If you’re concerned about our nation’s growing fiscal crisis — and regardless of political persuasion, you should be — then Senator Tom Coburn’s new book, The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America, should be the next title you pick up. Coburn identifies the root of the current problem, exposes the devastating effects of staying the course and provides detailed solutions for getting the nation back on track. Pulling no punches, the senator goes after both Republicans and Democrats who are content with serving their own self-interests while ignoring the greater economic situation.
Senator Coburn has long been a deficit hawk intent on exposing waste, fraud and abuse within the federal government. I was first introduced to his work last year, when he published a report entitled “The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope.” The report came at a time when President Obama’s proposed budget would have increased NSF funding by $1 billion. The senator’s analysis revealed, among other frivolous expenditures, million-dollar grants to the Rochester Institute of Technology, Cornell University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study how rumors get started and $559,681 to the College of Charleston to observe how long a shrimp can run on a treadmill. Coburn goes a step further in his latest writing to expose the reasons and motivations behind government waste.
The Debt Bomb opens with a fictitious future scenario, where multiple private and global firms begin dumping their U.S. debt holdings after the federal government fails to pass legislation to get the nation’s spending under control. Overnight, the dollar takes a nosedive, and the price of oil subsequently spikes. Civil unrest takes the country by storm, and people withdrawal their money from banks. The G-20 convenes and issues the U.S. an ultimatum: raise the retirement age for entitlement programs to 72, means-test benefits and double tax rates for the privilege of borrowing money. The president agrees to the terms via executive order, but Congress passes a resolution in disapproval. The nation is in chaos.
Coburn captivates the reader through this devastating series of events, and urges a call to action: We must prevent a scenario like this from occurring. What may come as a surprise is that he also surmises this fictional chain of events will occur with Republican control of the White House, Senate and House — the author’s own party. By writing this, the senator is suggesting that unless things change in Washington, the country is going to continue down the road of fiscal disaster regardless of which party is behind the wheel.
I find Coburn’s willingness to take on both sides of the aisle refreshing and attribute it, in part, to his life’s work as a physician. He has voluntarily limited his time in public office, choosing to act on his belief that politicians shouldn’t make a career out of serving in Washington (this is his second and final term in the Senate). He points out that many members of Congress have noble intentions but no real-world experience. If we are to change our current course, he claims, we must elect representatives with private-sector knowledge who will direct their efforts toward solving the nation’s problems, not extending their political careers. For this reason, he has called on constituents to term-limit their representatives.
Coburn dedicates a large portion of his book to identifying the source of our debt problem — entitlement expenditures — and explaining how the nation got so far off track. He warns that by 2022 taxes will merely cover the cost of Social Security, Medicare and the interest payments on the national debt. In other words, the country will have no money left to cover any other governmental functions. The fact that foreigners hold approximately one-third of our debt makes the situation particularly precarious.