VIDEO: Senator Lankford Talks Gov’t Waste, Federal Fumbles on the Senate Floor
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WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate tonight about America’s massive federal debt and government waste. Lankford also discussed his recently released government waste and solutions report, “Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the government dropped the ball.” The report highlights examples of wasteful or duplicative spending, along with burdensome regulations but also offers policy solutions to each of the problems.
Below is the full transcript from the speech:
“When you’re home, the television is on, phone starts to ring, your dog is at the back door barking, kids need help doing homework, occasionally you can forget dinner is on the stove. But if you forget about it too long, your house patches on fire, and that’s going to be a problem. You can get distracted with a lot of things and suddenly miss out on something that’s really important. Our nation is dealing with a lot of issues right now — terrorism, immigration, dealing with banking issues and our economy, education, transportation, and I do have a concern that we have forgotten, this year, we still have $450 billion in deficit and $19 trillion total in debt hanging over our heads.
Now, if we were in any state in America and we were faced with that, the legislative branch would work and would make hard decisions and would balance their budget. Every single state at the end of their legislative session comes to a balanced budget. But we don’t. We just overspend. It’s happened now so many times consecutively, its built up to $19 trillion in debt. Now, I don’t have an easy way to articulate $19 trillion in debt, but let me give you a picture of that. We just passed earlier this year a ten-year budget plan that over the next ten years would get rid of our $450 billion in deficit and would slowly work that down within ten years back to balance. Good! So let’s do a hypothetical. Let’s say we finish out that path, we actually get back to balance in ten years, and then year 11, we do really well. We have a $50 billion surplus. Year 11, a $50 billion surplus. It’s a good surplus.
Here’s my question for you, Mr. President. How many years in a row would we have to have that $50 billion surplus? How many years in a row would we have to do that before we paid off our debt? The correct answer, as you’re doing math in your head, is 460 years in a row. If we had a $50 billion surplus 460 years in a row, we could pay off our debt. It’s not going to happen, is it? We’re in a bad spot. And my fear is that we’re distracted, and we’re not focusing on something that will come back and bite us.
So what do we do about that? I would ask if we could do the first thing. Can we at least agree that this is a problem and that we should actually work to balance our budget? At least have that as the common ground that we can agree on in this body and say we need to get back to a balanced budget. Then we need to begin to pay this down and start that process.
To approach this in a way that I think can develop real solutions, to find common ground areas but to begin with that one simple principle. So what we have done in our office is to come up with a list. We affectionately call it the “Federal Fumbles: 100 ways the federal government has dropped the ball”, and to identify areas that we see waste; we see duplication; and quite frankly, we see some regulations that are well outside the purview of the federal government— many of them that slow down the economy and drive up the cost to consumers. These “Federal Fumbles” aren’t an exhaustive list, this is not everything. This is just our list. We took some from multiple agencies and multiple entities. As we pulled this list together, we encouraged this. This is our to-do list. We encourage other offices to start theirs. So at least we could have a common ground sense of let’s get back to the balance and let’s actually all work together to identify something with our own office to find out ways that we can deal with some simple things.
How are we wasting taxpayer dollars? What programs are rife with fraud? What duplication and inefficiency is out there? Where are we over-regulating that raises the costs of goods and services for consumers? And, how does the government actually have processes in place that deceive taxpayers and add debt to their families? When we talk through this, we had a common agreement on our team. We’re not going to just identify problems. We’re going to actually work together and find a solution. Our issue and our conversation has been simple. If I’m back home in Oklahoma, I can sit around at the coffee house and I can visit over breakfast with folks and we can talk about all the problems. But when I get back in this room, we can’t just explain about the issues. We have to fix those. That’s our job. And we spend a tremendous amount of time just complaining about the issues as if fixing it comes from somewhere else. So we take all 100 of these issues and say here’s the problem, here’s the solution we would propose. If people had different ideas and different solutions, bring them, but let’s agree at least these things should be resolved.
Some of them are small, some of them are large, but we simply ask the question how do we fix this? I would say several things with that. One is we’ve got to fix our budgeting process— the way we make decisions about it. The way these cute little terms in our budgeting process like CIMPs, Changes in Mandatory Programs. It’s a cute term, but the problem is it’s $11 billion of debt that’s added every year and everyone pretends it’s not there. It’s not real. There is this fund called the Crime Victims Fund. This fund is applied to go directly to what it says to crime victims, but it’s actually not used for crime victims. $11 billion each year, in fact, the same $11 billion each year is used as an offset for additional spending, but the money never actually moves out of that account. It just stays there. We pretend we were going to spend it and actually spend it somewhere else and then next year do the same thing again.
It’s deceptive. We’ve got to stop that. That adds deficit and debt onto families by a deceptive tactic. We have a thing called the Corporate Payment Shift. This one’s fun as well. Corporate Payment Shift assumes that money would come in and that money would be spent and we have a ten-year budgeting window. We moved it in the very last month to year ten plus one month. Moved it just slightly out of the budget window, but say we’re going to spend it and actually go ahead and spend it anyway. If we had a budget that was ten years and one month, “it would be out of balance”, but if we put that little corporate payment shift in there, on paper it looks fine. For reality, it doesn’t work. So we identify that as one of the “fumbles” that we have as a government. Something that we have obviously got to fix. Basic oversight will help that, but it’s also this body making a decision on how we actually budget. We also walked through a lot of areas that we just identified things that the federal government spends money on that we thought were rather unique that we would spend money on those things and may need some oversight.
How about a $43 million gas station, natural gas filling station that was put in in Afghanistan? $43 million to do one natural gas filling station. Now that that station is in place, it’s not being used at all. It is a $43 million waste. How about the Academy Awards? A pretty ritzy event. The academy awards, they are choosing to build a museum, a $250 million museum, actually, and the federal taxpayer is kicking in $25,000 of that. Why in the world are we kicking in $25,000 into a $250 million? Do we believe at some point they couldn’t raise that last $25,000, and so we had to kick in a federal connection to it? I would disagree. One of my favorites is the fact that we just spent almost $50,000 to study the history of tobacco use in Russia.
I am still looking for the national security implications of why we just spent $50,000 to study cigarette use in Russia. The national parks service spent $65,000 doing a study on what happens when you turn on a light in dark areas to bugs. Now, I could ask anyone in this chamber that’s ever been out in the woods what happens if you turn on a light in a rural area, what do bugs do? They fly at it. But we spent $65,000 trying to investigate that. The VA in Arkansas wanted to put solar panels to show they had green energy in this area. Many VA centers around the country are doing this. The particular one in Arkansas put them on, put them on the wrong spot, relocated them, spent $8 million total just in installation for their solar panels. Any guess on how long those solar panels will have to run continuously before they pay off the cost of installation? How about almost 40 years?
They will have to run continuously before they just pay for the cost of installation. That’s not green energy. That’s just waste. How about a challenge like this this — Social Security Administration and the definition for social security disability is you cannot work in any job in the economy. You’re only eligible for social security disability if you cannot work in any job in the economy. But there are individuals that receive both social security disability, which by definition means you cannot work, and they receive unemployment insurance, which by definition means you’re looking for a job. You should not be able to get unemployment insurance and social security disability insurance at the same time. They violate the definitions between the two. Even the President of the United States agrees with that. Yet we have not been able to get that done. That’s a fumble.
We spent $374,000 as American taxpayers studying the dating habits of senior adults. Studying the dating habits of senior adults. Can someone help me with the national security implications for that? Why we spent $374,000 studying the dating habits of senior adults? We also created what’s called the Ambassador’s slush fund. The Ambassador’s cultural fund from the state department, $5 million — almost $6 million — is designed to be able to help us give money away to do construction in other areas. We’ve done projects like building a welcome grotto into a Buddhist temple in China, which I find the ultimate irony. If any church in America said we want to be able to add on a welcome center on to our church, we would forbid the use of taxpayer dollars for that. But in China, we literally borrowed money from them, gave it to our state department so they could build a welcome grotto into a Buddhist temple back in China. I’m not sure that’s a great idea.
The State Department also has a Twitter account called “Think Again, Turn Away.” It’s to discourage people from joining jihadi movement. Think Again, Turn Away. Any guess on how much Americans spent for a Twitter account? That one Twitter account with 23,000 followers, we spent $5 million for. $5 million to maintain a Twitter account. I am very confident that there are multiple teenagers at home that could help us run that for a lot less than the price. Mr. President, I’d like to ask unanimous consent that I extend for a couple more moments. The presiding officer: Is there objection? Without objection. Mr. Lankford: Let me mention just a couple more. Mr. President, I have a real concern that our Social Security Administration is not sharing what’s called the Death Master File.
That may seem like a macabre comment there, but what happens is, if we don’t share the Death Master File, then we don’t know in other agencies when to pull off a Social Security Number off the record. So Social Security recognizes that a person passed away, but the IRS doesn’t so that’s still a live Social Security Number to them. Meaning someone could get that Social Security Number, file, get a work permit, even vote and register, all sorts of things can be done under that number. We have 6.5 million people, according to our government, that are over 112 years old. 6.5 million people. That’s quite a few. Actually, in the world, there are less than a hundred. But according to our government, we have 6.5 million and those numbers are being abused. And I can’t even get into multiple issues, but let me just mention one more on this list on waste. We identified what many Americans already know — Social Security Numbers are being stolen and used to file fraudulent tax forms. And many Americans in the coming months will file their taxes only to get notification from the IRS, someone’s already filed under this number already. It’s infuriating to them and it’s billions of dollars in loss to the federal taxpayer.
The IRS knows how to fix this. We list out the solutions on this. We’ve got to actually implement this. We have to be able to protect the taxpayer and to protect individuals from identify theft being stolen. That is a fumble, but it’s fixable and we need to do it. I haven’t even gotten into some simple things like the school lunches. Ask any teenager what they think of the school lunches at this point and the new regulations. Or Waters of the U.S. and how even the corps of engineers doesn’t even want to implement the new E.P.A. rule. How the fiduciary standard is causing chaos among retirees and individuals wanting to get retirement advice. Or rural banks and how they want to be able to give out loans for mortgages, but can’t in many rural areas of America. There are solutions to these. And it’s our responsibility to be able to work through the process to solve this.
With $450 billion in deficit spending and an economy that continues to slow down, this body needs to determine what is our job and do it. And it would be my encouragement in the days ahead Mr. President, that we actually achieve that. That in the days ahead, we speak of what we got solved for the American people rather than pretending we’re eating breakfast back home with some friends complaining about the problems. It’s time for us to fix them. With that, Mr. President, I yield back.”