Sen. Tom Coburn's Post-Election Speech on the Future
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, gave a sobering speech _ pretty much the only kind he gives _ on the nation’s fiscal future this week at a dinner for the conservative magazine, the American Spectator.
Here’s a line that captures the tone:
“Where the left sees a demographic advantage I see a generation of Americans about to be drowned in debt. When that happens, our solutions will be like an ark in the storm.”
And here’s the prepared text, courtesy of Coburn’s office.
A Valley Forge Moment for Conservatives”
U.S. Senator Tom Coburn’s Speech to the American Spectator’s Annual Dinner
November 14, 2012
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you for that kind introduction. It’s an honor to be with you tonight as we celebrate the American Spectator’s 45th anniversary. I especially want to thank Bob Tyrrell who has been with the Spectator since the very beginning. Bob, I want thank you and honor you for your commitment to telling the truth, and for reminding us to laugh, which is especially important in times like this.
Like most of you I wish we had a different outcome last week. But it’s important to talk honestly about what happened, and what we can do to get our nation back on track.
This election, I believe, is a seminal moment in history. We may have passed a tipping point. I woke up on Tuesday believing we were a center-right country and went to bed realizing we may simply be a divided country.
Fifty percent of American households now receive at least $2,500 in benefits from the federal government. And president Obama wants to expand that number. At the same time, median income is going down while the jobless rate is still far too high.
The hard reality is this: When the majority of Americans reward the politics of bailouts and benefits ahead of the promise of hard work, freedom and opportunity we have to question not just the viability of our message; but the viability of our country.
Our history, however, is a series of defining moments. And since our beginning, we have been a nation that has cheated history.
One of those moments happened back in the winter of 1777 at a place called Valley Forge. Many of us know the story – the American Spectator was there. The Continental Army under General Washington was on the ropes after a string of defeats. They were hungry, weary and ill-equipped. The conditions were brutal: 2,500 men – about ten percent of his army – perished that winter. Washington didn’t know how many would survive, and of those that did, he didn’t know if enough would re-enlist to carry on the struggle. But Washington refused to give up. He chose to lead. He decided to take action. He wasn’t content to just survive and keep warm. Braving the wind and cold, he drilled his men daily. He honed his tactics and forged an army in a crucible of adversity.
For us, this is a Valley Forge moment. This is a time for leadership that calls on us to re-enlist in the struggle to preserve freedom, and a leadership that drills us in the principles that made us great.
To get back on track I would suggest we focus on a few simple points: truth, oversight, action and accountability.
One of the lessons from last Tuesday is that we’ve failed to tell the American people – particularly young voters – the truth about where we are.
The truth is, on our present course, the average young person in this country is going to inherit a lower standard of living than their parents. That is unacceptable.
America is already bankrupt. We may not believe it. We may not yet feel its full effects. But we are effectively bankrupt. Our debt, which is 103 percent of our GDP, now exceeds the size of our entire economy.
The crisis is imminent. Today, we’re on the cusp of another downgrade. If interest rates go up one point, we add at least another $160 billion to our deficit every year. If rates return to historic averages, we’ll add about $640 billion to our deficit every year – which is more than our defense budget.
In two years, the Social Security disability trust fund goes bankrupt. In five years, Medicare Part A – the hospital insurance trust fund – may be bankrupt. And in ten years the costs of entitlements and interest on the debt alone will consume all available tax revenues. That means our entire military and discretionary budget will be financed entirely on borrowed – or printed – money.
The truth is we’ll never get to the point of running DOD on money borrowed from China and elsewhere. Eventually, the rest of the world will decide we can’t pay what we owe and they’ll stop lending us money. As I describe in my book, The Debt Bomb, that’s when the party is over.
That isn’t just my opinion. In 2011 Federal Reserve Ben Bernanke told Congress that these unsustainable spending levels can’t continue “because creditors would never be willing to lend to a government whose debt, relative to national income, is rising without limit.”
Here’s why this is important in the context of what happened last Tuesday.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about the left’s so-called demographic advantage and the president’s electoral firewall, and whether that firewall will hold in future elections. Let me tell you some good news. Those of us who believe in the Constitution and limited government have a much more potent firewall working in our favor: it is a mathematical and budgetary firewall. It is a firewall that tells us – in very stark terms – that we can’t afford the status quo. We don’t have the money. Sooner rather than later, the other side will have to accept reforms that are a lot closer to our principles than theirs.
The demographic advantage – at least among younger voters – is a bubble of inflated expectations that can’t be met. Where the left sees a demographic advantage I see a generation of Americans about to be drowned in debt. When that happens, our solutions will be like an ark in the storm.
Hopefully we won’t have to live through such a crisis. If we tell the truth effectively we may not have to.
So, our first task is to tell the truth. The second is oversight, which has to happen before you set priorities and get spending under control.
Oversight isn’t very popular in Washington because politicians on both sides prefer to create new programs instead of looking at whether the programs we’ve already created are working. But, I believe, oversight resonates with families because that’s how they live their lives every day. In the real world, people look their budgets and make choices. In Washington, we make excuses, and defer choices to future generations.
Oversight is about methodically and relentlessly building the case for limited government. And it’s about recognizing that big changes often happen in small steps. That’s why I release reports on all areas of the government. In my latest annual Wastebook report we found federal funding from everything from robotic squirrels to climate change musicals to caviar promotion.
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