Obama Scandalsby Senator John Cornyn
Posted on 2013-05-15
CORNYN. Mr. President, like millions of Americans, the events of
the last few days and the last few months have caused me to reflect on
the nature of our Federal Government and our special system of
federalism which delegates to the Federal Government certain powers but
reserves to the States and the people those remaining powers. That is
roughly what the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says.
I have also reflected a little bit on what some wise people have said over our history, and even before America was founded, about the nature of power, government power: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Our Founders pointed out in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere that the concentration of power in the hands of the few is the very definition of tyranny. We have learned from hard experience over the course of our Nation's history that when government thinks it knows best, particularly here in Washington, in a country as big and diverse as ours, the natural tendency then in Washington is to try to suppress the voices of those who see things differently, those who want to exercise their constitutional rights, particularly to free speech, freedom of association, and, yes, even freedom of the press.
It is not true to say we have not been warned about the dangers of concentration of power in the Federal Government, and big government, and the human frailties that follow. We have been warned time and time and time again. Now we have been reminded once again of the wisdom of our Founders and the wisdom of the structure of the U.S. Constitution.
Over the last week a series of events has highlighted the administration's massive credibility gap. First, we learned more details about the coordinated attempt to misrepresent the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. You may recall immediately after that attack the President was at a press conference, and he said later: Well, I said it was a terrorist attack then. That was reviewed by the Fact Checker in the Washington Post--hardly an unsympathetic newspaper editorially to the administration's point of view--and the Fact Checker gave the President of the United States four Pinocchios. Some ask why four Pinocchios? I think the true answer is because they never give five Pinocchios--maybe they do--but you get the point.
Of course we cannot escape the fact and we should not ignore the fact that this attack took four American lives.
Then we learned this last week that a senior IRS official had acknowledged that her agency deliberately targeted certain political speech and activity for harassment, using the instruments of power given to the Internal Revenue Service. Perhaps the most awesome, pervasive, and potentially intrusive power the Federal Government has is in the hands of that agency. Interestingly, the White House counsel said she learned about it in April. The President said he did not learn about it until later. An investigation needs to be undertaken, and I am happy Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Orrin Hatch, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, have committed themselves to doing an investigation of the IRS and how this could possibly happen.
On top of all that, the top administrator of Health and Human Services, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, has been soliciting funds from the very industries she regulates to help implement ObamaCare. It does not take a rocket scientist to imagine the potential for coercion by the government of these private sector industries because of their fear of retribution if they do not contribute to this effort--a huge conflict of interest, and perhaps illegal. We need to get to the bottom of that as well.
So whether the issue is terrorist attacks in Libya, political and partisan abuses by the IRS, or efforts by the Department of Health and Human Services to shake down the health insurance industry they regulate, it appears the birds the Founders warned us about have come home to roost.
The concentration of government power invariably leads to abuse of that power, and it is the same old story of human frailties over and over. It is no respecter of political parties; it has happened to both political parties. We should have been more careful, and we should have listened. We should not have persistently engaged in this power grab in Washington, DC, at the expense of individual liberty on the part of the American people.
What is the price to be paid by these scandals? The first price is a lack of credibility and public confidence in the most basic institutions that make up this government. The other damage is to the credibility of folks at the highest level of the administration. After all, if the administration is willing to prevaricate, mislead, and dissemble [[Page S3441]] about an al-Qaida-linked attack in Benghazi that cost the lives of four Americans, what else are they willing to prevaricate, mislead, and dissemble about? Can the public trust this administration and its government to provide accurate information about the war on terror or anything else? Similarly, if IRS officials knew their agency was targeting certain political activity and failed then to hold anyone accountable, how can the American people ever trust the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Government to be neutral and law abiding? I heard the junior Senator from Virginia, Senator Kaine, on the radio as I came in this morning. I thought he asked a pretty good question. He said: What does it take to get fired in this town? What does it take to get fired in this administration for coverups and for misleading the American people? If Secretary Sebelius is willing to strong-arm the very industry she regulates to fund the implementation of ObamaCare, can the American people trust her agency to be objective, evenhanded, and fair-minded as a regulator? All this boils down to a very sad statistic that demonstrates that the public's confidence in the Federal Government--and particularly in Congress--is at an all-time low.
This is not the end of the story, and it should not be the end of the story. That ought to be the beginning of a bipartisan effort to get to the bottom of these abuses and also to restore ourselves to the constitutional framework our Founding Fathers envisioned when this great experiment of democracy was created more than 200 years ago. It wasn't a national government that dictated to the rest of the country how we should run our lives and what choices we should make; it was a Federal system of separated powers with checks and balances, with authority given to the Federal Government to do things that individuals and the States could not do by themselves, such as national defense. We have gotten far afield from the Framers' vision of how our country should operate or from the constitutional system they created and which we celebrate.
Now, more than ever, Washington needs credibility. If we don't have the public's trust, how in the world will we gain their confidence that we are going to address the many challenges our country faces? I am not pessimistic about our future, I am optimistic about our future, but it will take a change of attitude.
We will need a change of behavior so we can, in some sense, return to the Founders' philosophy on the framework and the structure in which our government operates. The Federal Government has said for too long: We know best; if you don't like it, it is because we have not given you enough information to convince you to like it. We take policies that are unpopular and merely shove them down the throat of the American people and think we are doing our job.
We know we have huge challenges which call on us to work together on a bipartisan basis to regain the public's confidence. I know we can do it. It is a matter of whether we have the political courage and the will to do it.
Here are some of those challenges: The longest period of high unemployment since the Great Depression. We have the largest percentage of the American workforce that simply has given up and quit looking for jobs because the economy is so weak.
The second challenge is a woefully unpopular health care law that even some of the architects of that law now say they see a train wreck occurring in its implementation.
We know our world continues to be dangerous, as Benghazi reminds us, and as we see from murderers, such as Bashar al-Asad in Syria, and people who threaten the innocent. There are people who have chemical weapons. There are people who are fighting for their very lives in places like Syria. Iran is on the pathway to develop a nuclear weapon which will completely disrupt the balance of power in the Middle East and create an arms race, while other countries seek their own nuclear weapons.
Let's not forget Iran was the primary state sponsor of international terrorism with its support for Hezbollah, among others. We have seen in North Africa and elsewhere the proliferation of al-Qaida affiliates and allies. We also need to fix our broken immigration system.
None of these individually are easy things to do. All of them are hard, but they are not impossible if we will try to work hard to regain the public's credibility. We simply need to do our work and respect the wisdom of the ages when it comes to concentration of power and its impact on individual liberty.
We have to be aware of temptations. When power is absolute, we need to see that power is corrupt and be aware of the abuse of that power when it comes to dealing with the American people.
Unfortunately, so far, the Obama administration has valued its agenda more than its credibility. Without regaining credibility, we will never regain the public's trust, and without that trust it will be much harder to solve America's biggest problems. That is the biggest single challenge to President Obama's second-term agenda and to our ability as Americans to show that this 200-plus-year experiment in self-government actually works.
I yield the floor.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Oregon.