Monday, May 17, 2010

Tom Coburn's War

I’ve been an admirer of Sen. Tom Coburn for some time, but never more than recently when he stood alone defending the “Pay as You Go” Congress had adopted, then proceeded to waive to pass all the spending legislation they wanted. This stand made pretty much everyone unhappy with him, Democrats, Republicans, the unemployed, doctors (he’s an MD) because postponing the doctors’ Medicare cuts mandated by the SGR formula was among the things he held up because they weren’t funded.

It turns out that we have a mutual friend, a Marine I served with in the CAC unit in Khe Sanh Ville in 1967 has known Coburn since they were young. So I wrote to Coburn when I was going to visit DC recently, and he invited me to drop by. I got about two minutes with the Senator, but much longer with his chief of staff, Mike Schwartz. We mostly talked politics, and what could be done to stop the drift of the country into fiscal ruin, as I predict in my essay, “The Coming Collapse of the American Republic.”

I wish we’d had hours, as Schwartz has a great grasp of the process and the problems the country faces. It’s nice to know there are some competent people in those positions. It turns out Mike knows former Massachusetts Senate President Bill Bulger well, from a Catholic organization Mike used to run. Bulger and I are friends and stay in touch. Small world.

Mike told me a couple of things about the Senator I didn’t know. When Coburn ran for the House, he took the term limit pledge. And he was one of only six members who abided by it, retiring after three terms. Then, when the senate seat opened up, he really didn’t want to run, but thought he had a duty to do so, looking at the other candidates. He’s an ObGyn and would rather be practicing medicine. He won, and has served one term. If he’s re-elected this year, he’s pledged to serve only a second term, then retire.

I believe in term limits as a constitutional amendment, because the ability of incumbents to buy votes with, as Mike said, our grandchildren’s money, has overwhelmed the system. The trouble with a "term limits" pledge is that the folks with integrity abide by it, those without integrity discover that the perks in Washington are too sweet, and the people need them to go on serving. So we lose only those we cannot afford to lose, like Tom Coburn.

Democrats, who say no to tort reform, no to free trade, no to cutting the deficit, no to tax cuts, no to dealing strongly with terrorists, no to interstate insurance competition, like to describe the Republicans as the “Party of No.” If the Republic is to be saved, it will be by men and women like Tom Coburn with the courage to say “no” to the right things, who care more about the country than their political careers. But we have precious few of them.

For more on Tom Coburn, see below:

Cutting Government Down to Size
Excerpt: Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla) came charging into the U.S. Senate six years ago determined to gun down the most dangerous issue facing the country: uncontrolled government spending and debt. He put delaying holds on countless spending bills, angering many of his colleagues. He offered an untold number of budget-cutting amendments to block, reduce or eliminate spending. He has fought, condemned and stomped on just about every waste-ridden bill to come before the Senate so many times that Democrats call him “Dr. No,” a name he considers a badge of honor. Now he finds himself on President Obama’s politically inspired, dubiously worthwhile commission to come up with ways to cut trillions of dollars from a mountain of debt. Coburn is outnumbered on the commission by a hand-picked majority of big spenders, but is coming well-armed with a detailed list of outdated, needless, unaffordable, fraud-ridden programs, agencies and expenditures that he has shoved under their noses, suggesting that these cuts would be a good place to start before even thinking about raising taxes.

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