Tuesday, December 20, 2011
McCain & Honor Forgotten Heroes
Honor forgotten heroes
McCain should embrace plan to return remains of sailors lost in battle in 1804
Sen. John McCain’s reluctance to back efforts to return the remains of some of the Navy’s first fallen heroes from the shores of Tripoli is nothing short of puzzling.
Given his own heroic service to this country, we can only believe him when he says he just needs more information and opinion from the Navy, the Defense POW/MIA Office and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
But we disagree with the senator’s recent action that has delayed the repatriation of the remains of the sailors 207 years after their deaths.
McCain blocked an amendment in the Senate that would have forced the Pentagon to retrieve the remains of the crew of the USS Intrepid, which was sailing against a pirate fleet in what is now Libya during the First Barbary War in 1804.
Intrepid was filled with explosives and its 13-man crew was sailing for Tripoli harbor, which was a base for pirate ships that were pillaging American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean. The sailors planned to set fuses and escape before Intrepid exploded in the middle of the pirate fleet, but the vessel exploded prematurely, killing all on board.
The Navy has declined to retrieve the remains, determining that Libya is the “final resting place” of the sailors, and that Navy custom calls for honoring the final resting place of those lost on ships and downed aircraft. A formal memorial ceremony held in honor of the sailors and crew took place in Tripoli in 1949, and the Navy has said that U.S. Embassy personnel conducted regular services there for decades.
However, descendants and those with a keen interest in rectifying what they believe to be an oversight want the remains of these sailors returned.
Michael R. Caputo, a longtime political operative from East Aurora, has put his skills to good work on this cause since 2005, enlisting the help of David Bellavia, an Iraq War hero from Batavia, on what is known as the Intrepid Project. The two have joined a grass-roots effort at repatriation.
Caputo makes an undeniable point that the sailors are not honored where they are, in Libya, which until recently was ruled by anti-American despot Moammar Gadhafi. Rep. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican, took the trouble to vis-it the sailors’ graves in 2004 and was appalled at the condition. He took over as House Intelligence Committee chairman and pushed legislation requiring the Pentagon to return the sailors’ remains to U.S. soil.
Caputo worked hard to get support for the effort and did so, from the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, not to mention other legislators. The Rogers measure passed the House in late May. Then the support building in the Senate was dashed by McCain. Now it’s up to a House- Senate conference committee, where the senator has great influence.
To suggest that leaving the remains of these heroes in Libya is acceptable would be an injustice to their descendants, the American people and the country for which they gave their lives. The senator should support this repatriation.
REMARKS BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON THE CONFERENCE REPORT OF THE FY2012 OMNIBUS APPROPRIATIONS BILL
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate on the Conference Report of the FY 2012 Omnibus Appropriations Bill:
“Mr. President, I come to the floor today to discuss the Fiscal Year 2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill that the House just passed this afternoon and the Senate will vote on tomorrow. Once again, the Senate is faced with a thousand-plus page behemoth of an appropriations bill and very little in the way of authorizations to support it. So here we are, at the end of another calendar year, cramming what should be months of actual debate and legislating into hours of reckless appropriating.
“Exactly one year ago, I was here on the Senate floor discussing the exact same problem in the Senate. We were debating an omnibus appropriations bill that was 1,924 pages long and contained the funding for all 12 of the annual appropriations bills for a grand total of over $1.1 trillion and contained approximately 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8.3 billion. At the time, I also expressed my frustration at the fact that the Senate refused to move appropriations bill in regular order by debating them one by one, and how it is shameful and we should be embarrassed by the fact that we care so little about doing the people’s business that we continuously put off fulfilling our constitutional responsibilities until the very last minute. While, thankfully, that pork-laden FY2011 Omnibus never became law, we are back at it again this year.
“This time, the conference report we have before us is 1,221 pages long and contains funding for nine of the annual appropriations bills for a grand total of $915 billion (that figure rises to $1.043 trillion if you include the three appropriations bills that have already been enacted).
“So let’s compare:
• “Last year – 1,924 pages. This year – 1,221 pages.
• “Last year – all 12 annual appropriations bills. This year – nine of the annual appropriations bills.
• “Last year – over $1.1 trillion in spending. This year – over $915 billion in spending or $1.043 trillion if you include the three bills we’ve already passed. That works out to be a reduction of 5% from last year to this year. Taxpayers get a better deal at a Macy’s Christmas sale.
• “Last year – 6,488 earmarks totaling nearly $8.3 billion. This year – no traditional “earmarks” but over $3.5 billion in unauthorized spending in DoD alone.
“So should we consider this progress? Are we doing anything differently? The national debt is now at the record level of over $15 trillion, which is more than $48,000 per citizen, yet we have failed to make any significant, meaningful spending cuts and we continue with business as usual.
“Mr. President, the rush to beat the clock and avert a government shut-down is the fault of Congress. It has been four months since we passed the Budget Control Act, which is more than ample time to consider the appropriations measures and more importantly debate and offer amendments on issues that we feel are important to the American taxpayer. We should have the opportunity to offer amendments to cut wasteful spending and eliminate duplicative programs, however, we are now being forced to trust a handful of Senate and House Appropriators to make spending decisions for the rest of us. This is unacceptable in my opinion and I believe it is unacceptable to the American people.
“I wish we could say we didn’t see this coming. The fact is we did see it coming, as early as this spring. In keeping with the regular order and the legislating requirements of the Senate, the Armed Services Committee scheduled and conducted more than 70 hearings, vetted the President’s 2012 budget request, and reported a bill out of committee. Seven months later, we were given time by the Majority Leader to amend and pass the bill on the floor. The other authorizing committees weren’t so lucky. So I say again, here we are, facing an omnibus appropriations measure that lacks properly authorized funding. What is more maddening is that even in the cases where the Senate did authorize funding – as in Defense – the appropriators nonetheless included unrequested and unauthorized spending.
“We have a fundamental problem in the Senate, Mr. President, of being unable to engage in the process of authorizing prior to regular appropriations. And what is the outcome? A handful of appropriators and unelected staffs disburse hundreds of billions of dollars, often in a manner that directly contravenes the will of the authorizers. Consequently, at the 11th hour of the process, we ram through an omnibus measure so that we can get out of town for the holidays. It’s disgraceful Mr. President.
This omnibus contains a number of objectionable provisions:
“I strongly oppose Section 8083 of the Defense portion of the bill which permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer Defense operation and maintenance funds totaling $33 million to other federal agencies. This is an earmark to Guam, make no mistake about it, and this funding is included in the bill in direct contravention of explicit direction to the contrary in the Conference Report on the FY12 National Defense Authorization Act which passed this chamber on a vote of 86-13 last night. As such, if this Omnibus Appropriations bill was subject to amendment, I would immediately seek to strip this funding from the bill.
“Let me be clear about what this controversy between the Defense Authorizing and Defense Appropriations Committees is about. This funding is an absolute earmark for Guam and qualifies by any interpretation as a ‘bridge to nowhere’ in terms of whether it supports any currently on-going activities of the Department of Defense.
“The money is, in part, to provide the Government of Guam funds to buy 53 civilian school buses and 53 repair kits for the buses for $10.7 million. Let’s stop there. Why in the world is the Department of Defense buying school buses for anybody? Has one single Marine, sailor, or airman been assigned to Guam as part of the intended buildup that would justify using DoD money to ease a strain on Guam’s school systems? The answer is a flat ‘no’ – this is a pork-barrel payoff to Guam to solve an already existing problem that has nothing to do with any future military realignment related to Guam.
“What else are we buying for this $33 million? Well, $12.7 million is intended to be used for a ‘cultural artifacts repository’ which advocates of this pork-barrel extravaganza claim is related to artifacts that will be dug up during the major military construction projects that have been planned for Guam as part of the buildup. There’s only one problem with that argument: it is flatly not true. First, the military construction projects that would unearth new artifacts for this facility have been put on hold for at least FY2012 and probably longer until the Department of Defense provides Congress with an overall plan and estimated cost for the entire Guam buildup project, and an outside, independent study is prepared and reported to Congress that assesses our military force structure needs in the Pacific. So, the money intended for this ‘cultural artifacts repository’ is, at best, early to need during FY2012 and most likely won’t be known until after completion of another environmental study in two years. If the decision is made not to conduct the sort of extensive military construction projects and training ranges on Guam needed to sustain the movement and permanent basing on Guam of 8,700 Marines and their families – now estimated to be an investment of at least $20 billion – this ‘cultural artifacts repository’ is truly a ‘bridge to nowhere’ because the artifacts it is intended to hold will never be dug out of the earth. The perversity of the logic that we build a museum for artifacts that may never be unearthed is striking.
“But wait, is that the real story? Well, of course not! The money in this Defense Appropriations bill for the ‘cultural artifacts repository’ is actually going to be spent to build a 20,000 square foot ‘museum’ – most of which will be used for the storage of existing artifacts and existing administration completely unrelated to the major military construction projects associated with the build-up on Guam. Guam has been seeking federal funding for this facility for years without success, but because there is some hope of a military buildup on Guam in some form, they have used that weak reed to try to support an argument that somehow this museum relates to the military construction projects – which in any event won’t happen for years into the future. So, at a time of severe fiscal constraint for the Department of Defense, and when every American is being forced to tighten their belt and spend only on the essentials, Guam – through the good offices of their protectors on the Senate and House Appropriations Committees – gets the benefit of $12.5 million in Federal largess for a new museum which they otherwise could not afford. I can only say that the many citizens of Arizona who are out of work, whose homes have been lost due to the economic downturn, who would benefit from any sort of action by the Federal Government to create jobs and ease their burdens, feel nothing but outrage when they see this kind of blatant waste and abuse of the political system that has gone on for years and years and years.
“But that’s not the end of this sad story. Within this initial funding grant to Guam of $33 million is $9.6 million for the first phase of a mental health facility that advocates claim is somehow related to the proposed military buildup on Guam. I’m still trying to sort this argument out, but I have that odd feeling that to do so I must go down the rabbit hole to Alice in Wonderland. Without one additional Marine or their family being stationed on Guam, how does a proposed buildup that will not come until years in the future relate to the adequacy of mental health facilities on Guam now?
“Well, I’m glad that question came up, because it might not surprise you to learn that this money for a new mental health facility has nothing to do with any Marines coming to Guam now or in the future, but is instead required to satisfy a current federal injunction that mandates the construction of a new facility. And, of course, this $9.6 million dollars of pork in the FY12 Defense Appropriations bill is only the down payment, the ‘nose of the camel under the tent’ you might say, because to complete the facility as required to satisfy the already existing federal injunction against Guam, another $33 million will be required next year in 2013 to finish out the project as well as building a new public health laboratory. Wonderful! The Department of Defense will have invested nearly $43 million dollars in a brand-spanking new mental health facility and a public health laboratory before one new Marine or their family ever touches soil on Guam. And, of course, if Congress decides that the U.S. taxpayer cannot afford to spend $20 billion or more for a permanent and extensive force posture buildup on Guam, at least Guam will have gotten a $43 million dollar payoff from the Defense Appropriators that gets Guam off the hook with their pending injunction. It sure is good to have friends in Washington, isn’t it?
“Our committee did the research for these projects on Guam. We reviewed the working papers of the Department of Defense’s Economic Adjustment Committee, excerpts of which I ask unanimous consent be inserted into the record. We realized that this funding would not go to defense priorities and decided as a Conference not to support their authorizations.
“As it should be clear by now, these expenditures, pushed through in direct contravention of the bipartisan, bicameral decisions of the Armed Services Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, are nothing more than a shameful, disgusting waste of taxpayers’ money and in my view a classic example of political abuse of the appropriations process.
“This is not the way Congress is supposed to work. Authorizing committees exist to provide specific congressional approval of Federal spending. Appropriations committees and subcommittees exist to take the available Federal dollars and allocate them to programs consistent with the authorizations that have been provided by the authorizing committees. In no way do appropriations committees have the legitimate authority to override the specific direction of authorizing committees when those authorizing committees have spoken to a matter and denied authority for a specific type or level of funding. This is an extreme, but useful, example to show exactly why American voters are so fed up with Congress. This is exactly why the approval rating of Congress is in the single digits. The American people have seen this kind of abuse and waste for far too often, and they have had enough of it. They are convinced Congress never learns. And by this example, it’s hard to say they are wrong. In fact, this sort of complete waste and abuse of the taxpayers’ money proves they are exactly right.
“If you don’t understand the rise of the Tea Party, you can start by looking right here.
“And it is not as if this issue was somehow hidden from the leadership of the Appropriations Committee. I would like unanimous consent to insert into the record the letter I sent yesterday to Chairman Inouye and Vice Chairman Cochran of the Senate Appropriations Committee highlighting this exact issue and my concerns about it. No, this is not about ‘not knowing what was going on’ this is about ‘business as usual’ and it will cost every Member of this body and the chamber on the other side of the Capitol because voter outrage over this kind of waste of their money has never been higher. And I can’t blame them. Who could?
“Another example of the broken appropriations process is demonstrated in this bill’s funding of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). This program should have been terminated in FY12, as originally proposed in the Senate version of the Defense Authorization bill. Instead, the Defense Appropriations portion of the Omnibus funds MEADS at $390 million, nearly the entire $406 million requested for this year.
“Upon learning that the Appropriators were going to fund this program – which Army leaders have told the Senate they do not intend to ever buy or deploy – I felt compelled to ensure that the final FY12 Defense Authorization Conference Report we adopted last night prohibits any MEADS appropriations beyond FY12. Under the requirements imposed by the Defense Authorization Conference Report, this year’s funding will be significantly restrained by prohibiting the Department from spending more than 25 percent until the Secretary of Defense provides a plan to either restructure the program in a way that requires no additional funding or terminates the program.
This report from the Secretary must include a plan for ending the program for at least $400 million less and one year sooner than the President’s request. While this action would not have been necessary if the Appropriations committee had not ignored the unanimous direction of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I remain committed to holding Congress accountable to both our men and women in harm’s way and the American taxpayer.
“Any decision to continue to fund troubled programs like MEADS are simply unacceptable at a time when we face unprecedented cuts in Defense spending. The Senate Armed Services Committee will give MEADS the highest level of scrutiny to ensure this program is ended on the terms set out in the Defense Authorization Conference Report.
NEXT GENERATION BOMBER
“The Appropriators also chose a different path than the Defense Authorizing Committees on the Next Generation Strategic Bomber. Instead of holding funding to the President’s Budget request, the Appropriators chose to add an additional $100 million dollars – more than was recently authorized in the National Defense Authorization Act.
“This is money for the NexGen Bomber that was not requested by the Air Force, nor was there any testimony by Air Force leadership – either civilian or military – in support of this additional huge plus up in funding. It magically appeared in the Appropriations Conference Report – out of thin air. This morning, I asked my staff to find out if this money would be wisely spent. The answer was, to be blunt, ‘No.’
“The Air Force Chief of Staff’s office responded as follows:
• “Not only did they not request the funding, they don’t want it;
• “The money ‘is ahead of need,’ meaning that that it could not be applied to the program in an effective or efficient manner;
• “The Analysis of Alternatives, which helps determine what the capability of the bomber should be and helps determines requirements, will not be completed for another year and half from now;
• “The Capabilities Requirement Document, which is key to ensuring that the new bomber design is stable – which is needed to determining if increased taxpayers’ dollars should be invested in the new bomber, is NOT complete and will NOT be complete for a couple of years – at best.
• “Finally, the current B-52, B-1 and B-2 sustainment and modernization programs were cut by the Appropriations staff to help pay for this $100 million plus up for the Next-Generation Bomber. The Air Force told my staff this morning that they would prefer the money to go to help modernize legacy bomber programs, as the Air Force had requested, instead of going towards the Next-Generation Bomber. If this additional, unrequested funding is enacted, as it almost surely will be, we will almost certainly be dealing with this same $100 million again as the source for a reprogramming request by the Air Force to move the money back to where it is needed – for sustainment of the legacy bomber fleet.
“Of the approximately 100 unrequested and unauthorized additions above the President’s Budget request found in the Defense Appropriations bill, one of the more concerning is a $20 million allocation for an obscure aircraft program called ‘Combat Dragon II.’ Although the name is interesting and sounds threatening enough – you won’t find it in the President’s Defense Budget request, nor did it appear in the Defense Authorization bill. So, again, I asked staff to pull the string on it and see what unraveled.
“The purpose of the program is to lease up to four crop-duster-type aircraft and to outfit them with machine gun pods, laser-guided bombs, rockets and air-to-air missiles. So, I directed my staff to see if this alleged requirement was justified and properly vetted and approved within the Pentagon by a Joint Urgent Operational Needs Statement, since it was not in the Administration’s budget request. Once again the answer was a resounding ‘No’ – there is NO urgent operational requirement for this type of aircraft. So, why do we need it and why is it funded?
“After turning over the right rocks, we found that this aircraft lease will not be competitively awarded – shades of the infamous tanker lease program – and as such is effectively earmarked for a particular aircraft manufacturer who has the corner on this particularly obscure part of the aviation market. This past summer ‘Aviation Week & Space Technology’ magazine wrote about a similar close air support aircraft program created by Lockheed Martin and Hawker Beechcraft.
“The current close-air support workhorse-aircraft for the military is the A-10 Warthog. Over the past 5 years, the Air Force has spent hundreds of millions of dollars each year for the last five years upgrading and modernizing the A-10 by re-winging, adding additional navigational and communication gear, and improving weapon delivery systems.
“During these austere budget times, can the taxpayers afford to waste taxpayers dollars on a duplicative close air support program without any clear, defined requirement? I don’t think so and nor does any independent military expert.
“The Defense Appropriations bill also adds $225 million for an unrequested, unauthorized C-17 aircraft that no one in the Air Force or the Pentagon thought was needed in these tough fiscal times.
“According to every strategic planning document, the Air Force has an excess capacity of large cargo aircraft. The Air Force already has 222 C-17 cargo aircraft and more than 80 C-5 cargo aircraft. The Air Force is striving to ‘right size’ the strategic airlift fleet in the most effective and efficient way to meet our nation’s strategic airlift requirement. The Defense Authorization Conference report, passed yesterday by both the House and Senate and sent to the President contains a provision to lower the floor of large cargo aircraft from 316 to 301 aircraft and includes funding to shut down the Boeing C-17 production line, NOT authorization to build another aircraft.
“The key reason for an overage of large cargo aircraft is because the Appropriations Committees over the past several years added 44 C-17s that were not authorized and that we neither needed nor could afford, at a total cost of over $14 billion above the Department’s requests – in the form of earmarks.
“The Office of Management and Budget, five Secretaries of Defense, the current Commander of Transportation Command, the current Secretary of the Air Force, the current Chief Staff of the Air Force, and the current Commander of Air Mobility Command, have unanimously stated they do not need, nor can they afford to operate any more C-17 aircraft. In fact, the President appealed to the Congress that the Nation cannot afford any more C-17 cargo aircraft. You would think that after $14 billion dollars and 44 C-17s averaging over $250 million each would be enough of an earmark – not so for the Appropriations Committees.
“Mr. President, while the Department of Defense struggles to find more than $450 billion in cuts directed by the President, the Appropriations Committee continues to conduct business as usual by rewarding special interests and funding pet projects with vague objectives and limited or no utility to the Department. The Defense portion of the Omnibus contains some $3.5 billion in unrequested, unauthorized spending for items that are not core, high-priority Defense requirements. As you will see, Mr. President, many old favorites appear on the list.
• “We’ll start with the Air Force – $25 million for unrequested helicopter upgrades.
• “An increase to the Civil Air Patrol program of $7 million – unrequested and unauthorized. We are left to assume that the Air Force Auxiliary is a higher priority than the hundreds of programs which took budget cuts this year.
• “$273 million in unrequested, unauthorized Army research on everything from Parkinson’s disease and HIV to alternative energy and nanotechnology.
• “Speaking of alternate energy, the Appropriators tucked unrequested, unauthorized funding throughout Division A of the bill. $130 million in ambiguously named ‘alternative energy research’ is scattered for the same sorts of programs that brought us the recent achievement of the Department of Navy, which proudly announced the purchase of 450,000 gallons of alternative fuels for $12 million. This equates to over 26 dollars per gallon. No wonder the Department of the Navy needs more money in 2012 for higher fuel costs.
• “$262 million in unauthorized Navy research and development programs. The list of Navy adds is eerily similar to the Army’s, and as you would expect, Mr. President, it covers a familiar set of member interest items … nanotechnology, alternative energy, and giveaways to home state interests.
• “The bill includes $50 million in increases for ‘Space Situational Awareness’ in two separate funding lines with no accompanying justification. These unrequested adds are so vague that I am sure that Members will be calling into the Pentagon to be sure that the money goes where they intended. This is a sad, old game being played over and over again.
• “The budget requested $86 million for Operationally Responsive Space. This bill adds $25 million more, just for fun. The appropriators may have convinced themselves otherwise, but an additional $25 million will not solve our systemic space acquisition problems.
• “Mr. President, the Armed Services Committee authorized, and the Congress will soon appropriate, some $290 million for research into post-traumatic stress disorder, prosthetics, blast injury, and psychological health. These are critical to improving actual battlefield medicine. Yet once again, the appropriators inserted unrequested funding for medical research, this time to the tune of $600 million. Let me remind my colleagues that these unrequested projects are funded at the expense of other military priorities. While I agree that research on multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer is meritorious, I restate my strong belief that it does not belong in the Defense Department budget.
• “Finally Mr. President, the Services report that the amount of equipment and its readiness in their Guard and Reserve units is so high that they have a serious need for new facilities to store all the equipment. Yet, the Appropriators provided the Guard and Reserve with a $1 billion in unrequested, unauthorized funding for ‘miscellaneous equipment.’ I’m sure certain States who are on the Appropriator’s short list will be very pleased to have the money directed their way – I’m not so sure about the taxpayers.
“It is quite a list. Some of these programs may have merit, but none them were requested by the Defense Department. This should be instructive to my colleagues since the Pentagon – certainly no shrinking violet – tends to ask for what it needs. But in these times, Secretary Panetta is looking at every program to determine how he can achieve the enormous cuts of over $450 billion that the President has already ordered him to take. Thus, every dollar that Congress adds that is not a priority for the Pentagon makes the burden of funding the Pentagon’s real priorities that much more difficult.
“Mr. President, if the Senate had done its job and allowed for appropriations bills to be considered in regular order, I would have offered a bipartisan amendment, cosponsored by Senator Rockefeller and 13 other Senators, to the Financial Services Appropriations bill. This important amendment would have prohibited bonuses for Senior Executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while they are in taxpayer-backed conservatorship.
“Since they were placed in conservatorship in 2008, these two Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) have soaked the American taxpayer for nearly $170 billion in bailouts. And recently Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae requested an additional $13.8 billion more that is coming out the pockets of hardworking Americans – many of which are underwater on their mortgages.
“With that in mind Mr. President, it is unconscionable that their federal regulator had the audacity to approve $12.8 million in executive bonuses – to people who make $900,000 per year! This body should be ashamed if we let this happen again – especially in these tough economic times. Every day more and more Americans are losing their jobs and their homes and we’re allowing these people to take home annual salaries of $900,000 and bonuses of $12.8 million – all while they ask the taxpayers for billions more in bailout money.
“Even more alarming is the justification for these outrageous bonuses by Edward DeMarco, the acting director of the FHFA. Mr. DeMarco argues that – in order to get the best people in place – we need to pay them outrageous amounts of taxpayer dollars. Well, I’m not buying that argument. It is ridiculous to tell the American taxpayer ‘look … we lost a bunch of your money – so we need to pay these smart guys millions of dollars of your money so that we don’t lose the rest of your money.’ The American people are smart enough to see through that sham logic and they are angry.
“As I have previously stated on the Senate floor, I find it hard to believe that we cannot find talented people with the skills necessary to manage Fannie and Freddie for good money – $900,000 – without the incentive of multi-million dollar bonuses. There are many examples of intelligent, well qualified, patriotic individuals working in our federal government who make significantly less than the top executives at Fannie and Freddie and have just as much, if not more responsibility. For example:
• “The basic pay for a 4-Star General is $179,700 – including Basic Allowance for Housing that figure rises to $214,980;
• “Chief Justice Roberts makes $223,500 a year; and
• “The President’s Cabinet Members make $199,700 a year.
“While millions of Americans are out of work, underwater on their mortgages, and losing their homes, we cannot justify paying millions in unnecessary, unearned bonuses with their hard earned tax dollars. However, due to lack of priorities in the Senate, I was never able to offer my amendment.
“Mr. President, if the Senate would have done its job and moved forward in regular order with the Energy and Water Appropriations bills, I would have offered an amendment that would require a top-down review of non-competitive contracts issued by the Army Corps to Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs).
“We need to be especially mindful of how taxpayer dollars are appropriated to the Army Corps in light of a recent Justice Department investigation that revealed what prosecutors call ‘one of the largest bribery scandals in U.S. history’ involving Army Corps contracting officials and the contracting director of Eyak Technology, an ANC-owned company.
“This particular ANC company, EyakTek, saw their employee fraudulently inflate quotes for IT services and billing the Army Corp about $20 million, which was then paid as kickbacks that were used to buy real estate, BMWs, fancy watches and clothing, and first class airline tickets around the world.
“Congress can’t allow these kinds of brazen abuses go unanswered. Unfortunately, leadership yanked the Energy and Water appropriations bill from the floor just a few weeks ago and my amendment was never considered.
“In addition, I would have offered an amendment to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill that would have ensured that private investors are not put before taxpayers in the event of a default of a loan guarantee – as happened with the Solyndra loan guarantee championed by the Obama Administration.
“At the urging of energy industry lobbyists, the Obama Administration reinterpreted section 1702 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 regarding the general terms and conditions for loan guarantees. This reinterpretation allowed the Secretary of Energy Steven Chu to restructure loan guarantees and in some cases, such as with Solyndra, place private investors before taxpayers in the repayment line in the event of a default by a loan recipient.
“In the case of Solyndra, private investors will collect the first $69 million that can be recovered from the company; taxpayers that were placed in a second class position by DOE may collect the remaining proceeds, if any.
“It was never the intention of Congress to make taxpayers subordinate on these loan guarantees. In fact, it was the intent of Congress to do the exact opposite and keep taxpayers at the front of the repayment line.
“This was a sensible amendment to clarify that in the event of a default of a loan guarantee, taxpayers are at the front of the line for repayment. Unfortunately, given the broken process the Senate is operating under, I did not have the opportunity to offer it.
“If the Senate would have done its job and considered the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill in regular order, I would have worked with my colleague Dr. Coburn to restore much needed funding to the Government Accountability Office. In a recent report released by Dr. Coburn he highlights and I quote ‘just this year GAO identified hundreds of billions of dollars of duplicative and overlapping programs that, if addressed by Congress, could both save money and improve services for taxpayers. For every $1 spent on GAO, the agency provides $90 in savings recommendations. Yet, instead of adopting these good government reforms, the Senate Appropriations Committee has responded by proposing dramatic budget cuts to the GAO budget.’
“While I do think it is essential that every agency including the GAO eliminate wasteful spending, I believe it is in the best interest of this body to ensure that the GAO has the necessary funding to aid Congress with its oversight responsibility.
“Mr. President, the American people are struggling through record unemployment and are under unprecedented fiscal pressure. They need strong leaders willing to make tough decisions to restore fiscal discipline and responsible governance. The Armed Services Committee went to great lengths this year to authorize defense spending for the most critical national security requirements as proposed by the President and Defense leadership. Nevertheless, the Appropriations Committee has reported a bill that improperly appropriates without authorization $3.5 billion for unrequested programs for the Department of Defense and in some specific cases, such as funding for Guam’s non-Defense civilian infrastructure projects, directly contradicts the explicit limits provided by the FY 2012 Defense Authorization Conference Report.
“I say to my colleagues that we can do better. We can and must improve the process of authorizing and appropriating. Since we know what the problem is, we must now fix it by allowing the authorizing committees to bring their bills to the floor and actually authorize federal spending. The appropriations bills – all of them – should reflect the will of the authorizing committees. I intend to work with my colleagues to remedy this problem. The will of all Senators, not just a select few, should be represented when we pass appropriations legislation.
“The American people deserve better than what is happening here in the Senate today. They are tired of wasteful spending that has led to the current fiscal crisis our country is facing. They are expect us, rightfully so, to be good stewards of their hard earned taxpayer dollars but unfortunately that is not the case today. We cannot continue with business as usual, therefore, I will not be voting for this Omnibus appropriations bill, and I encourage all of my colleagues to oppose it as well.”