Senator Lankford Highlights Importance of Addressing Our $23 Trillion Debt on Senate Floor

CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s floor speech.

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today spoke on the Senate floor about the importance of this week’s release of the fifth volume of his federal waste report, Federal Fumbles: Ways the government dropped the ball. The report lists $383 billion in wasteful and inefficient federal spending on a variety of programs and processes throughout the government. The report also provides solutions to each example of government waste or inefficiency. CLICK HERE to access the report. CLICK HERE for a summary of the report.


Mr. President, we have a debt issue in America. For some reason we’re losing track of that. The economy is so good right now. Unemployment is at historic numbers. The inflation numbers have stayed down. More Americans are bringing home more take-home pay, which means they can buy more stuff, and more job opportunities are out there. In fact we literally have 1.5 million more job openings in America than we have people looking for work in America. With the economy going so well right now, everyone is losing track of debt and deficit which are not going well right now.

Last year the federal Treasury received in more tax revenue than they have ever received in in the history of the United States, which is surprising to some folks that I’ve talked to that said there was a big tax cut in 2017, so that would mean tax revenue would go down. It didn’t. It went up. When that tax cut occurred, more people were able to have more money, to be able to bring home, to be able to spend more, which created more jobs, and there was more investment, and the economy charged up, and so we actually have more revenue coming in now than what we used to have in. But we still have a trillion dollar deficit. That is the overspending in a single year. The highest amount of revenue we have ever had, yet we have epic levels of deficit spending, adding to $23 trillion in total debt as a nation. $23 trillion, it’s a number none of us can even fathom.

We’re approaching a time where it would take the income of every single American for the entire year to be collected as taxes to pay off our debt. We’re at 95 percent total debt to GDP. These kind of numbers can’t be sustained, and everyone quietly knows it in the back of their mind, but dealing with debt and deficit seems to be one of those things we’ll deal with in the future. Someday, someday, someday. I’m here to encourage this body to say, ‘We should be taking on the issues of debt and deficit now.’ The two things that have to occur to be able to get on top of our debt and deficit, one is to get a growing economy where we have growing revenues. We have that now. Then we have to be able to deal with federal spending. What would it take to be able to manage federal spending?

Now we are so far out of balance—a trillion dollars—that literally you could shut down the entire Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the State Department, you could close down every single one of those and we still wouldn’t balance in a year. And no one would propose doing that. There is no one-year fix to try to get on top of our deficit. This would be a multi-year process. But just to be able to tell you how bad we’ve become, if we chipped away at our deficit for the next 10 years, for 10 years chipped away at our deficit to get us back to just balance, and then we had $100 billion surplus the next year, which would be an enormous surplus, with $100 billion surplus, it would take us 230 years in a row of having $100 billion surplus in our Treasury just to be able to deal with our debt. 230 years in a row of $100 billion surplus. Again we’re not just out of balance. We’re way out of balance. And there is no one secret thing that we can do just to be able to get us back on track, but we do need to get started.

So that’s why our team puts out something we call Federal Fumbles. The Federal Fumbles guide is something we put out every single year. It’s just a group of ideas. It’s no magic bullet. It’s just something our office puts out where we look at areas of inefficiency across the federal government and say, ‘Why is this happening the way that this is happening and what would happen if we continued to do the same things we’re doing. Are there areas where we could save money and that we’d be okay with as a group?’ We’re not trying to put out partisan ideas. We’re just trying to put out ideas. Quite frankly, the Federal Fumbles guide is not a confrontation for this body, it’s the opening salvo in a conversation to say, ‘We’re bringing our ideas.’ You may have different ideas. Great, bring yours. Let’s try to figure out how to be able to solve this together, because this last year we paid $371 billion just in interest payments on our debt. This fiscal year we paid $423 billion just in interest. That’s $423 billion that’s not going to health care, that’s not going to transportation, that’s not going to basic structure of our government. That’s not going to national defense. It’s just $423 billion paid in interest payments, and it just goes away.

So we’re asking questions as we put this Federal Fumbles guide out. ‘How do we solve this? What are some ideas?’ We ask simple questions like, ‘Why did the Social Security Office pay $11.6 million to deceased beneficiaries in Puerto Rico?’ We ask questions like, ‘Why did the government pay almost half a billion dollars last year on temporary tents — not buying them—renting temporary tents along our southern border?’ Was there a better way that could have been done, other than half a billion dollars in cost. We ask the questions about the 21 government shutdowns that have occurred in the last 40 years including the one that was earlier this year. That shutdown cost the federal taxpayer over $4 billion.

We ask straightforward questions about things like tax credits. If you like the Tesla that you pull up next to at a stoplight and you gaze at its beauty and think, ‘That’s a beautiful car, well great, I’m glad you like it. You helped pay for it. Because of all those Teslas on the road, over $7,500 of the cost of that Tesla was paid by you, the federal taxpayer. So what you should do at a stoplight is roll down your window with a person driving a tesla and say, ‘It’s my turn. I helped pay for the car. Why don’t you let me drive it the rest of the day.’

We ask questions about grants like sea lions in Russia, because the United States taxpayer gave almost $2 million to study sea lions in Russia last year. We spent $600,000 doing a documentary on Joseph Stalin. We spent a big chunk of money actually studying the Russian flu in 1889. Why did we do that? Some of these things are small, some of these things are very large.

We laid out a proposal dealing with prescription drugs because the way the tiering is done on prescription drugs now costs the federal taxpayer $22 billion. $22 billion. And that’s just because generic drugs were placed on a higher cost branded tier, and so the federal taxpayer and the consumer all ended up paying not the generic price, but the more expensive branded price when they could have paid the lower price. $22 billion just for that one piece. 

We laid out a whole set of ideas, and we said, ‘Let’s just look at them together.’ This Congress passed $380 million that was sent out to the states to help with election security after the Russians were clearly trying to interfere in our elections in 2016, we decided to do something about it to help our states, so that $380 million was sent out to the states to say, ‘Do the work that needs to be done to upgrade your election security equipment to make sure it’s prepared for 2020.’ As of this last July, of the $380 million that was sent to the states, the states have only spent a little over $100 million of those dollars. They have literally banked the other $250 million and just saved it and said, ‘We’ll use it some time.’ 2020 elections are coming, the money was allocated, but it’s not actually been spent and used for election security.

We want to be able to highlight things and to be able to say, ‘There are ways to be able to solve this.’ We didn’t try to bring partisan ideas. We just brought ideas. This is our fifth volume of this. We’ve had other additions that dealt with other issues and tried to resolve it, and in the back of the book, we actually put out what we call the ‘touchdowns’ and ‘forward progress.’ Some of the things we’ve listed in previous versions that we actually look at and say, ‘We’ve made some progress on these things and trying to actually solve it.’ Because at times we complain about what’s happening in government but we don’t actually identify the good things, and there are a lot of good things that are actually happening. 

This Senate has already passed something called the GREAT Act. The GREAT Act dramatically increases the way we handle data on grants. About $600 billion a year in the federal government is spent just on grants. We think there needs to be greater oversight on that, and this Senate has agreed. And this Senate has added something called the GREAT Act and sent it over to the House and said, ‘Let’s try to resolve how we can be more effective at doing grants and to be more transparent in the process, and streamline the data itself to make it easier on those requesting a grant and make it more transparent where those grant dollars are going as well.’ We don’t want to just complain about the way the grants are done. We want to try to actually fix it. And we highlight multiple other areas where we’ve made real progress in the past year on attacking some of the things we’ve listed in previous versions of previous Federal Fumbles.

But I do want to remind this body, while we talk about some of these hard issues, we often break off into Republican-Democrat fights over hard issues. America is more than an economy. And while the economy is extremely important, we’re Americans and we’re Americans together. And while we struggle to deal with hard issues like debt and deficit and what’s going to be done to be able to resolve this, we can’t just conveniently go into our corners and make speeches and say, ‘We tried.’ We have to sit down and do hard things and do hard things together. That’s why we’re opening this conversation. That’s why we keep this conversation going, because I do believe that while the economy is important, who we are and how we value each other is just as important, because we have the responsibility to solve this. Again, other offices may have other ideas on how to resolve it. Great. Let’s bring all those ideas together. Let’s get 100 of these books like this and everyone bring their ideas, and then let’s actually do the work to be able to solve this in the future. We’re Americans. We do hard things. This one’s going to be hard and it’s going to take a long time, but it doesn’t get easier if we don’t start. And it doesn’t get done until we begin. So I’m challenging us today, let’s begin. Let’s deal with the ways we fumbled the ball in the past and let’s solve our debt and deficit together over the years in the future. With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.