Why conservatives should support Coburn’s deficit plan

If you’re a small-government type, there’s a lot to like in Senator Tom Coburn’s “Back to Black” deficit-reduction plan, which was released yesterday. What makes Coburn’s spending cut plan different — and better — than most is that it’s detailed, balanced and just (I’ll leave it to others to discuss the revenue side of his plan). These three elements are critical to changing the culture of spending in D.C.

Right now, in hundreds of conference rooms in ugly cement buildings, federal bureaucrats are reassuring themselves that their own program’s mission is so important that its funding will be “taken care of.” Translation: House Republicans can cut, but the cuts won’t stick.

So far, this has been a safe bet, in part because the bureaucrats haven’t truly experienced the impact of cuts.

For example, last December, President Obama proposed a federal pay freeze with a built-in thaw; although employees wouldn’t receive cost-of-living increases, those scheduled for “step increases” in pay would get them at a cost of $2.5 billion. This bit of kabuki sent a message that federal employees would remain protected.

The other factor in the bureaucrats’ minds is how fiercely some senators will fight to protect spending in their states. Think back to last fall, when Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) loudly resisted calls to end earmarks but did an abrupt about-face in November after Kentucky voters elected earmarkphobe Rand Paul. But not every Senate earmarker has a fiscal diet buddy like Paul. Thus, the bureaucrats are hoping that the Senate will restore whatever the House cuts.

In contrast, Coburn’s plan is all about changing the culture. I said it was detailed, balanced and just. Here’s why these things are important.

Details: Some legislators have claimed that much of the deficit could be fixed by eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, without coming up with a list of detailed remedies. Coburn has gone through the entire federal government, office by office, and proposed reducing, eliminating or reconfiguring certain programs and cutting spending on travel and junkets, as well as shrinking operational expenses such as office space rental. Clearly, Coburn realizes that generalities are easy but specifics are hard — though necessary for accountability.

Balance: Coburn doesn’t put the entire burden on just one area — he spreads it around, even calling for cuts in defense expenditures. His plan to restore solvency to the Social Security disability programs includes increased audits and tighter eligibility rules coupled with streamlined procedures. Thus, Social Security staff could be shifted from processing cases to performing reviews to determine if beneficiaries are still eligible for disability benefits — a balanced approach.

Justice: If we’re going to ask middle-class and lower-income people to shoulder part of the burden of deficit reduction, simple justice requires that we stop allowing more and more federal employees to ride around in limos, hold management meetings at resorts and receive very generous benefit packages. Likewise, simple justice also calls for an end to corporate subsidies. Coburn’s plan does all this and more.

Are Republicans serious about changing the culture of spending in D.C.? Many Americans remain unconvinced. Senator Coburn has taken a thoughtful, comprehensive first step toward change. Will others have the courage to follow?

Joanne Butler is a senior economics fellow at the Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware. You can email her at joanne-butler@comcast.net.

  • samac

    The absolutism regarding any taxes is how the special interests are now using the Rep party. The old school Bush/Delay tactics of just spending more and more money is out of the window…

    Now you need to get your favors through Tax Credits. And Norquist will help you terrorize any Republican that seeks to cut your tax credit subsidy.

    Why do hedge fund managers only pay 15% (deferred) for their income? Just because they pay some lawyers and lobbyists to redefine their wages as capital gains? So many of these games and dodges going on.

    So Paulson who made $8bn betting against subprime has not paid any taxes. Someday when he withdraws his money, he will only pay 15%. Not one Republican will vote to close this loophole? Shameful.

    And all of the special interest gamers will pay Norquist some insurance to keep their special priveleges. He is a racketeer. Of course as long as Republican voters want to be absolutist and take this racketeer seriously, he has the power to screw us all.

  • Supertad108

    I agree with Newly Minted. Senator Ron Paul explains it well. See his reason why this is a NO WIN for [US]!

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  • Newly Minted

    I’m going to have to be sold on the Coburn plan.

    Like many of us, I fear that the tax hikes will be real but the budget cuts will be imaginary, off in the future, for other Congresses to approve.

  • Honest Injun


    Big Government IS big business. Want to change this?

    There was a time in this country when almost nobody outside of DC gave a rat’s patooty what the government was doing. The reason: government was small and it wasn’t bankrupt, and it wasn’t looking for every way imaginable to get into your pocketbook and your life. Those were the days, my friends. And, for the record, that’s how it ought to be.

    Background: A New York congressman (for example) is contacted by a lobbyist. Either he votes for a concession or contract benefiting a company (or union) in Arizona, or they will contribute money to his opponents. He must vote for it, he must spend money for junk that nobody needs or he will be out on his ear. This happens every day of the year. Washington is now controlled by big National Organizations who get a ton of wampum FROM Washington.

    Make it illegal for any candidate to accept contributions, money etc. from any person, company or organization located outside of the jurisdiction which that candidate’s office serves. Simple as that. The only race for which candidates could receive contributions nationally would be the race for POTUS.

    Every congressman (as well as his competition) instantly becomes the servant of what is best for their city, state or district, and no longer is subservient to national bribes (all of which, sooner or later, are paid by taxpayers). Nobody will have much money to spend, so they will have to go to the people they serve and give speeches and have debates.

    Of course, the media won’t like it – it will cost them hundreds of billions. Neither will the lobbyists. The Congressmen will like it. They can cut their staffs and avoid some of the pressure to lie and cheat. The government can begin to cut deficits and return these companies and unions to competing for dollars by making a product or service that is competitive. Free and unfettered competion combined with reduced paperwork will create millions of new jobs and make productive millions of citizens who now stand idle.

  • Perm Dude

    Best part of the plan: Coburn gives a big FU to Grover Nordquist. Nordquist’s stranglehold on the willingness of the GOP to think outside the box on our spending problems has to end. Coburn has solid anti-spending cred and I’m glad to see he’s putting forth his own plan.

  • bc3b

    Caesar Rodney Institute of Delaware? lol.