WASHINGTON — Rep. James Lankford, who is running for the last two years of Sen. Tom Coburn’s term, says he wants to continue the government oversight work Coburn has emphasized.
No matter who is president, federal bureaucracies can get out of control and Congress must hold them accountable, the Oklahoma City Republican said.
“It requires real oversight and it requires real attention,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Lankford, 46, has been in the U.S. House since 2011, representing the district that includes most of Oklahoma County and Pottawatomie and Seminole counties. He and state Rep. T.W. Shannon, of Lawton, are the leading contenders for the Republican nomination for the seat held by Coburn, R-Muskogee, since 2005.
As chairman of a House Oversight subcommittee, Lankford has taken up some of Coburn’s causes, including fraud in entitlement programs and duplication across government agencies. Lankford has also held oversight hearings on energy, health care and environmental issues.
As a member of the House Budget Committee, he has supported controversial budget blueprints that changed the way Medicare would operate for future seniors. In his freshman year, he voted for a Republican budget that would have essentially ended the government-run program in a decade and given future seniors money to buy health coverage from private insurance companies.
Ultimately, he said, the path to a balanced budget is going to have to go through entitlements. The budget control act of 2011 has meant new restraint in much government spending, he said, and the annual deficit has dropped from $1.4 trillion to $550 billion in the last few years.
“That’s pretty good progress,” he said. “The toughest part of dealing with this is the last $550 billion.”
Lankford said he was disappointed that federal appeals courts — including the U.S. Supreme Court — had upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to reduce power plan emissions in Oklahoma. The EPA plan overrode a state plan that would have been cheaper for utilities to implement.
Federal courts have given too much deference to the EPA, which sometimes expands air and water pollution regulations by working with environmental groups on lawsuits, Lankford said.
Shannon has called for abolishing the EPA, but Lankford said that wouldn’t absolve the federal government of its responsibility to enforce the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act.
“I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the smog of the 1970s,” Lankford said. “But you have to get the agency back in its bounds.”
Lankford said serving in the Senate would also give him more of a chance to work on foreign policy.
“Pick a region in the world right now that is going well for us on foreign policy. I just can’t find one,” he said. “Even Democrats tell me they don’t know what this president’s foreign policy is. That will be a growing problem.”