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Tom Coburn on Budget & Economy

Republican Jr Senator; previously Representative (OK-2)


Five stages to trigger the Debt Bomb

The debt bomb could be triggered by a sudden loss of confidence in our economy. We could see the collapse of the stock market, a further collapse in housing prices, runaway inflation, and social unrest on an almost unimaginable scale. This outcome is much likelier than a slow or gradual decline. Before we reach that final triggering event, however, the existence of a debt bomb in the center of our national life will be a source of fear that erodes consumer and business confidence.
    Following are the stages describing how that crisis could unfold:
  1. Congress tries to maintain the status quo on spending and entitlements.
  2. The United States faces additional credit downgrades.
  3. Interest rates markedly increase, harming consumers and sending interest payments on the national debt soaring.
  4. Inflation soars, and the value of the dollar declines. Inflation will then accompany currency debasement. Finally, the bottom would fall out of the middle class. Unemployment would soar.
Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p. 15-22 , Apr 17, 2012

Great Powers all declined economically before collapse

America today faces one of the greatest threats to its existence since our founding. The threat does not come from any foreign army or terrorist network, but from our government and its unsustainable spending.

Our quandary is not unexpected. History has shown time and time again that the debt can bring nations to their knees. Great powers such as Britain, Spain, France, the Ottomans, the Soviet Union, and the Roman Empire declined economically before they contracted, collapsed, or were conquered. In many cases, only a few years separated the height of their power from their irreversible decline and demise.

Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p. xiii-xiv , Apr 17, 2012

Moniker "Dr. No" for blocking 10% of all new spending bills

I sent my colleagues a letter explaining my intention to not grant unanimous consent or "hold" bills that are unconstitutional or spend new money that is not offset. In the summer of 2008, [Senate Leader Harry] Reid had grown weary of my holds and decided to roll all the bills I was blocking into one package his staff liked to call the "Coburn Omnibus" but [nicknamed] pompously, "Dr. No."

In hindsight, the Coburn Omnibus debate had two takeaways. One, the debate caused the media to refer to me more consistently as Dr. No. I didn't mind the title, but it revealed the media's bias toward more spending and government expansion. The name was ironic, and unearned, because at any given time I was blocking no more than 10% to 15% of all bills in the Senate [which were targeted for unanimous consent]. In other words, instead of allowing 1,152 bills to pass by unanimous consent, I only allowed 1,000 bills to pass by unanimous consent. Still, this was enough to earn me the title "Dr. No."

Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p.115-22 , Apr 17, 2012

The Coburn Bible: 400-page list of $150B wasteful spending

In April my staff compiled a 3-inch binder, complete with more than 400 pages outlining more than $150 billion in government waste and duplication, across every agency in the discretionary budget. This extensive menu of options was affectionately termed by some as the Coburn Bible. Yet, despite my effort to include all areas of federal spending, some of my colleagues dismissed this effort as partisan or not very serious. One staffer called to ask us if this was "just a bunch of earmark stuff" and if they really needed to look it over. Still, some saw the value of being specific.

I had more on the way. In May, I sent a detailed, 10-page memo outlining the significant spending and mismanagement problems currently plaguing the Pentagon and adding hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficit every year. I was willing to sacrifice what some in my own party believe to be untouchable areas of the budget in hopes we could find some areas of agreement in addressing the fiscal crisis.

Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p.152 , Apr 17, 2012

Debt crisis threatens our way of life & national security

Mike Crapo and I decided to offer a joint statement: "Our debt crisis is a threat to not just our way of life, but our national survival. History has not been kind to great nations who borrowed and spent beyond their means. Doing nothing will, sooner rather than later, guarantee that this nation becomes a 2nd-rate power with less opportunity and less freedom. The plan developed by the debt commission, while flawed and incomplete, will help America avoid this fate and secure freedom for future generations."

"The time for action is now, We can't afford to wait until the next election to begin this process. This plan will not just avert a disaster, but help drive the kind of economic recovery we need to create jobs and spur growth. The plan's provisions to lower tax rates while creating fairness in the tax code are similar to pro-growth policies supported by President Reagan. The plan also reduces discretionary spending and takes meaningful steps to preserve Social Security."

Source: The Debt Bomb, by Sen. Tom Coburn, p.157-8 , Apr 17, 2012

Creating deficit is stealing from our children

Q: You have a Republican president, Senate, & House. Did they do something evil by creating the deficit?

A: If we steal from our children, when we donít have to, [that is a] problem. We have decision-making often being made that centers around the politician and not the next generation. Our decisions ought to be long run and we ought to be caring for the next generation rather than the next election. And the expediency of spending money we donít have hurts now but it also hurts the next generation

Source: Coburn-Carson 2004 debate on Meet The Press with Tim Russert , Oct 3, 2004

Freeze any increase in spending except homeland security

Q: Can you honestly balance the budget without looking at Social Security and defense?

A: Congress has not been responsible with spending. Everybody in America knows that the government is not efficient. We need to have a freeze on any increase in government spending except homeland defense and defense. We need to look at every government program. We have to be frugal. We have to do the right thing in terms of discretionary and we have to address the issues with Medicare and Social Security.

Source: Coburn-Carson 2004 debate on Meet The Press with Tim Russert , Oct 3, 2004

Hard to repay the ever expanding discretionary spending

We have politicians that are ever expanding the discretionary spending in this country. We get a little bit, but we pay for everybody else to get a whole lot more. And the ultimate pattern that we have to look at is whatís going to happen to our children and our grandchildren as we continue to spend their money. Weíre going to finance $1.2 trillion this year on the international markets. Do people really believe we can repay that?
Source: Coburn-Carson 2004 debate on Meet The Press with Tim Russert , Oct 3, 2004

Voted NO on $192B additional anti-recession stimulus spending.

Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Rep. LEWIS (D, GA-5): This bipartisan bill will provide the necessary funds to keep important transportation projects operating in States around the country. The Highway Trust Fund will run out of funding by September. We must act, and we must act now.

Opponent's argument to vote No:Rep. CAMP (R, MI-4): [This interim spending is] needed because the Democrats' economic policy has resulted in record job loss, record deficits, and none of the job creation they promised. Democrats predicted unemployment would top out at 8% if the stimulus passed; instead, it's 9.5% and rising. In Michigan, it's above 15%. The Nation's public debt and unemployment, combined, has risen by a shocking 40% [because of] literally trillions of dollars in additional spending under the Democrats' stimulus, energy, and health plans.

We had a choice when it came to the stimulus last February. We could have chosen a better policy of stimulating private-sector growth creating twice the jobs at half the price. That was the Republican plan. Instead, Democrats insisted on their government focus plan, which has produced no jobs and a mountain of debt.

Reference: Omnibus Appropriations Act Amendment; Bill H.R. 3357 ; vote number 2009-S254 on Jul 30, 2009

Voted NO on modifying bankruptcy rules to avoid mortgage foreclosures.

Congressional Summary:Amends federal bankruptcy law to exclude debts secured by the debtor's principal residence that was either sold in foreclosure or surrendered to the creditor.

Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Rep. PETER WELCH (D, VT-0): Citigroup supports this bill. Why? They're a huge lender. They understand that we have to stabilize home values in order to begin the recovery, and they need a tool to accomplish it. Mortgages that have been sliced and diced into 50 different sections make it impossible even for a mortgage company and a borrower to come together to resolve the problem that they share together.

Sen. DICK DURBIN (D, IL): 8.1 million homes face foreclosure in America today. Last year, I offered this amendment to change the bankruptcy law, and the banking community said: Totally unnecessary. In fact, the estimates were of only 2 million homes in foreclosure last year. America is facing a crisis.

Opponent's argument to vote No:

Sen. JON KYL (R, AZ): This amendment would allow bankruptcy judges to modify home mortgages by lowering the principal and interest rate on the loan or extending the term of the loan. The concept in the trade is known as cram-down. It would apply to all borrowers who are 60 days or more delinquent. Many experts believe the cram-down provision would result in higher interest rates for all home mortgages. We could end up exacerbating this situation for all the people who would want to refinance or to take out loans in the future.

Rep. MICHELE BACHMANN (R, MN-6): Of the foundational policies of American exceptionalism, the concepts that have inspired our great Nation are the sanctity of private contracts and upholding the rule of law. This cramdown bill crassly undercuts both of these pillars of American exceptionalism. Why would a lender make a 30-year loan if they fear the powers of the Federal Government will violate the very terms of that loan?

Reference: Helping Families Save Their Homes Act; Bill HR1106&S896 ; vote number 2009-S185 on May 6, 2009

Voted NO on additional $825 billion for economic recovery package.

Congressional Summary:Supplemental appropriations for job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and State and local fiscal stabilization, for fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009.

Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Rep. DAVID OBEY (D, WI-7): This country is facing what most economists consider to be the most serious and the most dangerous economic situation in our lifetimes. This package today is an $825 billion package that does a variety of things to try to reinflate the economy:

  1. creating or saving at least 4 million jobs
  2. rebuilding our basic infrastructure
  3. providing for job retraining for those workers who need to learn new skills
  4. moving toward energy independence
  5. improving our healthcare system so all Americans can have access to quality treatment
  6. providing tax cuts to lessen the impact of this crisis on America's working families.

Opponent's argument to vote No:

Rep. JERRY LEWIS (R, CA-51): Most of us would agree that the recent $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is an illustration of how good intentions don't always deliver desired results. When Congress spends too much too quickly, it doesn't think through the details and oversight becomes more difficult. The lesson learned from TARP was this: we cannot manage what we do not measure. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again.

Sen. THAD COCHRAN (R, MS): We are giving the executive branch immense latitude in the disbursement of the spending this bill contains. We are doing so without any documentation of how this spending will stimulate the economy. Normally, this kind of information would be contained in an administration budget. For items that have a short-term stimulative effect, most of us will feel comfortable debating their merits as an emergency measure. But there is a great deal of spending that is not immediately stimulative.

Reference: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; Bill H.R.1 ; vote number 2009-S061 on Feb 10, 2009

Voted NO on $60B stimulus package for jobs, infrastructure, & energy.

Congressional Summary:
    Supplemental appropriations for:
  1. Infrastructure Investments: Transportation: DOT, FAA, AMTRAK, and FTA
  2. Clean Water (EPA)
  3. Flood Control and Water Resources (ACE)
  4. 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities (ED)
  5. Energy Development (DOE)
  6. Extension of Unemployment Compensation and Job Training
  7. Temporary Increase in Medicaid Matching Rate
  8. Temporary Increase in Food Assistance

Proponent's argument to vote Yes:Rep. DAVID OBEY (D, WI-7): Congress has tried to do a number of things that would alleviate the squeeze on the middle class. Meanwhile, this economy is sagging. Jobs, income, sales, and industrial production have all gone down. We have lost 600,000 jobs. We are trying to provide a major increase in investments to modernize our infrastructure and to provide well-paying construction jobs at the same time.

Opponent's argument to vote No:Rep. JERRY LEWIS (R, CA-41): Just 2 days ago we were debating an $800 billion continuing resolution. Now in addition to being asked to pay for a bailout for Wall Street, taxpayers are being asked to swallow an additional $60 billion on a laundry list of items I saw for the first time just a few hours ago. The Democratic majority is describing this legislation as a "stimulus package" to help our national economy. But let's not fool ourselves. This is a political document pure and simple. If these priorities are so important, why hasn't this bill gone through the normal legislative process? We should have debated each of the items included in this package.

It doesn't take an economist to tell you that the economy needs our help. But what does this Congress do? It proposes to spend billions more without any offsets in spending. The failure to adhere to PAYGO means that this new spending will be financed through additional borrowing, which will prove a further drag on our struggling economy.

Reference: Job Creation and Unemployment Relief Act; Bill S.3604&HR7110 ; vote number 2008-S206 on Sep 26, 2008

Voted YES on paying down federal debt by rating programs' effectiveness.

Amendment intends to pay down the Federal debt and eliminate government waste by reducing spending on programs rated ineffective by the Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART).

Proponents recommend voting YES because:

My amendment says we are going to take about $18 billion as a strong signal from the Congress that we want to support effective programs and we want the taxpayer dollars spent in a responsible way. My amendment doesn't take all of the $88 billion for the programs found by PART, realizing there may be points in time when another program is not meeting its goals and needs more money. So that flexibility is allowed in this particular amendment. It doesn't target any specific program. Almost worse than being rated ineffective, we have programs out there that have made absolutely no effort at all to measure their results. I believe these are the worst offenders. In the following years, I hope Congress will look at those programs to create accountability.

Opponents recommend voting NO because:

The effect of this amendment will simply be to cut domestic discretionary spending $18 billion. Understand the programs that have been identified in the PART program are results not proven. Here are programs affected: Border Patrol, Coast Guard search and rescue, high-intensity drug trafficking areas, LIHEAP, rural education, child abuse prevention, and treatment. If there is a problem in those programs, they ought to be fixed. We ought not to be cutting Border Patrol, Coast Guard search and rescue, high-intensity drug trafficking areas, LIHEAP, rural education, and the rest. I urge a "no" vote.

Reference: Allard Amendment; Bill S.Amdt.491 on S.Con.Res.21 ; vote number 2007-090 on Mar 22, 2007

Voted YES on $40B in reduced federal overall spending.

Vote to pass a bill that reduces federal spending by $40 billion over five years by decreasing the amount of funds spent on Medicaid, Medicare, agriculture, employee pensions, conservation, and student loans. The bill also provides a down-payment toward hurricane recovery and reconstruction costs.
Reference: Work, Marriage, and Family Promotion Reconciliation Act; Bill S. 1932 ; vote number 2005-363 on Dec 21, 2005

Allow $3 on 1040 form to pay off National Debt.

Coburn co-sponsored allowing $3 on 1040 form to pay off National Debt

OFFICIAL CONGRESSIONAL SUMMARY: Amends the Internal Revenue Code to permit an individual to designate three dollars on his or her income tax return (six dollars on a joint return) to be used to reduce the public debt of the United States.

SPONSOR'S INTRODUCTORY STATEMENT: Pres. Eisenhower apparently once said that he believed that there could be no surplus as long as our Nation was in debt. I come from that school of thought, and yet that is not exactly where we are right now in Washington.

Where we are right now is debating whether or not 90 percent or 50 percent, or some number in between, of these projected future surpluses should be allocated to the debt. What struck me is the fact that really more than just the Congress should be involved in that debate. It is for that reason that I introduce today the Taxpayers' Choice Debt Reduction Act.

What this bill would do would be to simply take the 1040, the tax return as we now know it. And right now, we can send $3 to the presidential campaign. This would create another box wherein we could send 3 bucks to debt reduction. That is not enough money to change our national debt, but it is enough money to make a small step in an important debate that we all ought to be a part of.

LEGISLATIVE OUTCOME: Referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means; never called for a House vote.

Source: Taxpayers' Choice Debt Reduction Act (H.R.5349) 00-HR5349 on Sep 29, 2000

Balanced Budget Amendment with 3/5 vote to override.

Coburn signed H.J.RES.1& S.J.RES.22

Constitutional Amendment to prohibit outlays for a fiscal year (except those for repayment of debt principal) from exceeding total receipts for that fiscal year (except those derived from borrowing) unless Congress, by a three-fifths rollcall vote of each chamber, authorizes a specific excess of outlays over receipts.

Source: Joint Resolution for Amendment to the Constitution 09-HJR1 on Jan 6, 2009

Demand a Balanced Budget amendment.

Coburn signed the Contract From America

The Contract from America, clause 3. Demand a Balanced Budget:

Begin the Constitutional amendment process to require a balanced budget with a two-thirds majority needed for any tax hike.

Source: The Contract From America 10-CFA03 on Jul 8, 2010

Limit federal spending growth to per-capita inflation rate.

Coburn signed the Contract From America

The Contract from America, clause 6. End Runaway Government Spending:

Impose a statutory cap limiting the annual growth in total federal spending to the sum of the inflation rate plus the percentage of population growth.

Source: The Contract From America 10-CFA06 on Jul 8, 2010

Supports the Cut-Cap-and-Balance Pledge.

Coburn signed the Cut-Cap-and-Balance Pledge to limit government

[The Cut-Cap-and-Balance Pledge is sponsored by a coalition of several hundred Tea Party, limited-government, and conservative organizations].

Despite our nation's staggering $14.4 trillion debt, there are many Members of the U.S. House and Senate who want to raise our nation's debt limit without making permanent reforms in our fiscal policies. We believe that this is a fiscally irresponsible position that would place America on the Road to Ruin. At the same time, we believe that the current debate over raising the debt limit provides a historic opportunity to focus public attention, and then public policy, on a path to a balanced budget and paying down our debt.

We believe that the "Cut, Cap, Balance" plan for substantial spending cuts in FY 2012, a statutory spending cap, and Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the Constitution is the minimum necessary precondition to raising the debt limit. The ultimate goal is to get us back to a point where increases in the debt limit are no longer necessary. If you agree, take the Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge!

    I pledge to urge my Senators and Member of the House of Representatives to oppose any debt limit increase unless all three of the following conditions have been met:
  1. Cut: Substantial cuts in spending that will reduce the deficit next year and thereafter.
  2. Cap: Enforceable spending caps that will put federal spending on a path to a balanced budget.
  3. Balance: Congressional passage of a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- but only if it includes both a spending limitation and a super-majority for raising taxes, in addition to balancing revenues and expenses.
Source: Cut-Cap-and-Balance Pledge 12-CCB on Jan 1, 2012

Disapprove of increasing the debt limit.

Coburn co-sponsored Joint Resolution on Debt Limit

Congressional Summary:JOINT RESOLUTION: Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives: That Congress disapproves of the President's exercise of authority to increase the debt limit, as submitted on Jan. 12, 2012.

Congressional Vote: Vote #4 in the House: 239 Yeas; 176 Nays; Senate declined to vote on the Resolution.

OnTheIssues Explanation: On Jan. 12, 2012, Pres. Obama notified Congress of his intent to raise the nation's debt ceiling by $1.2 trillion, two weeks after he had postponed the request to give lawmakers more time to consider the action. Congress then had 15 days to say no before the debt ceiling is automatically raised from $15.2 trillion to $16.4 trillion. Hence the debt ceiling was increased.

In Aug. 2011, the US government was nearly shut down by an impasse over raising the debt ceiling; under an agreement reached then, the President could raise the debt limit in three increments while also implementing $2.4 trillion in budget cuts. The agreement also gave Congress the option of voting to block each of the debt-ceiling increases by passing a "resolution of disapproval." The House disapproved; the Senate, by declining to vote in the 15-day window, killed the Resolution. Even if the resolution were passed, Pres. Obama could veto it; which could be overridden by a 2/3 majority in the House and Senate. The House vote only had 57% approval, not enough for the 67% override requirement, so the Senate vote became moot. The same set of actions occurred in Sept. 2011 for the first debt ceiling increase.

Source: HJRes.98/SJRes34 12-SJR34 on Jan 23, 2012

Audit the Federal Reserve & its actions on mortgage loans.

Coburn co-sponsored Federal Reserve Transparency Act

The Federal Reserve Transparency Act directs: