SPEND an hour or so with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, as The Oklahoman's editorial board did last week, and you're reminded that not everyone in Washington is driven first and foremost by political gain.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, is serving his second term in the Senate. He insists that it will be his last. During three terms in the U.S. House in the 1990s and throughout his time in the Senate, the medical doctor has been a spending hawk who's been just as critical of fellow Republicans as he has Democrats. Concerns about hurting the feelings of his colleagues aren't part of the deal. Nor does he see it as his job to make sure Oklahoma gets its share of pork-barrel spending.
Congress could use more members like Coburn, who puts country first. Unlike The Great Divider who occupies the White House, Coburn is willing to make the difficult decisions that are needed to help get the nation's fiscal house in order.
Today we present Coburn in his own words, about the most pressing concerns of the day. What he says is common sense to most of us. That it generally doesn't make a dent in Washington speaks volumes about the politicians and politics of our time.
“Government's 89 percent bigger than it was 10 years ago. Personal income's down 5 percent in this country. And they want to claim that we need more government to be able to solve our problems. And the problem is we're incapable of managing the government we have today.
“The biggest complaints we're having are from federal employees that may get sequestered. Here's a question: The average federal employee ... makes almost $59.84 an hour. That's total benefits, everything. Why didn't somebody say, 'Why don't we just take a pay cut and everybody keep working.'? Not even once suggested by the administration.”
“If the No. 1 goal is to get re-elected, then the No. 2 goal is not to offend anybody. If you won't challenge the parochial benefits of programs — even though they're ineffective — because you want to maintain your ability to get votes, you won't see people doing what needs to be done.”
“Ada has 15,000 people. They have an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. They have 17 separate federal jobs programs running in Ada. Seventeen separate jobs programs, none of which are effective. They're effective at employing people in jobs programs.
“Why do we have 47 different job programs for the non-disabled, 55 for the disabled? We spend $23 billion on them per year. Not one of them has a metric of whether it's actually giving someone a life skill to earn a living — not one of them. And all but three of them overlap one another. Why are we doing that? No one can give you an answer. And nobody will fix it.”
“The No. 1 thing running in Oklahoma minds right now is there's no confidence in the federal government. And it's almost to a paranoia level: ‘Not only do I not have confidence, I don't trust you to do the right thing in my long-term interests.' I think that's dangerous for us as a society — very dangerous.”
“Remember IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act? What was the commitment that the federal government made on funding for that? It was 40 percent of the cost. We've never given more than 21 percent of the cost. We won't have the money to give (to cover Medicaid expansion). Even in the first couple years at 100 percent, it won't be there. So if you're betting on getting 90 percent of that refunded to the state, it's a bad bet, because it isn't going to happen. There isn't the money there. When interest rates change — and they're going to — and they go back to historical norms of about 5.8 percent, we're going to have an additional $650 billion a year in interest costs based on our debt today. It'll be much higher by the time it gets here.”