Tom Coburn on Government Reform
Republican Jr Senator; previously Representative (OK-2)
The hotline was created to quickly dispatch innocuous and noncontroversial motions, such as naming post offices or moving along perfunctory resolutions. 80% of hotlined bills fit this mold. However, the process has expanded to pass not just mundane bills but an enormous amount of costly and significant legislation.
As I came to understand how broken the hotline process had become, at the beginning of each Congress I began sending my colleagues a letter explaining my intention to not grant unanimous consent or "hold" bills that are unconstitutional or spend new money that is not offset.
Our sustainable debt is the real wake up. It should prompt us to stop spending money we don't have on things we don't need. We can start by clearing away duplicative programs instead of creating new ones.
When the GAO report was initially released, both sides of the aisle viewed it was an unbiased and authoritative call to action.
Rethinking the role of government means having a national debate over who got it right: our Founders, or today's big-spending Washington politicians who are always wanting to expand government?
Throughout our federal government, duplicative and wasteful spending continues to crowd out private investment, dampens innovation, and leaves us with nothing but staggering debt.
"This report confirms what most American assume about their government. We are spending trillions of dollars every year and nobody knows what we are doing. The executive branch doesn't know. The congressional branch doesn't know. Nobody knows," Coburn said.
Here are just a few of the findings and examples of duplication, mismanagement, and waste in the federal budget as exposed by Coburn's report:
"In addition to being an unconstitutional perversion of our duties, earmarks also drive spending higher and distract Congress from its oversight responsibilities. Earmarks are the gateway drug to spending addiction in Congress because they encourage members of Congress to vote for bloated bills they would otherwise oppose. Earmarks also waste money outright, contrary to the views of many members. If Congress stopped earmarking we could reduce spending by the same amount. We are not helpless victims to the budget rules we set for ourselves. Plus, the effective legislator is not one who sends money back to his to her state through pork. Instead, the effective legislator is one who prevents money from leaving their state."
I began my political career believing earmarking was a harmless and important way to represent my district. After a few years in Congress, my mind began to change as I saw the damage the practice of earmarking was doing to our government and country. It became clear that asking for earmarks for my state stood in direct contradiction to my solemn oath to defend the Constitution.
A: The Republican Congress had agreed with Bush that weíd have a Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Immediately thereafter, they spent $27 billion we didnít have. Iíve put every project in that bill that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation asked me to put in that bill. I was then offered a bribe by the committee to vote for the bill, I could have $15 million to spend wherever I wanted to. I donít believe thatís the kind of government we want. Thatís what weíre seeing in Congress now with some of the ethical problems there. In fact, when the bill came through, I did vote against it, but I made sure that every bit of that money went to Oklahoma, including the $15 million bribe. I drive on Oklahoma roads. I have grandchildren on Oklahoma roads. Theyíre vitally important to me.
Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Rep. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D, FL-20): We, as Members of Congress, have responsibility not just for the institution, but for the staff that work for this institution, and to preserve the facilities that help support this institution. We have endeavored to do that responsibly, and I believe we have accomplished that goal.
Opponent's argument to vote No:Rep. SCALISE (R, LA-1): It's a sad day when someone attempts to cut spending in a bill that grows government by the size of 7%, and it's not allowed to be debated on this House floor. Some of their Members actually used the term "nonsense" and "foolishness" when describing our amendments to cut spending; they call that a delaying tactic. Well, I think Americans all across this country want more of those types of delaying tactics to slow down this runaway train of massive Federal spending. Every dollar we spend from today all the way through the end of this year is borrowed money. We don't have that money. We need to control what we're spending.
Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Sen. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT): I am cosponsoring the legislation to provide a House seat for DC and an additional House seat for Utah. Representation and suffrage are so central to the American system of self-government that America's founders warned that limiting suffrage would risk another revolution and could prevent ratification of the Constitution. The Supreme Court held in 1820 that Congress' legislative authority over DC allows taxation of DC. Do opponents of giving DC a House seat believe that DC is suitable for taxation but not for representation?
Opponent's argument to vote No:Sen. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): I make a constitutional point of order against this bill on the grounds that it violates article I, section 2, of the Constitution. I appreciate the frustration felt by the residents of DC at the absence of a vote in Congress. According to many experts, DC is not a State, so therefore is not entitled to that representation. Also, one has to raise the obvious question: If DC is entitled to a Representative, why isn't Puerto Rico, which would probably entail 9 or 10 Members of Congress? [With regards to the seat for Utah], this is obviously partisan horse-trading.
Opponents recommend voting NO because:
Sen. BYRD: In 1978, I voted for H.J. Res. 554, that proposed amending the Constitution to provide for representation of D.C. [That amendment passed the Senate but was not ratified by the States]. While I recognize that others believe that the Constitution authorizes the Congress to "exercise exclusive legislation" over D.C., the historical intent of the Founders on this point is unclear. I oppose S.1257, because I doubt that our Nation's Founding Fathers ever intended that the Congress should be able to change the text of the Constitution by passing a simple bill.
Proponents support voting YES because:
Sen. HATCH. There are conservative and liberal advocates on both sides of this issue,and think most people know Utah was not treated fairly after the last census. For those who are so sure this is unconstitutional, [we include an] expedited provision that will get us to the Supreme Court to make an appropriate decision. It will never pass as a constitutional amendment. There are 600,000 people in D.C., never contemplated by the Founders of this country to be without the right to vote. They are the only people in this country who do not have a right to vote for their own representative in the House. This bill would remedy that situation.
Proponents support voting YES because:
Sen. DOLE. I am proposing a commonsense measure to uphold the integrity of Federal elections. My amendment to require voters to show photo identification at the polls would go a long way in minimizing potential for voter fraud. When a fraudulent vote is cast and counted, the vote of a legitimate voter is cancelled. This is wrong, and my amendment would help ensure that one of the hallmarks of our democracy, our free and fair elections, is protected. Opinion polls repeatedly confirm that Americans overwhelmingly support this initiative.
Opponents recommend voting NO because:
Sen. FEINSTEIN. If one would want to suppress the vote in the 2008 election, one would vote for this because this measure goes into effect January 1, 2008. It provides that everybody who votes essentially would have to have a photo ID. If you want to suppress the minority vote, the elderly vote, the poor vote, this is exactly the way to do it. Many of these people do not have driver's licenses. This amendment would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to actually carry out. It goes into effect--surprise--January 1, 2008 [to affect the presidential election]. I urge a "no" vote.
For example, I am a big fan of McDonald's. What about the kids working behind the counter? Would they be considered registered lobbyists because McDonald's has lobbyists? Would I not be able to go to lunch with my longtime friend who owns 12 McDonald's?
OFFICIAL CONGRESSIONAL SUMMARY: A bill to prohibit Federal agencies from obligating funds for appropriations earmarks included only in congressional reports.
SPONSOR'S INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: Sen. McCAIN: This bill would prohibit Federal agencies from obligating funds which have been earmarked only in congressional reports. This legislation is designed to help reign in unauthorized, unrequested, run-of-the-mill pork barrel projects.
Report language does not have the force of law. That fact has been lost when it comes to appropriations bills and reports. It has become a standard practice to load up committee reports with literally billions of dollars in unrequested, unauthorized, and wasteful pork barrel projects.
We simply must start making some very tough decisions around here if we are serious about improving our fiscal future. It is simply not fiscally responsible for us to continue to load up appropriations bills with wasteful and unnecessary spending, and good deals for special interests and their lobbyists. We have had ample opportunities to tighten our belts in this town in recent years, and we have taken a pass each and every time. We can't put off the inevitable any longer.
LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Referred to Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management & Government Information; hearings held; never came to a vote.
OFFICIAL CONGRESSIONAL SUMMARY: A bill to provide greater accountability of taxpayers' dollars by curtailing congressional earmarking.
SPONSOR'S INTRODUCTORY REMARKS: Sen. McCAIN: This bipartisan bill changes the Senate rules to allow points of order to be raised against unauthorized appropriations and policy riders in appropriations bills and conference reports in an effort to reign in wasteful pork barrel spending.
In 1994, there were 4,126 Congressional earmarks added to the annual appropriations bills. In 2005, there were 15,877 earmarks, the largest number yet, that's an increase of nearly 300%! The level of funding associated with those earmarks has more than doubled from $23 billion in 1994 to $47 billion in 2005.
Our bill would establish a new procedure which would allow a 60-vote point of order to be raised against specific provisions that contain unauthorized appropriations, including earmarks, as well as unauthorized policy changes in appropriations bills and conference reports. Successful points of order would not kill a conference report, but the targeted provisions would be removed from the conference report.
To ensure that Members are given enough time to review appropriations bills, our proposal would also require that conference reports be available at least 48 hours prior to floor consideration.
To promote transparency, our bill requires that any earmarks included in a bill be disclosed fully in the bill's accompanying report, along with the name of the Member who requested the earmark and its essential governmental purpose.
LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME:Referred to Senate Committee on Rules and Administration; never came to a vote.
Makes it unlawful for anyone before or during a federal election to knowingly communicate false election-related information about that election, with the intent to prevent another person from exercising the right to vote. Increases from one year to five years' imprisonment the criminal penalty for intimidation of voters.
Introductory statement by Sponsor:
Sen. OBAMA: This bill seeks to address the all-too-common efforts to deceive voters in order to keep them away from the polls. It's hard to imagine that we even need a bill like this. But, unfortunately, there are people who will stop at nothing to try to deceive voters and keep them away from the polls. What's worse, these practices often target and exploit vulnerable populations, such as minorities, the disabled, or the poor. We saw countless examples in this past election.
A bill to improve procedures for the collection and delivery of absentee ballots of absent overseas uniformed services voters. Congress makes the following findings:
The Contract from America, clause 1. Protect the Constitution:
Require each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill does.
The Contract from America, clause 5. Restore Fiscal Responsibility & Constitutionally Limited Government in Washington:
Create a Blue Ribbon taskforce that engages in a complete audit of federal agencies and programs, assessing their Constitutionality,
The Contract from America, clause 9. Stop the Pork:
Place a moratorium on all earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then require a 2/3 majority to pass any earmark.
Congressional summary:: Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act: Requires the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) standards and definitions in effect on January 1, 2010, for determining whether an organization qualifies for tax-exempt status as an organization operated exclusively for social welfare to apply to such determinations after enactment of this Act. Prohibits any regulation, or other ruling, not limited to a particular taxpayer relating to such standards and definitions.
Proponent's argument in favor (Heritage Action, Feb. 26, 2014): H.R. 3865 comes in the wake of an attack on the Tea Party and other conservative organizations. The current IRS regulation is so broad and ill-defined that the IRS applies a "facts and circumstances" test to determine what constitutes "political activity" by an organization. This test can vary greatly depending on the subjective views of the particular IRS bureaucrat applying the test. IRS employees took advantage of this vague and subjective standard to unfairly delay granting tax-exempt status to Tea Party organizations and subject them to unreasonable scrutiny.
Text of sample IRS letter to Tea Party organizations:We need more information before we can complete our consideration of your application for exemption. Please provide the information requested on the enclosed Information Request by the response due date. Your response must be signed by an authorized person or officer whose name is listed on your application.
A bill to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to establish standards for the distribution of voter registration application forms and to require organizations to register with the State prior to the distribution of such forms.
Establishes criminal penalties for: (1) individuals not meeting such standards; and (2) anyone who employs such an individual knowingly, or who should reasonably be expected to know the individual is ineligible.
A bill to require Congress to specify the source of authority under the United States Constitution for the enactment of laws.
Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise explanation of the specific constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The failure to comply with this section shall give rise to a point of order in either House of Congress. The availability of this point of order does not affect any other available relief.
Constitutional Authority for This Act: This Act proposes to establish new procedures by which legislation shall be considered by Congress and is enacted pursuant to the power granted Congress under article I, section 5, clause 2, of the United States Constitution establishing that each House may determine the rules of its proceedings.
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Retiring in 2014 election:
Retired as of Jan. 2013:
Senate races Nov. 2016:
AK: Murkowski(R) vs.Begich(D) vs.Lamb(R)
AL: Shelby(R) vs.Crumpton(D) vs.Bowman(R)
AR: Boozman(R) vs.Eldridge(D) vs.Gilbert(L) vs.
AZ: McCain(R) vs.Ward(R) vs.Kirkpatrick(D) vs.Mealer(I)
CA: Sanchez(D) vs.Harris(D) vs.Chavez(R) vs.Del Beccaro(R) vs.Sundheim(R) vs.Brannon(R)
CO: Bennet(D) vs.Glenn(R) vs.Neville(R) vs.Frazier(R) vs.Keyser(R) vs.Littleton(R)
CT: Blumenthal(D) vs.Kudlow(R) vs.Wolf(R) vs.
FL: Jolly(R) vs.DeSantis(R) vs.Cantera(R) vs.Murphy(D) vs.Grayson(D) vs.Keith(D)
GA: Isakson(R) vs.
HI: Schatz(D) vs.Hanabusa(D)
IA: Grassley(R) vs.Fiegen(D) vs.Hogg(D) vs.Krause(D) vs.Culver(D)
ID: Crapo(R) vs.LaRocco(D) vs.Minnick(D)
IL: Kirk(R) vs.Harris(D) vs.Zopp(D) vs.Duckworth(D)
IN: Stutzman(R) vs.Hill(D) vs.Holcomb(R) vs.Young(R) vs.
KY: Paul(R) vs.Conway(D) vs.Chandler(D)
LA: Fleming(R) vs.Boustany(R) vs.Maness(R) vs.Kennedy(D) vs.Cao(R) vs.McAllister(R)
MD: Edwards(D) vs.Van Hollen(D) vs.Flowers(G) vs.Szeliga(R) vs.Douglas(R) vs.Steele(R)
MO: Blunt(R) vs.Kander(D)
NC: Burr(R) vs.Rey(D) vs.Ross(D) vs.Wright(R) vs.
NH: Ayotte(R) vs.Hassan(D) vs.
NV: Cortez-Masto(D) vs.Heck(R) vs.Angle(R) vs.
NY: Schumer(D) vs.King(R) vs.Gibson(R)
OH: Portman(R) vs.Strickland(D) vs.Sittenfeld(D)
OK: Lankford(R) vs.Johnson(D)
OR: Wyden(D) vs.Stine(D) vs.Callahan(R)
PA: Toomey(R) vs.Stern(R) vs.Sestak(D) vs.McGinty(D) vs.Fetterman(D)
SC: Scott(R) vs.Dickerson(D)
SD: Thune(R) vs.Herseth-Sandlin(D)
UT: Lee(R) vs.Swinton(D)
WA: Murray(D) vs.Vance(R)
WI: Johnson(R) vs.Feingold(D) vs.Lorge(R)
Senate Votes (analysis)
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