Comments by Tom A. Coburn, M.D., U.S. Senator from Oklahoma (R-Muskogee)
...As you may know, the Senate passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1) on February 10, 2009, by a vote of 61-37, and I was one of 37 senators who voted against this bill. I opposed this legislation because it represents the worst act of generational theft in our history. Our nation cannot afford to take on an additional trillion dollars in debt on a stimulus bill that will not only fail to stimulate the economy, but could also seriously delay our economic recovery.
As a nation, we got into our current economic difficulties by spending money we did not have on things we did not need and running up a debt that could not be repaid. We will not get out of it by having the government run up the debt by one trillion dollars or more. Yet this is precisely what this bill proposes to do. Less than 10% of the bill could be considered true stimulus, if one assumes tax credits and infrastructure spending will jolt the economy. The other 90% of the bill will go to special-interest programs and earmarks, an ill-conceived bailout to states, and permanent spending increases that expand government's reach in areas like health care and education.
Our nation simply cannot afford to spend our limited federal funds on a piece of legislation that has no guarantee of working. The national debt currently stands at over $10.6 trillion, the largest in the history of the world. This bill will add $10,800 of debt to every American family with little hope of a return on our investment. The bill's selling point is that three million jobs will be created or saved by this package. What is alarming is that each job will cost $286,000 to create or save. Moreover, one in five will be a government job.
One of the more disappointing aspects of the bill is that it is loaded with old-fashioned pork, despite President Barack Obama's insistence that members of Congress refrain from adding earmarks. In fact, the bill contains the most expensive earmark in history: $2 billion for a project known as FutureGen, a clean coal power plant in Matoon, IL, which even environmentalists say is a waste of money.
On top of this, there are countless examples of waste riddled throughout the bill, such as $248 million for furniture at the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters, $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities, $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service and $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.
Additionally, this bill lays the groundwork for radically overhauling our nation's health care system by putting health decisions into the hands of bureaucrats and taking them away from patients and doctors. As a practicing physician, I believe we should trust doctors and patients, not politicians and lobbyists, to make decisions about health care.
The bill also includes an irresponsible bailout to states that have run up huge budget deficits for themselves. Unfortunately, the bill would reward states that refused to live within their means while punishing states like Oklahoma, which planned ahead and set up rainy day funds to make it through economic downturns. If this bill becomes law, states would have an incentive to live beyond their means because they will assume the federal government will be there to bail them out.
One reason the public is skeptical of this bill is because the bill's authors made zero effort to eliminate any wasteful spending to help pay for this package even though Congress wastes at least $300 billion every year. Few families in America have the luxury of avoiding tough economic choices. Yet, career politicians in Congress refused to make any tough choices because they did not want to offend the special interest groups that finance their campaigns.
What is not in the bill is as troubling as what is. The package does nothing to address the housing problems that helped trigger the credit crisis. It also contains very little meaningful tax relief to make small businesses and American companies more competitive. Instead, the bill relies on a philosophy that says the government can spend our way out of the problem. I simply cannot agree with that approach.
One of the lessons I have learned from the practice of medicine is the danger of treating symptoms rather than the disease. Doing so makes the disease worse and causes the symptoms to come back with a vengeance. It is time for government to quit masking the symptoms and deal with this crisis at its source: toxic assets in the mortgage market and a federal government that continues to pollute our economy with pork and failed interventionist policies.