Senator Barack Obama Floor Statement General Michael Hayden Nomination

May 25, 2006

Mr. President.

Let me start by saying that General Hayden is extremely well qualified for this position. Having previously served as head of the National Security Agency and as Deputy Director of National Intelligence under John Negroponte, he has thirty years of experience in intelligence and national security matters. And he was nearly universally praised during his confirmation to deputy DNI.

Unfortunately, General Hayden is being nominated under troubling circumstances as the architect and chief defender of a program of wiretapping and collection of phone records outside of FISA oversight. This is a program that is still accountable to no one and no law.

Now, there is no one in this Congress who doesn't want President Bush to have every tool at his disposal to prevent terrorist attacks - including the use of a surveillance program. Every single American - Democrat and Republican -- who remembers the images of falling towers and needless death would gladly support increased surveillance to prevent another attack.

But over the last six months, Americans have learned that the National Security Agency has been spying on Americans without judicial approval. We learned about this not from the Administration, but from the New York Times and USA Today. Every time a revelation came out, President Bush refused to answer questions from Congress.

This is part of a general stance by this Administration that it can operate with no restraints. President Bush is interpreting Article II of the Constitution as giving him authority with no bounds. The Attorney General and a hand full of scholars agree with this view, and I don't doubt the sincerity with which the President and his lawyers believe this constitutional interpretation. However, the overwhelming weight of legal authority is against the President on his unbounded authority without any checks or balances. This is not how our Constitution is designed.

We don't expect the President to give the American people every detail about a classified surveillance program. But we do expect him to place such a program within the rule of law, and to allow members of the other two coequal branches of government - Congress and the Judiciary - to have the ability to monitor and oversee such a program. Our Constitution and our right to privacy as Americans require as much.

Unfortunately, we were never given the chance to make that examination. Time and again, President Bush has refused to come clean to Congress. Why was it that 14 of 16 members of the Intelligence Committee were kept in the dark for four and a half years? The only reason that some Senators are now being briefed is because the story was made public. Without that information it is impossible to make the decisions that allow us to balance the need to fight terrorism while still upholding the rule of law and privacy protections that make this country great.

Every democracy is tested when it is faced with a serious threat. As a nation, we have to find the right balance between privacy and security, between executive authority to face threats and uncontrolled power. What protects us, and what distinguishes us, are the procedures we put in place to protect that balance, namely judicial warrants and congressional review. These aren't arbitrary ideas. These are the concrete safeguards that make sure that surveillance hasn't gone too far. That someone is watching the watchers.

The exact details of these safeguards are not etched in stone. They can be reevaluated from time to time. The last time we had a major overhaul of the intelligence apparatus was 30 years ago in the aftermath of Watergate. After those dark days, the White House worked in a collaborative way with Congress through the Church Committee to study the issue, revise intelligence laws and set up a system of checks and balances. It worked then and it could work now. But unfortunately, this Administration has made no effort to reach out to Congress and tailor FISA.

I have no doubt that General Hayden will be confirmed. But I am going to reluctantly vote against him to send a signal to this Administration that even in these circumstances President Bush is not above the law. I am voting against Hayden in the hope that he will be more humble before the great weight of responsibility that he has, not only to protect our lives, but to protect our democracy.

Americans fought a Revolution in part over the right to be free from unreasonable searches - to ensure that our government couldn't come knocking in the middle of the night for no reason. We need to find a way forward to make sure that we can stop terrorists while protecting the privacy, and liberty, of innocent Americans. We have to find a way to give the President the power he needs to protect us, while making sure he doesn't abuse that power. It is possible to do that. We have done it before, we could do it again.

Senator Obama's Floor Speech Opposition to the Amendment Requiring a Photo ID

May 24, 2006

Thank you very much, Mr. President. Let me just echo Senator Kennedy's strong opposition to the amendment that is offered by the Senator from Kentucky.

There is no more fundamental right accorded to United States citizens by the Constitution than the right to vote. The unimpeded exercise of this right is essential to the functioning of our democracy. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to certain citizens in protecting their ability to exercise this right.

For a large part of our nation's history, racial minorities have been prevented from voting because of barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes and property requirements. We've come a long way. That was clear a few weeks ago when Democrats and Republicans, members of the Senate and the House stood on the Capitol steps to announce the introduction of a bill to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. That rare and refreshing display of bipartisanship reflects our collective belief that more needs to be done to remove barriers to voting.

Right now, the Senate is finishing a historic debate about immigration reform. It's been a difficult discussion, occasionally contentious. It's required bipartisan cooperation. After several weeks and many, many amendments, we're less than an hour away from voting for cloture. Considering our progress and the delicate balance we're trying to maintain, this amendment could not come at a worse time.

Let's be clear. This is a national voter ID law. This is a national voter ID law that breaks the careful compromise struck by a 50-50 Senate four years ago. It would be the most restrictive voter ID ever enacted, one that could quite literally result in millions of disenfranchised voters and utter chaos at the state level.

Now, I recognize there's a certain simplistic appeal to this amendment. Why shouldn't we require people to have a voter ID card when they vote? Don't we want to make sure voters are who they claim to be? And shouldn't we make sure non-citizens are casting ballots to change the outcome of elections?

There are two problems with the argument: number one, there's been no showing that there's any significant problem with voter fraud in the 50 states. There certainly is no showing that non-citizens are rushing to try to vote: this is a solution in search of a problem.

The second problem is that historically disenfranchised groups - minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled - are most affected by photo ID laws. Let me give you a few statistics, overall 12% of voting age American do not have a driver's license, most of whom are minority, new U.S. citizens, the indigent, the elderly or the disabled. AARP reports that 3.6 million disabled Americans have no driver's license. A recent study in Wisconsin this year found that white adults were twice as likely to have driver's licenses as African Americans over 18. In Louisiana, African Americans are four to five times less likely to have photo IDs than white residents.

Now, why won't poor people be able to get photo IDs or Real IDs? It's simple. Because they cost money. You need a birth certificate, passport or proof naturalization and that can cost up to $85. Then you need to go to the state office to apply for a card. That requires time off work, possibly a long trip on public transportation assuming there's an office near you. Imagine if you only vote once ever two or four years, it's not very likely you'll take time off work, take a bus to pay $85 just so you can vote. That is not something that most folks are going to be able to do.

The fact of the matter, Mr. President, is that this is an idea that has been batted around not with respect to immigration but with respect to generally attempting to restrict the approach for people voting throughout the country. This is not the time to do it.

The Carter-Baker commission in 2002-2004 said fraudulent votes make up .000003% of the votes cast. That's a lot of zeros. Let me say it a different way. Out of almost 200 million votes that were cast during these elections, 52 were fraudulent. To put that into some context, you are statistically more likely to get killed by lightning than to find a fraudulent vote in a federal election.

Mr. President, this is not the appropriate time to be debating this kind of amendment. We've got a lot of serious issues with respect to immigration. I would ask that all my colleagues reject the amendment so we can move on to the important business at hand. Thank you, Mr. President.

Floor Statement by Senator Barack Obama Employment Verification Amendment for the Immigration Bill

May 23, 2006

Mr. President. I come to the floor today to discuss the bipartisan employment verification system amendment that Senators Grassley, Kennedy, Kyl, and I have introduced.

One of the central components of immigration reform is enforcement, and this bill contains a number of important provisions to beef up border security. But that's not enough. Real enforcement also means drying up the pool of jobs that encourages illegal immigration. And that can only happen if employers don't hire illegal workers. Unfortunately, our current employer enforcement system does little to nothing to deter illegal immigrants from finding work.

Overall, the number of workplace arrests of illegal immigrants fell from 17,552 in 1997 to 451 in 2002, even as illegal immigration grew during that time. Moreover, between 25% to 40% of all undocumented immigrants are people who have overstayed their visas. And the only way to effectively deter overstays is to reduce access to employment.

When Congress last passed an immigration bill in 1986, we didn't provide a meaningful way for employers to check legal eligibility to work. Currently, employees can prove their legal status by showing a variety of documents, and employers are supposed to record their inspection of such documents by filling out an I-9 form for each employee. As a result, the market for fraudulent documents -- fake Social Security cards, driver's licenses, birth certificates - has exploded.

But, with more than 100 million employees in more than 6 million workplaces, and only about 788 Wage and Hour investigators, employer sanctions have become merely a nuisance requirement to maintain records, not a serious risk of penalties. As a result, the number of "intent to fine" notices issued to employers for hiring undocumented workers dropped from 417 in 1999 to just three in 2004.

Understandably, employers cannot always detect forged documents. And employers who reject workers with questionable documents risk an employment discrimination suit.

That's why we need a better alternative. We need an electronic verification system that can effectively detect the use of fraudulent documents, significantly reduce the employment of illegal workers, and give employers the confidence that their workforce is legal.

When Congress first considered comprehensive immigration reform in April, the legislation on the floor addressed this problem by creating a national employment eligibility verification system. Senators Grassley, Kyl, and I all thought that was a good idea in theory, but we had concerns with the design of the system.

Senators Grassley and Kyl proposed that the verification system be implemented nationally within 18 months.

Senators Kennedy and I proposed that the system be phased in over five years but that it also include additional accuracy and privacy standards, as well as strict prohibitions on use of the system to discriminate against workers.

For the past few weeks, our staffs have worked together in a bipartisan effort to negotiate a substitute that took the concerns of both proposals into consideration. I'm pleased that we've reached an agreement.

Under our compromise amendment, all employers would have to participate 18 months after the Department of Homeland Security receives the appropriations needed to fund the system. All new employees hired would have to be run through the system, and a series of privacy and accuracy standards would protect citizens and legal immigrants from errors in the system and breaches of private information.

And to make sure that employers take the system seriously, we strengthen civil penalties for employers who hire unauthorized workers, and we establish criminal penalties for repeat violators.

We've worked in a constructive, bipartisan manner to design an employment verification system that is fair to legal workers and tough on illegal workers. This is a good amendment, and I urge my colleagues to support it.

Thank you.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine Commencement Address

May 20, 2006

Congratulations! After four long years of endless work, sleepless nights, and constant stress, you can finally look forward to three years of even more work, less sleep, and stress that may tempt you to self-prescribe.

But hey, at least there's June!

Of course, you knew all of this coming in. You understood the sacrifices involved and the commitment necessary to become a doctor. You were aware that it would take years of your life and leave you with significant debt.

And yet, you signed up anyway.

You chose this profession because you heard a calling; and in answering that call revealed that you don't just see this as a profession. From now on, doctor won't just be a title you'll hold, it will be a part of who you are - a healer, a saver of life. And no matter where you may be or what situation you may find yourself, you will forever come forward at the first sound of the question, "Is there a doctor in the house?"

This is a good thing. I mention it not to add to the burdens that must already weigh heavily on your shoulders, but to point out that your distinct commitment and compassion for the lives of your fellow human beings is a quality that has intrinsic value far outside the doctor's office or the operating room.

And it is because of this quality that I want to ask something of you.

Life often happens in a way that makes it easy for us to miss the larger obligations we have toward one another. The demands of work and time and money tend to narrow our focus and cause us to turn inward. You might flip on the news or pick up the paper and feel moved by a story about genocide in Darfur or the AIDS epidemic or the fifteen-year-old who was gunned down in front of his house. You may even feel compelled to do something about it. But inevitably, it becomes time to study, or go to work, or cook dinner, or put the kids to bed - and so we often turn away from the big stuff and concentrate on simply surviving the small.

This is perfectly human. It is perfectly understandable. And yet, the survival of our country has always required more. It has required ordinary men and women to look beyond their own lives; to think about the larger challenges we face as a people - and then rise to meet them.

This is what I'd like to ask you to do today.

In a few months, your residencies will begin. And on a daily basis, you will encounter patients with every disease and ailment imaginable. There will be heart problems and lung problems; common colds and deadly flus; broken bones and painful diagnoses.

But after being there for awhile, you will encounter another, more pervasive affliction that affects more than just individual patients. Perhaps you will first notice it when a doctor tells a woman that her husband will need a life-saving procedure that their insurance will not cover and their family cannot afford. Perhaps it will be the late-stage diagnosis of a cancer that could have been prevented with a routine screening that the patient's health care plan just doesn't cover. Perhaps it will be the endless stream of people who wait and wait in an Emergency Room which is the only place that will treat the uninsured.

At some point in your residency, you'll see firsthand that there is something fundamentally broken about our health care system. You'll realize that for millions upon millions of Americans, the care you provide is becoming far too costly for them to afford. And you'll have to decide what, if anything, you're going to do about it.

You've all heard the statistics - 46 million Americans uninsured. 5 million more in just the last four years. Family premiums up 65%. Deductibles up 50%.

It's a cost crisis that traps us all in a vicious cycle. Because the uninsured can't afford health care, they put off seeing a doctor or end up in the ER when they get sick. Then their care is more expensive, and so premiums for all Americans go up. Because everyone's premiums go up, more Americans lose their health care.

From the smallest mom and pop stores to major corporations like GM, businesses who can't afford these rising costs are cutting back on insurance, workers, or both. States with bigger Medicaid bills and smaller budgets are being forced to choose whether they want their citizens to be unhealthy or uneducated. And over half of all family bankruptcies today are caused by medical bills.

This is affecting your profession too. Whether it's Medicaid reimbursements, the rising price of medical malpractice insurance, or having HMOs look over your shoulder, all the hard work and sacrifice you've put in during medical school is becoming less rewarding than it once was.

And so today I ask you to be more than just practitioners of medicine; I ask you to be advocates for medicine. I ask you to be advocates for a health care system that is fair, that is just, and that provides every single American with the best your profession has to offer.

Just like generations before, you must dare to believe - not only as tomorrow's physicians, but as tomorrow's parents, workers, business owners, and citizens. You must choose: Will the medical miracles you perform over the next generation reach only the luckiest few? Or will history look back at this moment as the time when we finally made care available at a cost that we can afford?

There isn't one person sitting here today who wants to turn a sick patient away because they can't pay. Not one person who wants the care they deliver denied to those whose lives depend on it. Each of you has dedicated yourselves to this calling because where there is a sick person, you want to heal them. Where there is a life in jeopardy, you want to save it.

And so today, when you leave here, it will not only be with great knowledge, but with even greater responsibility. Because if we do nothing about the rising cost of health care, it will keep climbing, and in ten years, the number of uninsured could grow to 54 million.

We can solve this problem. Challenging as it may seem, all over America there are already business owners and political leaders and labor representatives and members of the medical profession who are coming up with new and different ways to cut costs and improve quality in our health care system. In Massachusetts, they just signed into law a groundbreaking plan that would cover most all of its citizens.

This can be our future, but everyone needs to stay involved, and everyone needs to put the pressure on Washington, because they sure won't do it on their own. Just a little while ago, we were told that it was "Health Care Week" in the U.S. Senate. Five days later, we had failed to debate even a single bill that would have fundamentally improved access for the 46 million Americans without health insurance.

This is why we need you. We need you to dream, we need you to speak out, and we need you to act. And together, we can build a health care system in this country that finally works for every American.

We can have a system where no matter how many times you switch jobs or how large or small your employer is, you have a health care plan that stays with you forever.

We can have a system that reduces medical error and cuts costs by using 21st century technology to put all of our medical information online. A system where every doctor and nurse can sit by a patient's bedside with a laptop and pull up their entire medical history with the click of a mouse. Where every patient has an electronic bracelet that you could scan to find out the exact type and amount of medication they needed so there are no mistakes made. Where you could go online and monitor a patient's breathing and heart rate while they were home to track their recovery.

We can have a system of evidence-based health care that shares information about what works and what doesn't, so we can actually provide patients with the care they need when they need it.

And we can have a health care system where we focus on preventing deadly and costly illnesses before they occur - where we ensure that every American has routine check-ups and screenings and information about how to live a healthy lifestyle.

We can do all of this - but we need your help to get it done.

Of course, no one's forcing you to meet these challenges. Each of you has been blessed with extraordinary gifts and talent. And so if you want, you can leave here and focus on your own medical career and your own success, not giving another thought to the plight of the growing millions who can't afford the care you will provide. After all, there is no community service requirement in the real world; and no one's forcing you to care.

But I hope that you do. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. You need to take on the challenges that your country is facing because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.

Looking out at this class of 2006, I think my hope is well-placed. With the field you have chosen, you've already shown how much you care about the lives of others; how strongly you have heard the calling to be healers in this world. Today, I ask you to remember that call always, and to remember how it could include more than the patient sitting in your office. It could also include the patients who can't afford to get there, the ones who aren't being provided the best care, and the general health of all Americans.

When you think about these challenges, I also ask you to remember that in this country, our history of overcoming the seemingly impossible always comes about because individuals who care really can make a difference.

A century ago, who would have dared to believe that in just one hundred years, we would add thirty years to the average lifespan and witness a 90% drop in the rate of infant death? Who would have dared to believe that with a simple vaccine, we could eliminate a disease that left millions without the ability to walk? That we could transplant a heart or resuscitate one that stopped? That we could unlock the greatest mysteries of life from the most basic building blocks of our existence?

In a time where you were lucky to live past fifty and doomed if you came down with the flu, who would have dared to believe these things?

The people who once sat in your position - they did. The doctors and nurses, researchers and scientists who came before. Who grew up believing that in America, the most improbable of all experiments, the place where we continue to defy the odds and write our own history, that they could be the ones to improve, extend, and save human life. That they could be the healers.

And as you go forth from here in your own life, you can keep this history alive if you only find the courage to try. Good luck with this journey, and congratulations on all of your achievements. Thank you.

Honoring Our Commitment to Veterans

May 18, 2006

Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama and today is Thursday, May 18th, 2006.

We've been having some big debates here in Washington; obviously Iraq and Iran are still high on the list. We've also been immersed in the immigration bill, which is actually making more progress than I had expected. I'll be frank with you - I was concerned that after negotiations broke down that we were not going to be able to get a bill out of the Senate. I think, actually, at this point that we may get a comprehensive bill out of the Senate, then the challenge is going to be making sure that we're able to negotiate with House members to reconcile differences and ensure that we've got a piece of legislation that both deals with border security, ensures that employers have to verify the employment status of their employees, and also gives a pathway to citizenship to the 11 to 12 million people who are already here but undocumented.

But I want to just shift gears today. This is an issue that is important to an awful lot of people in Illinois, its also important to a lot of people in states around the country. Some of you may recall, if you've been following the work that we've been doing, that I'm on the Veterans Affairs Committee and however you feel about the war in Iraq, however you feel about past wars, I think all of us, Republican, Democrat, urban, rural, whatever your demographic, should share in the belief that when a young man or woman goes off and serves our country in the military, that they should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect when they come home. That should especially be true for those who have suffered disabilities on the battlefield. Anybody who's ever visited Walter Reed Hospital here in Washington and has seen twenty year-olds and twenty-two year-olds who have had legs amputated or suffered severe nerve damage I think understands they have made an unbelievable sacrifice on our behalf and that we've got an obligation to make sure that just as they are fighting on our behalf that we are going to make sure that we fight for their behalf when they come home.

It turned out that a number of veterans in states including Illinois had been apparently short-changed in terms of their disability payments. Typically, veterans who've been injured receive some sort of disability payment. They are evaluated by various regional offices of Veterans Affairs, and they are awarded a certain percentage based on the kind of injury they've received and the severity of the injury.

It turns out that in Illinois, for a wide range of reasons, you had veterans who had been injured getting paid much lower disability payments than veterans in some other states - and these differences were substantial. Illinois veterans, for example, were receiving 42 percent less per year than some of the leading states. So, to give you an example, an average disability payment to Illinois veterans would be $6,961. In New Mexico, the top ranked state - same veteran, same disability - on average, was getting $12,000 a year. So, obviously this wasn't acceptable to me as a senator from Illinois, but it was unacceptable, I think, to anybody who believes that any veteran who has served our country, wherever they live, should be treated fairly and equitably. As a consequence, we've moved forward and passed legislation last year ensuring that, in fact, some of these differentials were dealt with. We asked the VA to come to Illinois and other states that had suffered some of these problems and made sure that, in fact, they started assigning and retraining some of the people who were doing the evaluations. The other thing is we insisted that the Veterans Administration do outreach to people who have received disability payments all these years and may have been short-changed. And so what happened is starting this month, you had the Department of Veterans Affairs sending out letters to disabled veterans in Illinois and several other states indicating to them that they live in a state that has received low average disability compensation and that they have the right to open new claims, appeal what a veteran may consider to be a bad decision, to get help from veterans service organizations, in terms of processing these reevaluations that have been requested.

And so today I just wanted to make sure that veterans were aware of this. I hope that we've got some veterans on the podcast who may have been disabled and are receiving benefits. If you live in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio or New Jersey, than you live in a state in which the average disability payment is substantially lower than payments to disabled veterans in other states. It doesn't mean that your individual payment is necessarily too low; it may have been that you actually were treated fairly by the VA, but there is a possibility that because you live in one of these states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Connecticut, Ohio or New Jersey) that, in fact, you were getting a lower disability payment than you should have received. The VA should have sent a letter to you to contact you, to give you an opportunity to have your claim reevaluated and if you have not received a letter but you are a disabled veteran that was awarded a disability payment in one of those states, then you can call 1-800-827-1000. That's 1-800-827-1000, or you can get on the following website: I know that's a mouthful, so what you can do is get on our website and we will post on the website, the VA website that is designed to do this outreach. I hope that all of you take a look at this if you are a disabled veteran because we want to make sure that you have been treated fairly by the VA.

And for those of you who aren't veterans, I hope that you will continue to be supportive of our veterans. Many of them have a very difficult time adjusting when they first come back home. I think any of us who can imagine being on the battlefield in a place like Baghdad, perhaps seeing one of your friends injured or killed, seeing yourself lose a leg or an arm, experiencing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, you can only imagine the difficulties in making the adjustment to civilian life.

In fact, one of the things that I'm going to be monitoring very closely is how are we treating the 100,000 plus veterans who are going to be coming home and to make sure the VA has the capacity to provide transition services for veterans who are leaving the service and reentering civilian life, particularly National Guardsmen and Reservists who perhaps did not expect to be fighting in a place like Iraq. It turns out that if you catch a veteran and provide them good services on the way out, they are much less likely to suffer Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and can make the adjustment. If some of the problems they may have as a consequence of being on the battlefield are not dealt with early, then they can have long-term problems, which is one of the reasons why veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless than non-veterans. So, that's an amazing statistic to think about. It indicates the enormous toll that war, of any sort, can take on our young men and women. It's also a reminder for those of us who are in civilian life but have the authority to authorize war do so with a great sense of responsibility and caution.

Anyway, it's great to talk to you guys as always. I will be back on this podcast next week. In the meantime, I hope everybody will continue to monitor this immigration debate. I may have something more to say about it next week. In the meantime, I hope everybody will continue to monitor this immigration debate. I may have something more to say about it next week. Bye-bye.

A Real Solution for High Gas Prices

May 11, 2006

Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama and today is Thursday, May 11, 2006.

The other day I went to the gas station. Gas was $3.08 a gallon in the station where I stopped. It is rough on Americans across the country right now. Chicago has some of the highest gasoline prices in the country. I'm fortunate that I am able to afford spending $50 on a tank of gas; there are a lot of families out there that can't. People who have to drive to work long distances, people who don't have the money to buy more fuel-efficient cars right now and they've seen their standard of living drop substantially as a consequence of higher gas prices.

Now, the only thing as predictable as rising gas prices are the short-term political solutions that usually come along with them. Every year you had the same headlines, "Pain at the Pump" and then Americans start emptying their wallets to fill up their tanks and politicians go through the standard responses: tax rebates and tax holidays, investigating price-gauging bio-oil companies.

None of these proposals are going to do any harm. Some will provide Americans temporary relief at the pump, but, in the long term, we can't keep on relying solely on quick fixes designed to placate an anxious public. We need proactive solutions that are designed to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and bring down prices for good. Washington privately understands this but perhaps because of the influence of the oil companies, some of it having to do with ideology, Washington has just been unwilling to take the hard steps necessary to confront what I consider to be one of the most pressing economic and national security challenges in the 21st century. So, the time for excuses is over. Now's not the moment where we should be afraid of what is going to seem politically difficult or controversial. Now's the time to call for innovation and sacrifice from those institutions that can make a difference: the auto industry, the oil industry, the federal government.

The first place to start is with cars. We've got to build cars that use less gasoline. The auto industry hasn't been asked to raise fuel-economy standards in seventeen years and frankly, lately Republicans and Democrats seem to have stopped asking. Today, we've got no choice. Starting in 2008, we should raise CAFE standards (that's the fuel-efficiency standards on cars) a modest 3 percent a year. If we did that over the next 12 years, by 2020 passenger vehicles would average 40 miles per gallon, light trucks would average 32 miles per gallon. That's not a dramatic increase; it's easily achievable through existing technology and it can be done without compromising passenger safety.

Now, there are going to be transition costs involved in making more fuel-efficient automobiles, especially for Detroit, which has relied heavily on the sale of SUVs for its profits. So I've proposed what I call the "Healthcare for Hybrids" bill, where we'd strike a grand bargain with U.S. auto-makers. We tell them we're going to pickup part of the tab for the retiree healthcare costs, a tab which, by the way, ran 6.7 billion dollars last year but, in exchange, you've got to use the money to invest in transitioning to fuel-efficient cars. So that would be point number one.

Point number two: we should just replace the use of oil altogether as America's fuel of choice. This doesn't mean singing the praises of ethanol, and hoping that it finds its way into our fuel supply on its own. It means taking some serious steps now to put a national bio-fuel infrastructure into place. Already some cars on the road have flexible fuel tanks necessary for them to run on E85, which is a cheaper, cleaner blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. But millions upon millions of cars still don't have these tanks. So its time for auto-makers to install those tanks in every single car that they make and the government can help cover this small cost which currently runs at just around $100 per car. It's also time to start making E85 fueling stations more available to the American public. Currently only 681 out of the 170,000 fueling stations in America offer E85 pumps. That's not acceptable. Every American should have the choice when they pull up to fill up their car with E85. That should be true at any fueling station and the oil companies should stop standing in the way and join us in making this happen. If the big oil companies would devote just one percent of their first quarter profits this year to install E85 pumps, more than 7,000 service stations would be able to serve E85 to motorists who could use it.

Finally, we need to reduce the risk of investing in renewable fuels by providing loan guarantees and venture capital to those entrepreneurs with the best plans to develop cell-bio fuel and we should start creating a market for renewable fuels by ramping up the renewable fuel standard and creating an alternative diesel standard in this country, a national standard, that together would blend 65 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the petroleum supply every year.

If we had taken all these steps decades ago, like Brazil did when the call for energy independence was first issued, we'd be immune right now to the whims of oil-rich dictators and surging gas prices. If we don't take these steps now there's going to be a day when we look back at that $3.05 or $3.15 gasoline as the good old days. At some point there's not going to be a tax rebate that's big enough or a tax holiday that's long enough to solve these problems. The American people shouldn't have to wait for this day to come. When it comes to reducing our dependence of foreign oil, the resources are there, the technology is there, the demand is there. Now we just need a little bit of political will and I hope that you guys will help me provide it.

Thanks for downloading and listening to the podcast. I will talk to you soon. Bye-bye.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama at Emily's List Annual Luncheon

Washington, DC | May 11, 2006

Thank you for inviting me here today and thank you to EMILY's List for all you've done to forever change the face of women in politics. Your efforts haven't just sent women to Congress, you've sent champions - champions for the right to choose, for the right to equality, for the millions of women who ask only that their voices are heard too.

And we all owe the biggest thanks to the woman who hasn't just believed in that change, but who's done more to actually affect it, who's helped send more Democratic women to Congress over the last two decades than anyone in politics today. Ellen Malcolm, we are in debt to you, we are in awe of you, and we continue to be inspired by your example and your commitment to women everywhere. Thank you.

We meet here today at a time where we find ourselves at a crossroads in America's history.

It's a time where you can go to any town hall or street corner or coffee shop and hear people express the same anxiety about the future; hear them convey the same uncertainty about the direction we're headed as a country. Whether it's the war or Katrina or their health care or their jobs, you hear people say that we've finally arrived at a moment where something must change.

These are Americans who still believe in an America where anything's possible - they just don't think their leaders do. These are Americans who still dream big dreams -they just sense their leaders have forgotten how.

I remember when I first ran for the state Senate - my very first race. A seat had opened up, and some friends asked me if I'd be interested in running. Well, I thought about it, and then I did what every wise man does when faced with a difficult decision: I prayed, and I asked my wife.

And after consulting with these higher powers, I threw my hat in the ring and I did what every person on a campaign does - I talked to anyone who'd listen.

I went to bake sales and barber shops and if there were two guys standing on the corner I'd pull up and hand them literature. And everywhere I went I'd get two questions:

First, they'd ask, "Where'd you get that funny name, Barack Obama?" Because people just couldn't pronounce it. They'd call me "Alabama," or they'd call me "Yo Mama." And I'd have to explain that I got the name from my father, who was from Kenya.

And the second thing people would ask me was, "You seem like a nice young man. You teach law school, you're a civil rights attorney, you organize voter registration, you're a family man - why would you wanna go into something dirty and nasty like politics?"

And I understood the question because it revealed the cynicism people feel about public life today. That even though we may get involved out of civic obligation every few years, we don't always have confidence that government can make a difference in our lives.

So I understand the cynicism. But whenever I get in that mood, I think about something that happened to me on the eve of my election to the United States Senate.

We had held a large rally the night before in the Southside of Chicago. And in the midst of this rally, someone comes up to me and says that there's a woman who'd like to meet you, and she's traveled a long way and she wants to take a picture and shake your hand.

And so I said fine, and I met her, and we talked. And all of this would have been unremarkable except for the fact that this woman, Marguerite Lewis, was born in 1899 and was 105 years old.

And ever since I met this frail, one-hundred-and-five-year-old African-American woman who came all the way to this rally, I've thought about all she's seen in her life.

I've thought about the fact that when she was born, there weren't cars on the road, and no airplanes in the sky. That she was born under the cloud of Jim Crow, at a time for black folks when lynchings were common, but voting was forbidden.

I've thought about how she lived to see a world war and a Great Depression and a second world war.

I thought about how she saw women finally win the right to vote. How she watched FDR lift this nation out of its own fear. How she saw unions rise up and watched immigrants leave distant shores in search of an idea known as America.

She believed in this idea and she saw all this progress and she had faith that someday it would be her turn. And when she finally saw hope break through the horizon in the Civil Rights Movement, she thought, "Maybe it's my turn."

And at last - at last - she saw the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. And she saw people lining up to vote for the first time - and she got in that line - and she never forgot it. She kept on voting in each and every election because she believed. She believed that over a span of three centuries, she had seen enough to know that there is no challenge too great, no injustice too crippling, no destiny too far out of reach for America.

She believed that we don't have to settle for equality for some or opportunity for the lucky or freedom for the few.

And she knew that during those moments in history where it looked like we might give up hope or settle for less, there have always been Americans who refused. Who said we're going to keep on dreaming, and we're going to keep on building, and we're going to keep on marching, and we're going to keep on working because that's who we are. Because we've always fought to bring all of our people under the blanket of the American Dream.

And I think that we face one of those moments today. In a century just five years old, our faith has already been shaken by war and terror, disaster and despair, threats to the middle-class dream, and scandal and corruption in our government.

The world has changed. No longer can we assume that a high-school education is enough to compete for a job that could easily go to a college-educated student in Bangalore or Beijing. No more can we count on employers to provide health care and pensions and job training when their bottom-lines know no borders. Never again can we expect the oceans that surround America to keep us safe from attacks on our own soil.

But while the world has changed around us, too often our government has stood still. Our faith has been shaken, but the people running Washington aren't willing to make us believe again.

It's the timidity - the smallness - of our politics that's holding us back right now. The idea that some problems are just too big to handle, and if you just ignore them, sooner or later, they'll go away. That if you give a speech where you rattle off statistics about the stock market being up and orders for durable goods being on the rise, no one will notice the single mom whose two jobs won't pay the bills or the student who can't afford his college dreams. That if you say the words "plan for victory" and point to the number of schools painted and roads paved and cell phones used in Iraq, no one will notice the more than 2,300 flag-draped coffins that have arrived at Dover Air Force base.

Well it's time we finally said we notice, and we care, and we're not gonna settle anymore.

You know, you probably never thought you'd hear this at an Emily's List luncheon, but Newt Gingrich made a great point a few weeks back. He was talking about what an awful job his own party has done governing this country, and he said that with all the mistakes and misjudgments the Republicans have made over the last six years, the slogan for the Democrats should come down to just two words:

Had enough?

I don't know about you, but I think old Newt is onto something here. Because I think we've all had enough. Enough of the broken promises. Enough of the failed leadership. Enough of the can't-do, won't-do, won't-even-try style of governance.

Four years after 9/11, I've had enough of being told that we can find the money to give Paris Hilton more tax cuts, but we can't find enough to protect our ports or our railroads or our chemical plants or our borders.

I've had enough of the closed-door deals that give billions to the HMOs when we're told that we can't do a thing for the 45 million uninsured or the millions more who can't pay their medical bills.

I've had enough of being told that we can't afford body armor for our troops and health care for our veterans. I've had enough of that.

I've had enough of giving billions away to the oil companies when we're told that we can't invest in the renewable energy that will create jobs and lower gas prices and finally free us from our dependence on the oil wells of Saudi Arabia.

I've had enough of our kids going to schools where the rats outnumber the computers. I've had enough of Katrina survivors living out of their cars and begging FEMA for trailers. And I've had enough of being told that all we can do about this is sit and wait and hope that the good fortune of a few trickles on down to everyone else in this country.

You know, we all remember that George Bush said in 2000 campaign that he was against nation-building. We just didn't know he was talking about this one.

So yes, I've had enough. And if you've had enough too, then we got some work to do. If you've had enough, then we have some checks to write, and some calls to make, and some doors to knock on. And if we do this, then in November, we're gonna have a U.S. House with people like Tammy Duckworth in it, and Melissa Bean, and Betty Sutton, and Dianne Farrell and Lois Murphy. And we're gonna have a U.S. Senate with Amy Klobuchar and Claire McCaskill and Maria Cantwell and Debbie Stabenow. And we're gonna change business-as-usual in Washington, and we're gonna set this country in a new direction.

Now, let me say this - I don't think that George Bush is a bad man. I think he loves his country. I don't think this administration is full of stupid people - I think there are a lot of smart folks in there. The problem isn't that their philosophy isn't working the way it's supposed to - it's that it is. It's that it's doing exactly what it's supposed to do.

The reason they don't believe government has a role in solving national problems is because they think government is the problem. That we're better off if we dismantle it - if we divvy it up into individual tax breaks, hand 'em out, and encourage everyone to go buy your own health care, your own retirement security, your own child care, their own schools, your own private security force, your own roads, their own levees...

It's called the Ownership Society in Washington. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism - every man or women for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - life isn't fair. It allows us to say to the child who didn't have the foresight to choose the right parents or be born in the right suburb - pick yourself up by your bootstraps. It lets us say to the guy who worked twenty or thirty years in the factory and then watched his plant move out to Mexico or China - we're sorry, but you're on your own.

It's a bracing idea. It's a tempting idea. And it's the easiest thing in the world.

But there's just one problem. It doesn't work. It ignores our history. Yes, our greatness as a nation has depended on individual initiative, on a belief in the free market. But it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, of mutual responsibility. The idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity.

Americans know this. We know that government can't solve all our problems - and we don't want it to. But we also know that there are some things we can't do on our own. We know that there are some things we do better together.

We know that we've been called in churches and mosques, synagogues and Sunday schools to love our neighbors as ourselves; to be our brother's keeper; to be our sister's keeper. That we have individual responsibility, but we also have collective responsibility to each other.

That's what America is.

And so I am eager to have this argument not just with the President, but the entire Republican Party over what this country is about.

Because I think that this is our moment to lead.

The time for our party's identity crisis is over. Don't let anyone tell you we don't know what we stand for and don't doubt it yourselves. We know who we are and we know what our legacy is.

We're the party of Jefferson who first believed that every child in America should be educated regardless of wealth and birth and circumstance. That's who we are.

We're the party of Roosevelt who lifted this nation out of its own fear and sent workers to the factories and veterans to college and families to new homes and seniors to a comfortable retirement. That's who we are.

We're the party that stood up to fascism and defended freedom across the globe during World War II.

We're the party of civil rights, and workers' rights, and women's rights who believes that that every member of the American family deserves a shot at the American Dream. That's who we are.

We're the party of new frontiers and bold horizons - the party that put man on the moon and fueled the research that unlocked the secrets of the human genome. That's who we are.

And let me tell you about the party I see in the future.

In a globalized economy with bigger risks and greater rewards - a world where we are at once more connected and more competitive - let it be said that we are the party of opportunity. The party that guarantees every American an affordable, world-class, top-notch, life-long education - from early childhood to high school, from college to on-the-job training.

Let it be said that we are the party that equips every worker with what they need to succeed in a 21st century economy - wage supports and pensions, child care and health care that will stay with them no matter where they work or what they do.

Let it be said that we are the party of innovation and discovery - willing to blaze a trail toward energy independence or invest in the research that could create whole new industries and save thousands of lives.

And in a world where evil lurks and terrorists plot, let it be said that we will conduct a smart foreign policy that matches the might of our military with the power of our diplomacy. And when we do go to war, let us always be honest with the American people about why we are there and how we will win.

If we do all this, if we can be trusted to lead, this will not be a Democratic Agenda, it will be an American agenda. Because in the end, we may be proud Democrats, but we are prouder Americans. We're tired of being divided, tired of running into ideological walls and partisan roadblocks, tired of appeals to our worst instincts and greatest fears.

Americans everywhere are desperate for leadership. They are longing for direction. And they want to believe again.

You know, as I was thinking about today's luncheon and all the progress EMILY's List has made over the years, the first thing that came to mind wasn't all the politics or the campaigns; it wasn't even all the issues debated or the legislation passed.

I thought about my daughters.

I thought about the world that Sasha and Malia will grow up in, about the chances they'll have and the challenges they'll face. And I thought about my hopes for them - that they'll be able to dream without limit, achieve without constraint, and be free to seek their own happiness.

And I wondered - if they are lucky enough to live as long as 105-year-old Marguerite Lewis, if they someday have the chance to look back across the twenty-first century, what will they see? Will they see a country that is freer and kinder, more tolerant and more just than the one they grew up in? Will they see greater opportunities for every citizen of this country? Will all her of my hopes for my girls be fulfilled?

We are here today because we believe that in this country, we have it within our power to say "yes" to those questions - to forge our own destiny - to begin the world anew.

We are here because we believe that this is our time.

Our time to make a mark on history.

Our time to write a new chapter in the American story.

And then someday, someday, if our kids get the chance to stand where we are and look back at the beginning of the 21st century, they can say that this was the time when America renewed its purpose.

They can say that this was the time when America found its way.

They can say that this was the time when America learned to dream again.

Thank you.

Immigration Rallies

May 4, 2006

Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama and today is Thursday, May 4th, 2006.

On Monday, I traveled from D.C. to Chicago to witness a monumental event. There were 400,000 people marching on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform in this country. There were rallies all across the country but Chicago was one of the largest. I had the opportunity to speak to the people who were gathering at Union Park before they marched over to Grant Park. Four-hundred thousand people, mostly of Mexican origin, but large numbers of people from other countries - Nigerians and Pakistanis and Indians and Filipinos - people who've come to this country for the same reason that immigrants have been drawn to this country for generations: the notion that they can pursue and better life for themselves but, most importantly, for their children, if they work hard and apply themselves.

I think most of you are familiar with the issues that have surrounded immigration. They've gotten a lot of attention recently. We have a system of legal immigration in which people are drawn through the normal processes and they apply for legal residency and ultimately get naturalized as citizens if they so choose. The controversy right now surrounds undocumented workers - people who came here illegally, most of them crossing the border between Mexico and the United States. It's estimated at this point that we probably have 11 to 12 million undocumented workers around the country. Most of them are employed in low-wage backbreaking work in agricultural sectors, in packing plants, in restaurants, in construction. Obviously, the country feels ambivalent about this influx.

On the one hand, I think many of us (including myself) believe that these people are doing what any of us would do if we had an opportunity for a better life for our kids. They take the risk of coming here; many of them are extraordinarily impoverished and would not likely be able to get to the United States through the limited number of visas that are currently issued.

On the other hand, we are a nation of laws and these people did come here outside of the law. Economists debate what kind of effect undocumented workers have in this country. There's no doubt that in many areas, like the agricultural sector, these immigrants are doing work that Americans would not do, at least at the wages that are paid. There are other circumstances in which it is clear that employers are importing these workers simply because they don't want to pay the living wages that Americans demand. There is no doubt that if construction companies were willing to pay more that they would see more U.S. workers applying for those jobs. It does appear that undocumented workers have a somewhat adverse effect in depressing the wages of low-skill workers, which is why in the African-American community, for example, there is some nervousness of about the number of undocumented workers that are coming into this country and whether they are systematically replacing or pushing out low-skill, low-wage black workers.

Having said all that, I think we need to recognize that if we are going to uphold the traditions of this country as a nation of immigrants, than we are going to have to deal with this issue in a way that reflects common sense and compassion.

The House of Representatives passed a bill that was extraordinarily punitive. It talked about border security and it made any undocumented worker in this country a felon; it also made people who potentially helped undocumented workers, for example, providing housing assistance or providing a domestic violence shelter potentially subject to a felony conviction.

It's that draconian measure that passed in the House that prompted these marches, but what started as a march of fear on the part of many undocumented workers, I think, has become a march for hope. People are hoping that they have an opportunity to legalize themselves in some fashion.

In the United States Senate there has been a bipartisan group, including myself, Ted Kennedy, John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Mel Martinez, Ken Salazar, Lindsey Graham and a number of others who've been trying to negotiate a comprehensive package that would include stronger border security, making sure that employers actually verify employment status through a tamper-proof employee-verification card, and creation of a pathway to citizenship - earned citizenship - for the 11 to 12 million people that are already here. The idea would be that those people, over the course of eleven years could earn their way to citizenship by paying a fine, paying their back taxes (if they owe any), staying out of trouble, learning English and so on. The opponents of this kind of proposal call this amnesty and they hearken back to what happened in 1986 when, in fact, undocumented workers were provided amnesty. There was supposed to be a grand bargain where in exchange for such amnesty there was going to be serious border security and employer sanctions on those who had hired undocumented workers. That never really happened. And so people who are opposed to the Senate bill believe that the best strategy is not to provide amnesty to these undocumented workers but simply shut off the possibility that they can be hired, perhaps deport them where they can be rounded up and build either a virtual wall or a literal wall along the Mexican and United States borders. That kind of approach just isn't realistic. We're not going to deport 11 to 12 million people; many of them have been here for many years, many of them have strong roots, many of them have children who were born here and are therefore United States citizens. It's hard to imagine that we want to live in a country where we would have police and immigration officials coming into people's homes and taking away the father of a family, sending him back to Mexico, leaving a mother and child behind.

This is going to be an emotional issue. It's not going to go away any time soon. I think what we saw in those marches is the face of a new America. America is changing and we can't be threatened by it. We have to understand that we are going to be better off united than divided.

When I spoke to folks at this rally I insisted that for those undocumented workers who hope some way to have a pathway to citizenship, they have to understand that citizenship involves a common language, a common faith in the country, common commitments and a common sense of purpose, fealty to a common flag. I think there are times in these marches were you have seen Mexican flags; there has been controversy around a Spanish national anthem. I think that is not helpful because it indicates that somehow the traditional pattern of immigrants assimilating to a broader American culture is not what these marchers are seeking. I think they have to seek that because that is the essence of this country - that in diversity we come together as one.

On the other hand, to those who are fearful of these immigrants, in some cases because they have come to represent a loss of control for the country and its borders, I would just say to them that we can't have a country in which you have a servant class that is picking our lettuce or plucking our chickens or looking after our children or mowing our lawns but who never have the full rights and obligations of citizenship. That's just not the kind of country that I want to have my children grow up in and my hope is that over the coming months we can come up with the kind of comprehensive, thoughtful legislation that I think the Senate bill reflects and we can have strong border security, we can have employers do the right thing by hiring those who are here legally in some fashion, but that we also provide all those families, children, elderly people and teenagers that I saw in that amazing march on Monday the opportunity to be full members of the American community.

Anyway, I will keep you guys posted on this important issue and I look forward to talking to you next week. Bye-bye.

Barack Obama Amendment to Stop No-Bid Contracts for Gulf Coast Recovery and Reconstruction

May 2, 2006

Mr. President, after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, millions of Americans opened their hearts, their homes, and their wallets to help the victims in the Gulf Coast. Even before Katrina’s winds and rains died down, Americans across the country called national hotlines and pledged their hard-earned dollars, their time, and their prayers to the relief effort.

But they didn’t just pledge ? they also delivered. They delivered to the tune of $3.5 billion dollars. Many of these donations came from working-class families who didn’t have much to give, but they gave what they could.

Like the American people, President Bush made a pledge after the disaster. He pledged that he would provide the Gulf Coast with the federal assistance it needed to get back on its feet. With the bill now before us, the total amount of federal funding for hurricane recovery will exceed $100 billion, and it’s safe to say that more money will be needed in the months and years to come.

But in order to make good on the President’s pledge, we need to do more. We need to pledge to be responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. We owe this to the Americans who donated their own funds to hurricane relief efforts and who trust us each day with the tax money they send to Washington.

Unfortunately, we haven’t done a very good job so far of delivering on this pledge.

Yesterday, Senator Coburn and I came to the floor to detail the numerous instances of waste, fraud, and abuse in the use of Katrina funds.

We know that FEMA spent nearly $880 million in taxpayer money on 25,000 temporary housing trailers stored around the country, including 11,000 that are rusting away in a field in Arkansas.

There are reports of prime contractors charging upwards of $30 per cubic yard for debris removal ? work that actually costs subcontractors as little as $6 per cubic yard.

And, as the Washington Post reported, four large companies are charging a 1,500% mark-up to cover damaged roofs with plastic tarps.

Senator Coburn and I have tried to address these problems by offering a sensible package of amendments to ensure fiscal accountability and transparency. We have proposed the appointment of a chief financial officer to oversee the spending of federal funding. We have proposed limits on the amount of overhead expenses that a contractor can charge the federal government. And we have proposed that the details of all large Katrina contracts be posted on the Internet.

Unfortunately, these amendments are not germane now that cloture has been invoked.

That is unfortunate. It’s unfortunate because the interests of the American taxpayer are not being well-served by the U.S. Senate. Even though we will have appropriated well over $100 billion by the end of this week for Katrina relief and recovery, we haven’t put any accountability systems in place to ensure that the money is well-spent.

I know I’m new to this body, but I’m troubled that Senate rules are getting in the way of sound policy. I understand that’s how the Senate works, so Senator Coburn and I are here to offer one modest amendment to protect taxpayer dollars. Our amendment addresses no-bid contracting and is germane to the underlying bill.

Immediately after the hurricane, FEMA awarded four $100 million no-bid contracts to four large companies. $400 million taxpayer dollars, without full and open competition.

Acting FEMA Director David Paulison was asked about these contracts when he testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on October 6, 2005. He said the following:

"I've been a public servant for a long time, and I've never been a fan of no-bid contracts. Sometimes you have to do them because of the expediency of getting things done. And I can assure that you we are going to look at all of those contracts very carefully. All of those no-bid contracts, we are going to go back and rebid."

Senator Coburn and I expected Director Paulison to stick to his word and rebid these contracts. But a month and a half passed, and the contracts still had not been rebid. So last November, we introduced an amendment to the tax reconciliation bill expressing the Sense of the Senate that FEMA should immediately rebid these contracts. Our colleagues agreed and passed this amendment by unanimous consent.

After our amendment passed, both Senator Coburn and I met with Director Paulison, and again he assured us that these contracts would be rebid.

Yet, these contracts still have not been rebid. And to add insult to injury, FEMA said in March that the contracts would not be rebid after all. In fact, the contracts actually have been extended, despite the fact that GAO found that three of these four firms had wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.

The abuse doesn’t stop with these four contracts. We learned just two weeks ago that the Army Corps of Engineers missed an opportunity to negotiate a lower price on a $40 million contract for portable classrooms in Mississippi. Instead, a no-bid and overpriced contract was awarded to an out-of-state firm.

I’ve often heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. Frankly, what we’re doing with Katrina funding borders on insanity ? we in Congress just keep trusting FEMA to enter into competitive contracts even though there’s no evidence that it has any intention of doing so.

So the amendment we’re offering today is our effort to say enough is enough. Our amendment requires all federal agencies to follow competitive bidding procedures for any Katrina-related contracts exceeding $500,000. This is a common sense amendment. Eight months after Katrina, there’s no longer any emergency that justifies a no-bid contract that might have been entered into the days after Katrina.

The American people deserve the benefits of competition on government contracts. Competition is good for American business and it’s good for the government. It helps to ensure high quality and low costs. That’s what the American people have a right to expect, and that’s what our amendment seeks to deliver.

Before we spend another dollar in the Gulf Coast, let’s make sure that we have some transparency and accountability systems in place to ensure that federal money is helping those people most in need, instead of lining the pockets of a contractor.

In our rush to get money to the Gulf Coast eight months ago, we didn’t do that, and the American taxpayers ? and more importantly, the victims of Katrina ? paid a heavy price. Let’s not repeat that mistake again.

I urge my colleagues to support Senator Coburn and me in this effort.