By any reasonable standard, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is one of the most conservative members of the United States Senate. His anti-big government credentials are unimpeachable.
While his Senate colleagues were willing to look the other way regarding the infamous “bridge to nowhere” and other monuments of excess, Coburn opposed earmarks. He lost, but he made it clear that he heard the “rumble” made by “hard-working Americans... getting increasingly angry with out-of-control government spending, waste, fraud, and abuse.”
This is why I can’t overlook the outrageous efforts being made to impugn his commitment to fiscal responsibility and his personal integrity.
Coburn, you see, is part of the Gang of Six -- three Democrats and three Republicans working to find a workable solution to the nation’s deficit. Everything is on the table as it has to be. Any solution needs to look at both spending cuts and increased revenue.
But you can increase revenue not only by raising taxes. You can eliminate tax loopholes, or a combination of both. On Meet the Press, Senator Coburn stated his preference: “taking away tax credits, lowering the tax rate” and economic growth “that will actually increase the revenues to the federal government.”
What kind of credits does he have in mind? One example is the now-infamous ethanol tax credit which costs the taxpayers $6 billion a year. It primarily benefits a few agro-business giants, and its real-world result is higher on food prices, not energy independence.
He has also proposed limiting the mortgage interest deduction on mortgages more than $500,000.
By some estimates, the various tax breaks and loopholes in the Internal Revenue Code amount to $1 trillion a year. The vast majority of these measures have two things in common: They are staunchly defended by the special interests who benefit from them, and they make taxes higher than they otherwise would be for the rest of us ordinary Americans.
For having the gall to state the morally and fiscally obvious, Coburn was accused of lying to his constituents by super-lobbyist Grover Norquist. In Norquist’s worldview, closing a loophole, no matter how egregious (like hundreds of billions in corporate welfare), is the same as raising tax rates. Anything that results in a net increase in government revenues, even if middle-class taxpayers in Peoria wind up paying less in taxes, is a violation of Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge.” And woe to any conservative politician who doesn’t see things Norquist’s way.
That raises two questions: Which “taxpayers” are Norquist and company out to protect? Agro-business giants, or the ordinary citizens?
The second question is: Who is serious about reducing the deficit and not saddling our children and grandchildren with an unforgivable, immoral legacy of debt? The six Senators, Coburn among them, or those like Norquist, whose only concern is maintaining the unsustainable and shameful tax status quo?
Folks, it is time to get serious, to decide what it is we want government to do and how we fairly pay the bill for it. That will demand a passion for the common good on both sides of the aisle.
Coburn and the Gang of Six, even in the face of savage opposition, are setting a good example, showing the courage to do the right thing.