|Sessions, Coburn Show Leadership on Budget|
By Quin Hillyer
Wednesday, May 30 2012
“The man with no plan.” That’s what Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, calls the man Occupying the Oval Office.
“The biggest deficit in our country right now is that leaders won’t get out and take a stand,” said U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. “That’s cowardice.”
Sessions was talking over pizza slices in the Atlanta airport on May 20, waiting to change planes from Mobile, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. Coburn was giving a speech at the Heritage Foundation on May 22, explaining the central themes of his new book, The Debt Bomb. But, completely apart from what each had to say about Barack Obama, the two senators were pushing the same urgent message. The American nation is in major fiscal trouble, and time is running short.
“In ten years, I think the number from the Congressional Budget Office is that the federal government will be paying $940 billion per year just on interest on the debt,” Sessions said. “For comparison, our entire defense budget right now is about $540 billion. We’re on an unsustainable path. Even if you agree with Obama’s agenda of ‘investing’ in the economy, that investment itself is a wealth transfer from our children. That’s just not right. That’s just not moral.”
Here was Coburn: “Our debt is the greatest national security threat there is.” But: “The average American is an adult. If we tell seniors we need to reform Medicare for the sake of helping their grandchildren, they will listen.”
As Sessions and others have been pointing out, the average American’s share of the federal debt already is $44,215 – far outpacing that of chaos-riven Greece, which is $38,937. “We’re heading right over a cliff,” he told political editor George Talbot of the Mobile Press-Register.
Yet Obama flat-out refuses to introduce any official budget that does anything to reform entitlements like Medicare that are driving us over that cliff. And the budgets he does forward to Congress are so wildly irresponsible that they have earned, for two years running, unanimous rejection by the Senate controlled by his own Democratic Party. Democrats counter that they rejected only a faux budget containing broad numbers equivalent to Obama’s, not Obama’s details – but even if that is so, it still speaks volumes that the Democrats refuse to hold votes on anything they identify as Obama’s budget.
Both Coburn and Sessions made sure to acknowledge that part of the problem stemmed from President George W. Bush’s lack of attention to budget discipline. (Coburn said that when Bush called to congratulate him on his Senate victory in 2004 and Coburn told the president he looked forward to trimming spending, Bush’s response was dead silence.) The difference, though, is between inattention on Bush’s part and determined, dramatic, intentional deficit spending and government growth under Obama.
To reverse that, both senators said the solutions are still doable, but only if we start soon.
“I can take $350 billion out of the budget that nobody will miss except for government workers,” Coburn told the Heritage audience. “There’s $250 billion a year in duplicative programs alone – 110 teacher-training programs, for example – that we could eliminate before we even get to anything else.”
Meanwhile, Coburn carries a message of economic growth. Broaden the tax base while eliminating disincentives for capital formation and enacting lower rates, he said, and the private sector would save the vast bulk of the $300 billion spent every year just in preparing its tax forms. If we set tax rates and spending discipline for the long term, meanwhile, in order to diminish the reigning economic “uncertainty,” then much of the nation’s $2.6 trillion in “idle capital” would “come off the sidelines” and start contributing again to growth.
Sessions, likewise, pointed to the depressing effect of policy uncertainties (and of Obama’s regulatory mania) as a deterrent to the sorts of productive risk that create growth – and pulled from his briefcase a Barron’s interview with economic historian Niall Ferguson to make his point.
None of this, of course, is new to conservatives who have been paying attention. What’s new is the growing success of the efforts of men like Coburn and Sessions, along with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, in getting their message out to the general public. Polls in the past few months have variously shown more Americans naming the deficit as “the most important issue facing the country right now” than those who name gas prices and health care, combined; or more than a combination of health care, Afghanistan and terrorism. (CNN had 20 percent of respondents listing the deficit as the nation’s single most important issue; Bloomberg had it at 21 percent.)
“I just can’t escape the fact that this is somebody’s money,” Sessions told the Press-Register.
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