Coburn: Immigration Bill 'Border Stimulus for Contractors,' Not Border Security
When the Senate passed the 1,200 page immigration bill last week (officially called the "Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act") less than six days after receiving the final version, its unlikely any of the 68 Senators who voted in favor of it had read the entire bill. As the details of what the bill actually contains become known to the general public, its supporters are now scrambling to defend the huge financial rewards they've given to several politically well connected defense contractors in the hastily passed legislation.
One senator who voted against the bill, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), is not buying the after-the-fact justifications offered by the bill's supporters. "Taxpayer funds should enhance border security, not provide border stimulus for contractors. Unfortunately, the Senate bill does exactly that," he told the Washington Post on Monday.
The full extent of the corporate windfalls hidden in the bill is still unknown. But the vast $46 billion authorization offered skilled lobbyists numerous opportunities to slip in language that created direct financial benefits for their clients. $38 billion of that amount was included at the last minute in the so called Corker-Hoeven amendment.
Forbes Magazine reported that the bill "offers a bonanza of cash for the defense industry," and "reads like a shopping list of high-tech and high-cost military surveillance and sensor systems, mandating the purchase of everything from helicopters to night vision goggles to drones."
Language in the bill was written in a way that allows at least four major defense contractors--United Technologies, Northrup Grumman, Textron, and EADS North America--to obtain tens of millions in federal funds in sweetheart deals that are effectively not open to competitive bidding from other vendors. All four of these huge defense contractors have regularly donated large amounts to the re-election campaigns of many of the senators who pushed for the bill.
Indeed, Section 5 (a) of the bill, "Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy," Subsection 3, "Minimum Requirements," reads more like a long multiple page purchase order issued by the Department of Defense to specific manufacturers than a general appropriations bill passed by the Senate. The section specifies products made by only one manufacturer, by brand name, such as 17 UH-1N helicopters, which are only manufactured by Textron's Bell Helicopters. The specific list is so long it covers 12 pages of the bill, beginning at page 27 and ending at page 39.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) defended the budget busting expenditures the amendment he co-sponsored added to the legislation in an interview with Nashville radio talk show host Ralph Bristol on Friday. "The money for the 20,000 border agents, the 350 miles of additional fencing, a full entry exit visa program, full implementation of e-verify and $4.5 billion of border technology....the money's appropriated when the bill passes," he told Bristol.
But some Democrats found Corker's budget rationalizations lacking credibility. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) told Defense News, "[i]t's a major add on, in terms of cost. I don’t think [the $38 billion added by the Corker-Hoeven amendment] is fully paid for."
Senator Chris Coons, (D-DE) also expressed reservations about Corker's claims. "Yes, I am concerned that in order to get to passage of the final bill we are adding significant costs without a thorough and close examination of the value to be achieved through the spending."
Corker's $38 billion amendment included "$30 billion over the next decade to hire more than 19,000 new Border Patrol agents, an undertaking that would double the size of the force and that many immigration experts consider wasteful and unnecessary," according to the Washington Post.
Kerry Pickett at Breitbart reported that Congress may never actually spend the $30 billion to hire the additional 19,000 Border Patrol agents promised in the bill, "Members of Congress who promise that money will be spent on efforts to secure the border conveniently withhold the fact that one Congress cannot bind a future Congress to appropriate funds mandated by already established laws," she reported. In fact, she notes, "If a future Congress does not want to appropriate funds to hire more border agents or build 700 miles of fencing, those lawmakers can opt not to appropriate funds for the effort."
Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) told Breitbart News that "while current immigration bill supporters tout that 20,000 additional border agents will be mandated by the Corker-Hoeven amendment, these agents will not be hired by DHS until 2017. "
Though future Congresses will have to appropriate funds between now and 2017 to add these additional Border Patrol agents, defense contractors are ensured payment for most of the $4.5 billion authorized by the bill for high technology equipment immediately.
The Washington Post reported United Technologies' wholly owned subsidiary, Sikorsky Aircraft, will be paid $265 million for 15 Black Hawk helicopters if the Senate bill becomes law. Northrup Grumman will be paid $55 million for 6 airborne radar systems. EADS America's wholly owned subsidiary, American Eurocopter, will be paid $24 million for 8 light enforcement helicopters. Textron's wholly owned subsidiary Bell Helicopters will be paid an estimated $79 million for 17 out of production UH-1N helicopters.
Breitbart News has asked officials at Textron's Bell Helicopters if the 17 UH-1N helicopters ordered by the Senate in the immigration bill have already been manufactured and are in inventory or will be manufactured based upon the Senate bill, but has yet to receive a response.
All told, these four defense contractors will receive at least $423 million in what amounts to sole source, earmarked contracts.
Chris Crane, president of the National Immigration Customs Enforcement Council, the union that represents border agents, says these massive expenditures on expensive high technology equipment will do little to improve border security. "Far from tough interior enforcement measures, this bill, now combined with Corker-Hoeven into a single 1,200 page bill, caters to special interest groups and in doing so undermines interior enforcement, law enforcement officers, public safety and the security of the nation. "
Crane's comment is one of many criticisms that the $38 billion Corker amendment added to the final bill was a last minute after-thought thrown in to win votes from senators who are either friendly with the manufacturers or are looking for defense jobs in their home states, and has little to do with actual border security.
The Sunlight Foundation reported on Tuesday that between them these four corporate behemoths "through their political action committees and employees gave just over $937,000 in campaign contributions to Senate candidates in the 2012 cycle, an amount dwarfed by the potential gains in the immigration bill."
It noted that "[d]uring the 2012 campaign cycle, Northrop Grumman and its employees gave about $500,000 to Senate candidates, and more than $46,000 each to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. . . In 2012, the United Technologies PAC gave $220,000 to Senate candidates and about $30,000 to each of the party's Senate campaign committees. . . [Textron's] PAC and employees gave more than $134,000 to Senate candidates last year, and about $40,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and $30,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee. . .EADS North America . . . has spent about $800,000 lobbying this year . . Last year EADs employees gave about $75,000 to Senate candidates."
According to the Sunlight Foundation, the lobbyists for these contractors are an all-star cast of retired senators and K Street heavy hitters, including former Senator Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY), who has lobbied for United Technologies, and Tony Podesta, founder of the Podesta Group and brother of former Clinton White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, who lobbies for Textron.
David Sylvestre, Director of Corporate Communications for Textron, the parent company of Bell Helicopter, spoke with the communications team at Bell Helicopter after this story was published. He provided Breitbart News with an email that contained their reply to our questions:
"The Bell UH-1N is out of production. We believe the acquisition of 17 UH-1N will be executed in the form of a transfer of assets from US Department of Defense. We recommend that you contact the US Border Patrol for details. We also request that you correct the earlier report – there is no business for Textron in this bill."