Sep 27 2008
Parochial Interests Prevent Congressional Leaders From Doing America's Business
FY 2009 Continuing Resolution
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Serious concerns with the economy should turn the attention of Congress away from parochial interests toward national interests.
Congress has focused on parochial interests for far too long, spending more time securing earmarks than doing the business of the American people.
Our nation faces an economic challenge today equal to any challenge we have previously faced and now requires our full attention.
The following snapshot of our economy should impress upon everyone the seriousness of the job ahead. The national debt currently stands at over $9.58 trillion, the largest in World history.
This year’s deficit, in real accounting terms, stands above $600 billion.
This year alone, taxpayers will spend more than $230 billion just to pay the interest on the national debt.
Since 2006, gas has risen from $2.24 per gallon to nearly $4 a gallon.
More Americans are out of work; the unemployment rate has increased from 4.9 percent in January, to 6.1 percent in August.
In 2008, over 600,000 jobs have been lost.
According to USDA projections, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food is forecast to increase 4.5 to 5.5 percent in 2008. For example, since 2006 the price of milk has increased approximately 16%.
According to Reuters news service, the total tab for government rescues and special loan facilities this year is more than $900 billion, not including the proposed $700 rescue of the financial markets in the Paulson Plan.
Already this year, the federal government has taken drastic steps to stabilize the economy, all using taxpayer dollars. While several of these amounts may be fully repaid to taxpayers, they involve huge liabilities and expenditures:
· $200 billion was authorized for use in rescuing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Treasury will inject up to $100 billion into each institution by purchasing preferred stock to shore up their capital as needed.
· $300 billion for the Federal Housing Administration to refinance failing mortgage into new reduced-principal loans with a federal guarantee.
· $4 billion in HUD grants to banks to help them buy and repair homes abandoned due to mortgage foreclosures.
· $85 billion loan from the Fed for AIG, which would give the federal government a 79.9 percent stake and avoid a bankruptcy filing for the embattled insurer.
· At least $87 billion in repayments to JPMorgan Chase & Co for providing financing to underpin trades with units of bankrupt investment bank Lehman Brothers.
· $29 billion in financing from the Fed for JPMorgan Chases’ government-brokered buyout of Bear Stearns & Co in March.
· At least $200 billion of currently outstanding loans to banks issued through the Federal Reserve’s Term Auction Facility, which was recently expanded to allow for longer loans of 84 days alongside the previous 28-day credits.
Starting last year, Social Security and Medicare projected expenditures exceed revenues. Over the next 75 years, this will cost $41 trillion in present value terms.
Of that amount, $34 trillion is related to Medicare and $7 trillion to Social Security.
By one account, the current unfunded liabilities of Medicare and Social Security are above $100 trillion.
If we think that the current economic troubles are a concern, wait until the bill comes due for all of the reckless spending Congress is engaging in today.
Members should focus like a laser on these issues rather than concentrate their efforts on political games and earmarks.
Instead of doing any of this, Congress is now planning to ram through an irresponsible continuing resolution to keep the government operation during fiscal year 2009.
None of these issues are addressed in the bill, but only compound the problems – Congress seems to have not learned its lesson.
The appropriations process is broken and excludes members from considering serious issues.
The Senate is preparing to vote on an appropriations bill that will cost $634 billion, which will include funds for all of our national security agencies, disaster relief and a continuing resolution for the 2009 fiscal year.
Yet, the text of the bill only came available late on Tuesday night, with no one having seen a word of it except for a few Democratic staff and members in the House.
Further still, a joint explanatory statement was released yesterday afternoon
This must be what the House Appropriations Committee meant when he said that the Continuing Resolution would be drafted in “secret.”
The following is an excerpt from an article yesterday in Bloomberg News:
The plan outlined by Obey would give Republicans less than 24 hours to scrutinize legislation spending more than $600 billion on the defense, homeland security and veterans' affairs agencies including thousands of pet projects known as earmarks.
Asked if the process of has been secretive, Obey said: ``You're d**n right it has because if it's done in the public it would never get done.'' He said he wanted to avoid his colleagues' ``pontificating'' on the content of the legislation, saying ``that's what politicians do when this stuff is done in full view of the press.'' He said ``we've done this the old fashioned way by brokering agreements in order to get things done and I make no apology for it.''
It is easy to understand why the House Appropriations Chairman would want to conduct his business in secret, as one who received $51.5 million in earmarks for his district.
The one constitutional duty of the Congress is to pass legislation funding the operations of government, and yet this duty has been entirely abandoned by the majority.
Congress is now less than one week away from the beginning of fiscal year 2009, and yet it has not passed one appropriations bill.
The only bill to receive a vote by either body is the Military Construction – Veterans Affairs appropriations bill that passed the House of Representatives.
No appropriations bills have even been brought to the floor of the Senate during the entire calendar year 2008 thus far – though the Senate is now expected to vote on three of the largest bills having had 36 hours to review the $634 million in spending they contain.
The appropriations process should have begun long ago – it is unfair to taxpayers when Congress chooses to pass large spending legislation in the dark of night rather than debate them for all to see.
Congress now finds itself considering major national security legislation in one day under pressure of both a government shutdown and delay on an important piece of economic legislation.
Had the Majority Leader taken action earlier this year, members would be free to concentrate fully on the Treasury Proposal. Instead, they are distracted by making sure that their earmarks and pork-barrel projects are in the CR.
The CR has been loaded down with billions of dollars in wasteful earmarks.
Despite having had only one and a half days to look over the bill, it is plain that there are a large number of highly questionable earmarks set to receive funding in 2009.
In just the three appropriations bills for the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs/Military Construction, there are 2,627 earmarks worth $16.1 billion dollars.
This means that without even funding the remaining nine appropriations bills, Congress has nearly reached the dollar value of all earmarks in fiscal year 2008.
According to Citizens Against Government Waste, there were 11,620 earmarks worth $17.2 billion for all 12 appropriations bills in 2008.
In fiscal year 2008, the average dollar amount of each earmark was $1.48 million dollars.
In the continuing resolution before the Senate, the average dollar amount for each earmark is $6.1 million – more than five times higher.
Every dollar that goes to an earmark in this bill is a dollar that will not go to important national security programs at the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense.
What kind of projects are receiving earmarked funds out our national security agencies in 2009?
$3.2 million for the High Altitude Airship (Rep. Sherrod Brown)
· After spending millions to investigate and develop a blimp-based platform for ICBM surveillance, the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) cancelled the program—called the High Altitude Airship—due to a myriad of capability limitations.
· MDA did not request funding for the program for FY08. However, $2.5 million in earmarks in the 2008 Defense Appropriations bill revived the cancelled program, despite the fact that no one else at the Pentagon had expressed interest.
· After shopping the program around, Lockheed Martin managed to pass the program to Army Space and Missile Defense Command, which will now begin investigating if there is any utility for them with the program.
· The project has been based in Akron, OH, funded by a $1M earmark toward the program by Sen. Brown, who has a long record in opposition to missile defense.
$2 million for Hibernation Genomics (Sen. Ted Stevens)
· This earmark would provide funding to the University of Alaska for research into the hibernation genomics of Alaskan ground squirrels.
· University of Alaska lobbyist, Martha Stewart (no relation), claims that the research into squirrel hibernation will one day help wounded soldiers in the battlefield.
· According to Ms. Stewart, the University is well equipped to do the work. She insists: “We have a number of ground squirrels that are in various stages of hibernation in Fairbanks.”
$800,000 for the Columbia College Chicago Construct Program (Sen. Dick Durbin)
· Columbia College claims to be the “nation’s largest private arts and media school in the nation.”
· It offers a wide selection of coursework in audio arts, dance, film, journalism, poetry and radio.
· According to the school’s annual report, it received $2.7 million in federal grants during 2007 from the Department of Education, U.S. Army Research Laboratory, Corporation for National and Community Service, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Health and Human Services.
· Since 2000, Columbia College Chicago has received over $275 million in grants, cooperative agreements and direct payments from the federal government.
$800,000 for Partnership in Innovative Preparation for Educators and Students and the Space Education Consortium (Sen. Wayne Allard, Sen. Ken Salazar)
· The Space Education Consortium was created by the Air Force in 2004 as a partnership with the University of Colorado and others to promote science education for professionals as well a “getting space technology and curriculum infused throughout the U.S. education system from kindergarten to post-graduate work.
· "It is a chance to grow a cadre of space professionals from the launch pad to the stars," said Air Force General Lance Lord, commander of the Air Force Space Command.
· A July 2008 report by the DOD Inspector General stated that this earmark was not consistent with the Department’s mission "to provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country."
$24.5 million for the National Drug Intelligence Center (Rep. John Murtha)
· Every year, millions of dollars for our national defense are siphoned away from the military’s budget to pay for a single program administered not by the Pentagon, but by the Department of Justice.
· This funding is directed to the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), which the Department of Justice has asked Congress to shut down.
· The former director of NDIC even confessed to U.S. News, “I recognized that a lot of [NDIC] reports were God-awful, poorly written, poorly researched, and, in some cases, wrong.”
· Another former director even admitted, “I’ve never come to terms with the justification for the NDIC” and “the bottom line was that we had to actually search for a mission.”
· According to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office, NDIC duplicates the activities of 19 drug intelligence centers that already existed.
· Since 1992, the center has received over $500 million in federal funding.
$15 million for Waterbury Industrial Commons Redevelopment Initiative (Sen. Joe Lieberman, Rep. Chris Murphy
· According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, “This would clean up a decades old munitions factory to be used as a city-owned industrial park.”
· The Fairfield Weekly reports that the State of Connecticut has turned down requests to fund this project – each year the Mayor of Waterbury “makes the trip to Hartford seeking the money, and each year comes back empty-handed.”
· Why should the American taxpayer fund that which State of Connecticut will not provide funding?
$4 million to the Go For Broke National Education Center
· This earmark is aptly named in light of the fact that Congress is helping the nation “go broke.”
$9.9 million for the U.S.S. Missouri Memorial Association
· Visitors can go aboard the battleship from World War II that survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
· While preserving the nation’s history is important, this is not only something that could be funded privately, it is not a priority at this time.
$1.6 million for New Electronic Warfare Specialists Through Advanced Research by Students (Rep. David Hobson)
$4.5 million for the 2010 Olympics Coordination Center (Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Rick Larsen)
$800,000 Pseudofoliculitis Barbae (PFB) Topical Treatment – this goes to ISW Group in St. Louis, MO (Sen. Kit Bond)
$10 million for the Intrepid Museum Foundation
$4 million for the Nimitz Center
$1.2 million for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute for International Affairs 1,200,000 (Rep. Berman)
$10 million for the New Mexico State University Institute for Defense and Public Policy (Sen. Jeff Bingaman)
 Information obtained at www.USASpending.gov.