusion. The only problem is there are going to be no amendments, so no way to be honest with the American people on this $17.9 billion that is supposedly paid but isn't. It is truly an untruth. It is dishonest. It has no integrity with it whatsoever. It undermines every Senator up here who is going to vote for this bill because you say one thing and you are going to do exactly the opposite.

    I was just given a poll as of today. The No. 1 problem Americans see in our country is us--the U.S. Government. Twenty-one percent of the people in this country identify us as the problem. Is it any wonder, when we tell them we are going to do X and then we don't do X? For example: We had a budget agreement, and then we changed the budget agreement because we couldn't live within our means and we wouldn't raise the revenue to be able to do that. Then we come to a new budget agreement that is much higher--don't honor the previous budget agreement. Then we put an appropriations bill on the floor that is going to fund all the Federal Government until September 30 and nobody has totally read it. They pick out the things they like in it and then talk about it. Is it any wonder why 21 percent of the people think the Congress, politicians, poor leadership, corruption, and abuse of power in Washington are the No. 1 problem with our country? You know what. They are right. It is an abuse of power to vote for a bill that you know spends $18 billion--$17.9 billion--more than what you are telling the American people it is going to spend. You do it through sleight of hand, and you pass muster with the powers that be, but it is not honest with the American public. So we are going to do it again. We are not going to have a government shutdown, everybody is going to get to go home on break and spend a week away from here and say: Oh, look at us, we are not at loggerheads anymore.

    The only reason we are at loggerheads is because we have abandoned the process of the Senate through the majority leader who does not allow the Senate to force consensus. For the life of me, I don't understand why my colleagues on the other side of the aisle accept it. They get no amendments either. So we have 1 person out of 100 who decides what amendments will be acceptable and what will not.

    Jefferson has to be spinning in his grave because he wrote the original rules for the Senate. It had nothing to do with one person deciding. As a matter of fact, until 1917, one person stopped everything in the Senate if they didn't have consensus. So the whole goal was to trade what you would like to do to give somebody else [[Page S347]] the ability to do that. When we have a czar running the Senate, we no longer have that ability. The whole purpose for having a bicameral legislature, with a minority rights provision protecting it, was so we would generate consensus so that their views could then be sold to the American public.

    This isn't about me being able to offer an amendment. This is about the 4 million people in Oklahoma not having a say in the Senate. I mean, there are some bright people in Oklahoma who have some good ideas. But those ideas cannot be heard in this body anymore. They are not my ideas. It is not my vote. It is their vote. And yet 54 of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle acquiesced their right for their States to offer their State's ideas as we debate issues in this body. They give that away and say one person gets to decide. It has never been that way in the Senate--never before.

    The prime example of that is the unemployment bill. If this were really a priority for the majority leader, why are we doing it now instead of before it expired? All the weeks of time in quorum calls in the Senate we could have been doing this. It wasn't a priority. It is a political priority.

    I actually think we ought to extend the unemployment insurance, but I think we ought to do it in a smarter way, and I certainly think we ought to pay for it. I can sit and show $9 trillion of waste and spending reductions that 80 percent of average Americans would agree with. Yet we can't find $20-some billion out of all this mess of a Federal Government to help people who are not employed.

    My colleague from Delaware mentioned job training. The only thing that has happened based on the GAO reports of this government on duplication is that the House took it to heart and they took the job training programs and they converted the 47 job training programs, spending almost $30 billion a year, and they passed the SKILLS Act, which consolidated those into 6 programs that actually have metrics.

    When you study our job training programs, regardless of whether we fund them, here is what you find. All but three of them duplicate one another--all but three--and not one of them has a metric on whether they are actually training people to do a job, giving them a life skill. So the House passes that bill and we won't even take it up. You save money and you actually improve what the Federal Government is trying to do in terms of that. So if we were to expand unemployment insurance or continue the emergency in the sixth year, might we not want to do something about the quality of the jobs programs that are available for the people who are on unemployment? Might we also not want to give people back their dignity by having them do something in their community for the earning of that? There have been no tax dollars paid by any worker for this program. They didn't contribute anything to it through their past unemployment or FICA fees. Would we not do better if we did what Norway has done, where they show that people will start hunting for a job earlier if you plus up the benefits early and taper the benefits later so that they start looking for a job long before they run out of benefits? What the studies actually show, especially the three States that have now been disqualified from this, is their employment numbers went up, their unemployment went down, and the number of people needing assistance actually went down as well.

    So it is one thing to say we want to help people; it is totally different when it is all in a political contest about the next election.

    That brings me to my final point. I believe children need to have a good start toward school. But as the Senator from Delaware just mentioned, we are going to add $1 billion to Head Start, and that is going to give us 90,000 new kids in Head Start. If anybody does the math on that, $11,000 per year for a Head Start Program? Think about that. Give the money to the States and let them run it themselves outside of the Federal Government and they will do it for $4,000 or $5,000. Because it is a Federal program, it costs twice what it should. Or if you did it through the States, you could do $180,000 versus what we are doing.

    So we are going to have a debate. Hopefully we will get back to the unemployment insurance. But if we want to have that debate, it has to be paid for. We owe that to the very people we say we want to help. And, No. 2, you have to have the input of everybody, not just one person in the Senate.

    I will finish up by saying this: When you see this poll, where 21 percent of the country thinks the biggest problem in the country is us, the government--the corruption, the abuse of power, and the poor leadership are the specific things that were mentioned in this poll-- what we ought to do is look inside and ask ourselves: Why is that? That is because we concentrate on the political and not on the people. We use them as pawns to advantage our own political careers, our own elections, and the long-term best interests of the country get sacrificed. What this poll shows is the American people are pretty darned smart, because they see the problem, they know what it is, and they know what is going to happen.

    So we are going to pass a bill that is going to spend over $1 trillion, with all sorts of favors in there--not truly earmarks, but as close to them as you can come--with new programs by the appropriators instead of the authorizing committee. That is the other thing in this bill, programs written by the Appropriations Committee instead of the authorizing committee. We are going to pass this bill, and this number is going to jump from 21 percent to 25 percent.

    The jig is up. We can no longer come down here and say with honesty: Here is what we are doing. Because what we are doing is not honest. And what the American people are saying with this is: Integrity matters, straightforwardness matters, truth in budgeting and spending matters.

    At least if we are going to do this, let's own up to what we are doing. Let's not be dishonest with the American public about the numbers.

    Mr. President, I yield the floor The PRESIDING OFFICER (Mr. Coons). The Senator from Washington.

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