FOLLOWING MONEY IN 2016 PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Friday, January 17, 2014

WATCH, LISTEN: Arizona Senators Vote Against $1.1 Trillion Spending Plan; Clips From Both, McCain Outraged Over Drone Plan Changes In Spending Bill

Arizona Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake were among the 26 Republicans who voted against the $1.1 Trillion federal government spending plan that will now be signed by the President (after passage in the House).

17 Republicans joined the Democrats in passing the plan that had been worked out by negotiators from both parties.  McCain and Flake both indicated in advance of the Thursday night vote that they would not support it, primarily because of some of the wasteful spending contained in it.

Early in the day, Flake was interviewed on NPR's Here & Now program, and tried to distinguish what happens in omnibus bills like this from the earmarks of days gone by that he successfully railed against:


The full transcript of the interview is below the jump, but here is a key portion:
HOBSON: Well, the other thing that some people may look at is these things that I know nobody's calling earmarks, but they certainly look a lot like earmarks.
FLAKE: Yeah, fortunately over the past couple of years we have banned the practice of earmarking, ostensibly. There are still things that look a lot like earmarking, like you say. The truth is that the, you know, in its heyday back in 2005, 2006, there was some 16,000 earmarks, about $40 billion worth spread across the appropriation bills. So the practice has been largely marginalized, at least, and that's a good thing.
But a lot of the programs that grew up during the earmark era just continue in these agencies and have continued in the president's budget or directed by congressmen.
HOBSON: Well, what do you call what's in this bill, if they're not earmarks?
FLAKE: Well, directed funding I guess you would say. People in position on the appropriations committees are in a position to more easily make sure their programs of choice continue to get funding. But it has, like I said, it's been marginalized largely. There's far, far, far less of it that's happening now. And, you know, sometimes it takes the form of letter-marking or calling the agencies, asking them to continue funding. And, you know, the agencies know who butters their bread, too. And so they're not wanting to go against any direction from appropriators.
McCain prepared statements to speak on the floor to express his several concerns with the plan: With our country facing a rapidly growing $17.3 trillion dollar debt, which amounts to more than $54,000 per citizen, it is time for Congress to return to ‘regular order’ and consider each one of the 12 individual appropriations bills in turn to fund the activities of our government before the end of the fiscal year – with ample time for debate and amendment, instead of ramming through massive 1,582 page Omnibus appropriation bills like the one before us today. The American taxpayer expects more and deserves better than what we are giving them in this bill."

The rest of his statement is below the jump.  Arizona's Politics could not locate the video on C-Span's feed this morning, and suspects that he did not end up delivering them.  However, at the beginning of the day, he did rip into the Senators who put the omnibus bill together for allowing "secret provision" that deals with shifting the drone program from the CIA to the Pentagon.  An article on the front page of yesterday's Washington Post had called his attention to it.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
I'm Jeremy Hobson. It's HERE AND NOW. And there is something unusual going on in Washington: a $1.1 trillion budget bill appears to be about to pass through both houses of Congress in a matter of days. Yesterday the House passed it with broad bipartisan support, and the Senate is expected to follow suit.
So is bipartisanship breaking out all over, or is it something else, maybe something else in those 1,582 pages that looks like pork? Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is with us. Senator Flake, welcome.
REPRESENTATIVE JEFF FLAKE: Hey, thanks for having me on.
HOBSON: So are you going to vote for this?
FLAKE: No, I'm not.
HOBSON: Why not?
FLAKE: Well, I think we've had just a couple of days to look at it. That's not nearly enough time for a budget of this magnitude. And also it includes spending that I think in times like this we just shouldn't be doing.
HOBSON: Well, why do you think it is sailing through so quickly? Because of course in the past few years, nothing has gone through quickly like this.
FLAKE: Probably just fatigue, I guess. You know, I would think that, you know, given the deficits we're running, the debt we're accumulating, that we'd be a little bit more careful, but we're not. And that's unfortunate.
HOBSON: Well, the other thing that some people may look at is these things that I know nobody's calling earmarks, but they certainly look a lot like earmarks.
FLAKE: Yeah, fortunately over the past couple of years we have banned the practice of earmarking, ostensibly. There are still things that look a lot like earmarking, like you say. The truth is that the, you know, in its heyday back in 2005, 2006, there was some 16,000 earmarks, about $40 billion worth spread across the appropriation bills. So the practice has been largely marginalized, at least, and that's a good thing.
But a lot of the programs that grew up during the earmark era just continue in these agencies and have continued in the president's budget or directed by congressmen.
HOBSON: Well, what do you call what's in this bill, if they're not earmarks?
FLAKE: Well, directed funding I guess you would say. People in position on the appropriations committees are in a position to more easily make sure their programs of choice continue to get funding. But it has, like I said, it's been marginalized largely. There's far, far, far less of it that's happening now. And, you know, sometimes it takes the form of letter-marking or calling the agencies, asking them to continue funding. And, you know, the agencies know who butters their bread, too. And so they're not wanting to go against any direction from appropriators.
HOBSON: But when you see, you know, a member of Congress claiming credit for $404 million coming into his home state to study foreign animal disease outbreaks, or a number of other representatives saying isn't this great, we got more money to widen the roads next to the border, that does look a lot like earmarks.
In fact Steve Ellis of the Taxpayers for Common Sense group says these are earmark-esque or earmark-ish. Do you agree with that?
FLAKE: Yes, but let's keep in mind that members have claimed credit back during the earmark era for things that they didn't have much to do with, spending that was a result of formula funding or grants that local communities had applies for. So members are prone to take credit even when they have little to do with it. So I'm not sure that we can use those statements or press releases as proxy for, you know, getting earmarks.
Having said that, yeah, it's still troubling that there's more directed funding or whatever you want to call it still out there, and it's largely wasteful, as well.
HOBSON: And, you know, we have to say, as we mentioned, this thing is sailing right through. Do you think that one of the reasons that not much has been able to get done in the last few years is because this is the way that business gets done in Washington, you've got to have some pork for members of Congress to go home and crow about?
FLAKE: You know, there's been a lot made of that, especially after the film "Lincoln," and I certainly won't deny that earmarks sometimes grease the skids for bills to get through. But it's - it's not as important as people think. And it's - you know, we got to a point, 2005, 2006 - and I'm not blaming Democrats here, Republicans were in charge at that time - where it was highly corrupting and hugely wasteful.
And so we did the right thing by banning the practice even if you can't snuff it all out, but there's still a lot of wasteful spending, whether or not it's directed by individual members of Congress, and that's what concerns me most.
HOBSON: One more thing I want to ask you about, Senator. You voted with some of your fellow Republicans to block a bill that would have restored unemployment benefits to some of the long-term unemployed. This is an issue that's been talked about a lot over the last month or so. Why did you do that? Why do you think these people who have been out of work for a long time should not continue to receive unemployment benefits?
FLAKE: I'm just saying we ought to be able to offset it with not gimmicks, and that's what was offered. The vote that I took and many of my colleagues took against cloture would've allowed the bill to proceed that use simply gimmicks to basically extend the sequester on Medicare reimbursement that everyone knows, everyone, is just a gimmick rather than finding offsets.
And we need to do that. We have a massive debt, obviously, and a deficit that's still too large, even if it's coming down, and we've got to take that into consideration.
HOBSON: But in the meantime, what would you tell the looks like 22,500 Arizonans who are going to be losing their benefits in the next six months?
FLAKE: I'd say to keep the pressure on for Congress to actually do its job, and that's to find bills that can pass that actually have offsets that don't add to the debt and the deficit. Keep in mind that when we do this without offsetting it, we simply give the bill to somebody else, our kids and grandkids, and that's not very compassionate at all.
HOBSON: Senator Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, thanks so much for joining us, Senator.
FLAKE: Hey, thanks for having me on. 
***
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today released the following statement on the $1 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Bill of 2014:
“Mr. President, today I come to the floor to discuss the Consolidated Appropriations Bill of 2014, upon which we will soon be voting. While I am pleased that this bill will prevent another government shutdown and hopefully signal to the American people that we can actually work together, I will not be voting for this bill due to serious concerns surrounding specific policy riders and spending provisions. I am also seriously concerned about the process whereby we are passing a 1,582 page, $1.012 trillion spending bill that we received at 8:00 p.m. Monday night – giving us very limited time to carefully review or debate and no ability to amend.
“Now, this is not a new occurrence in Congress. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1977 and 2013, there were only four years when all appropriations were enacted on time (FY1977, FY1989, FY1995, and FY1997): ‘[O]ver half of the regular appropriations bills for a fiscal year were enacted on time in only one instance (1978). In all other fiscal years, fewer than six regular appropriations acts were enacted on or before October 1. In addition, in 12 out of the 37 years during this period, none of these regular appropriations bills were enacted prior to the start of the fiscal year.’ This is unacceptable and must change.
“With our country facing a rapidly growing $17.3 trillion dollar debt, which amounts to more than $54,000 per citizen, it is time for Congress to return to ‘regular order’ and consider each one of the 12 individual appropriations bills in turn to fund the activities of our government before the end of the fiscal year – with ample time for debate and amendment, instead of ramming through massive 1,582 page Omnibus appropriation bills like the one before us today. The American taxpayer expects more and deserves better than what we are giving them in this bill.
“The Omnibus includes appropriations policy riders and pork barrel projects that should raise red flags for all of my colleagues. For example, tucked away in the classified portion of this bill is a policy rider that has serious national security implications and is a prime example of the appropriators overstepping their bounds. This provision will halt the transfer of the U.S. drone counterterrorism operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense. In doing so, it summarily changes a very important policy that guides how we do certain counterterrorism operations abroad from a direction that the President has specifically prescribed. And how did most of us become aware of this major policy change? By reading this morning’s Washington Post – that’s how. This is outrageous and it should not have happened. While there may be differing opinions on who should control drone counterterrorism operations, we should be able to debate these differences in the Committees of jurisdiction and eventually on the Senate floor. The fact that a major national security policy decision is going to be authorized in this bill without debate or authorization is unacceptable and should not be the way we legislate on such important national security issues.
“The $1 trillion Omnibus also includes a wasteful provision directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to continue developing its duplicative Catfish Inspection Office – even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a similar inspection office. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), this duplicative office will cost taxpayers roughly $15 million a year once up and running. Both the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and GAO have recommended that Congress repeal the catfish program because it’s ‘wasteful and duplicative’ of FDA’s seafood inspection services.
“The fact remains that the Catfish Office won’t improve food safety. Its true purpose is to ban catfish imports for several years while USDA bureaucrats iron-out their procedures with foreign inspectors. This program would disrupt our trade relations with Asian countries, some of which, including Vietnam, have threatened World Trade Organization (WTO) retaliation against our agriculture exports, like beef and soybeans.
“During the Senate debate on the Farm Bill, I was joined by Senator Shaheen and 11 other Senators in offering an amendment that would have eliminated the Catfish Office, but the managers blocked a vote on our amendment. The House version of the Farm Bill includes an amendment to eliminate the USDA catfish office – but Senate conferees are, likewise, blocking a vote in conference. I urge the Senate conferees to the Farm Bill to drop their opposition and allow a vote in conference on this important provision. Appropriators should have not included this policy rider in the Omnibus. Instead, we should move to eliminate the duplicative and wasteful USDA catfish office.
“In addition, the Omnibus bill includes $120 million in unrequested funding for Guam in direct contravention of the bicameral decisions of the Armed Services Committees. There is absolutely no justification for this. That is why the Armed Services Committees have expressly prohibited such funding in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). To date, Congress has not received sufficient cost-analysis supporting the Department of Defense’s proposed movement of troops from Okinawa to Guam. For this reason, in the authorization bill passed just last month, the Armed Services Committees explicitly prohibited any premature investments in Guam until the Secretary of Defense provides Congress with the strategic plan which includes, among other things, costs associated with the movement to Guam and a report on military resources necessary to execute the United States’ force posture strategy in the Asia-Pacific region.
“While this language will stay in the Omnibus bill due to the inability to offer an amendment to strip it, I am thankful to Senate Armed Services Chairman Levin for working with me to clarify the language. I also appreciate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Durbin and Vice Chairman Cochran for agreeing that the reporting requirements in section 2822 of the NDAA must be satisfied before the Department of Defense can obligate funds for investments in Guam if the report finds they are needed. I fully expect the Senate Armed Services Committee will provide close and careful oversight, including hearings, over the use of any monies that may be appropriated for the transfer of forces covered in this section and obligated by the Department for that purpose.
“Yet another example of the abuse of the appropriations process is the continued inclusion of a misguided policy rider that prohibits the Postal Service from moving to 5-day mail delivery, which would save the Postal Service $2 billion a year. This Congressional mandate was initially put in place in 1984 and is the only road block keeping the Postal Service from transforming the way it delivers mail, while still being able to provide universal service. The Postal Service continues to lose billions of dollars each year; however, some in Congress have decided that they know better than the Postal Service leadership and continue to prohibit the Postal Service from modernizing and transforming the way it does business. Congress must accept the fact that the Postal Service’s current way of doing business is no longer viable. The American public communicates and conducts business in a completely different way than they did even five years ago. We must allow the Postal Service to adapt to changing times in order to have a Postal Service in the future and this includes 5-day mail delivery to save $2 billion a year. 
“In addition to these unacceptable policy riders, the bill also includes other examples of pork barrel spending for programs, some duplicative, such as:
  • “$65 million for Pacific Coast salmon restoration for states including Nevada, a program that even President Obama has called duplicative and mocked in his 2011 State of the Union address.
  • “$80 million in additional funding for Amtrak which continues to operate in the red year after year.
  • “$15 million for an ‘incentive program’ that directs DoD to overpay on contracts by an additional 5% if the contractor is a Native Hawaiian-owned company. (25 USC § 1544)
  • “Language that makes it easier for the DoD to enter into no-bid contracts for studies, analysis, and unsolicited proposals. The language in the bill makes it ripe for wasteful spending and earmarks for pet projects. For example, DoD may eliminate competition and use a no-bid contract for a ‘product of original thinking and was submitted in confidence by one source.’ With the Department facing cuts now and into the future, this type of vague language could lead to costly wasteful spending on programs that DoD neither needs or can afford.
  • “$600,000 for program at Mississippi State University to research how to grow trees faster for replanting after hurricanes.
  • “Numerous ‘Buy America’ provisions that hurt competition and innovation, drive-up the costs of procurement and further increases the taxpayer burden.
  • “$10 million for the USDA High Energy Cost Grants program that go to subsidize electricity bills in Alaska and Hawaii.
  • “$10 million for a DoD Youth Challenge program that was neither requested by the president nor authorized to receive funding in the FY14 NDAA. 
  • “$3.3 million increase in the STARBASE Program. According to the Internet, this ‘nice-to-have’ but not ‘necessary-to-have’ program ‘focuses on elementary students, primarily fifth graders. The program’s goal is to motivate these students to explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) as they continue their education… Military volunteers apply abstract principles to real world situations by leading tours and giving lectures on the use of STEM in different settings and careers.’ With a war going on and budget crisis at our doorstep, this is how we elect to spend our increasingly scarce defense dollars? We should leave the education of our children to our teachers and parents and not our military. 
  • “$7.7 million increase for the Civil Air Program (CAP). CAP is a volunteer organization that provides aerospace education to young people, runs a junior cadet program, and assists when possible in providing emergency services. Its members are hard-working and we are grateful for their volunteerism. This year, as in the past, the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized CAP funding. However, CAP is auxiliary and thus should not be funded given the need for the military to tighten its purse strings and fund programs that are a priority to our national defense, not auxiliary.
  • “The bill also includes $375 million for Army, Navy and Air Force ‘alternative energy research’ initiatives. As I have stated in the past, this type of research has yielded such shining examples as the Department of the Navy’s purchase of 450,000 gallons of alternative fuels for $12 million (over $26 per gallon).
  • “Over $460 million in funding for the Defense Department to do research dealing with research for Alzheimer, autism, prostate and ovarian cancer, HIV/AIDS and numerous other diseases and illnesses. While this type of research is important, it should not be funded by DoD. It should, instead, be funded by the National Institutes of Health, the budget of which this bill more than doubles over last year’s.    
“We cannot continue this process where massive, un-amendable, thousand-plus page spending bills totaling trillions of dollars are voted on two days after being made available to members of this body. No Senator could have read and fully understood the long-term impact the policy and spending provisions this bill will have on the future of this nation. It is a shameful way to do business. The American taxpayers are tired of Washington and our uncontrollable spending habits as well as our inability to cut wasteful, underperforming, and duplicative programs. Further, our refusal to reform America’s broken tax system and our unsustainable mandatory programs have contributed greatly, not only to the current fiscal crisis in our country, but to Americans’ unfavorable opinion of the institutions of our government. We must change course and have a fair and open process to fund the federal government, not a closed process. For all of these reasons, I will not be voting for this appropriations bill.”
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