(CNSNews.com) – “The enemy of freedom right now is Congress and the courts. It’s not the president-elect,” former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) said after criticizing efforts by some Republican members of Congress to end the current ban on earmarks.
Coburn spearheaded the ban in Congress after the 2010 midterm election in which public revulsion over earmarks played a major role in giving Republicans six additional Senate seats and control of the House of Representatives.
But six years later, the GOP has apparently forgotten that lesson.
“I don’t get it. They’re tone deaf,” Coburn told CNSNews.com, adding that earmarks are “the gateway drug” to the estimated $23 trillion worth of debt U.S. taxpayers will be saddled with by 2021.
Representatives Mike Rogers (R-AL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), and John Culberson (R-TX) recently filed an amendment to House rules that would bring back earmarks for certain government agencies, such as the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, arguing that earmarks would give Congress more control over how federal funds are spent.
However, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) postponed a vote on the amendment until sometime next year.
“We just had a ‘drain the swamp’ election,” Ryan reportedly told fellow Republicans in a closed-door session on Wednesday. “Let’s not just turn around and bring back earmarks two weeks later.”
But Coburn, who is now a senior advisor to the Convention of States Project, says the ban on earmarks should remain in place permanently.
“We’ve got to find another way to fix our country, because [reinstituting earmarks] is totally self-serving,” Coburn told CNSNews.com.
“What it tells you is that the careerist and the political gamesmanship still resides in a lot of members of Congress. Their job is to uphold and enforce the Constitution, not enhance their own political careers. And earmarks is a method of enhancing their political careers.
“Here’s their excuse: Well, somebody’s got to be able to control the bureaucracy. Well, it’s easy. Quit sending them money that is discretionary for the bureaucracy. Make it very specific how you want it spent.
“But you can’t do it by making political favors back home. So take the discretionary money away from the bureaucracy,” Coburn said.
“If I were a member of Congress today, I’d be paying real close attention to the rumble that’s going on in our country that you just saw manifested in the presidential election and in enhancements throughout the country of conservative-controlled legislatures, and not much change in the national legislature,” he continued.
“So what I would do, I’d be paying close attention that maybe the people want less government, more freedom, less spending, more spending under their discretion in their states, and let them decide how to spend it.”
Coburn pointed out that stand-alone appropriations bills that give members of Congress more control over federal spending have not been passed for at least a decade despite repeated promises to restore “regular order” by Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
“We haven’t had appropriations bills passed in regular order in 10 years,” Coburn told CNSNews.
He added that although President-elect Trump cannot dictate congressional procedures, he can rally the American people to demand that their representatives take action to reduce federal spending if he wants to keep his campaign promises, which include building a wall on the southern border, beefing up the military, and rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
“What [Trump] has to do is use his soap-box to convince the American people that their members of Congress better start doing their job,” said Coburn, a medical doctor who retired from the Senate last year after serving for 10 years.
While he was in the Senate, Coburn’s office published an annual list of wasteful pork-barrel spending called the Wastebook. The 2014 edition featured an $856,000 federal grant to “train mountain lions to walk on treadmills” and a $190,000 expenditure to “study compost digested by worms”.
“Remember, all of the waste, all of the fraud, all of the duplication, and all of the stupidity has a constituency,” Coburn told CNSNews. “And as long as members of Congress care more about getting reelected than they care about their kids’ future, we’re going to continue to see the kind of stupid spending that we’ve seen for the last 20 years in this country under Republican and Democrat-controlled Congresses or presidents.
“So it’s not a partisan issue. It’s easy to spend somebody else’s money. And they’re not held accountable,” he noted. “We’ve got to start saving money so we don’t impoverish the next generation.”
“Economically, we’re now in worse shape for the future than we’ve ever been,” Coburn continued. “The debt to GDP ratio is about 130 percent. We’re right where Greece was 12 years ago,” he added, noting that “every taxpayer now is on the hook for a million dollars in unfunded liabilities” that will become due over the next 75 years.
CNSNews asked the former senator if he thinks it’s possible to eliminate enough waste, fraud and abuse to fund Trump’s agenda without plunging the nation even deeper into debt.
“It's all possible," he replied, adding that Trump's main problem will be "the entrenched careerists in Congress who want to advance their own agendas for their own personal political futures.
“There’s fully documented $400 billion of waste, fraud and duplication every year. There’s another $100 billion of fraud in Medicare and probably $60 billion of fraud in Medicaid, not to mention the impact of federal regulations on economic growth, which has been horrendous under the Obama administration.
“If Congress did the hard work of oversight, and eliminated the fraud, duplication, stupidity, and waste in the federal bureaucracy, he’d have a half-trillion dollars to spend. That will build a wall, a whole lot of highways every year, and do more than we’ve done in a long time to start the economic revival of this country.”
Will Trump be able to convince the Republican-controlled Congress to cut enough wasteful spending to fund his priorities? CNSNews asked.
“I don’t know,” Coburn replied. “I’m going to give the president-elect the benefit of all doubt. He is a smart guy. I think he wants to do the right things by Americans and for their future. So we’ll just have to see.
“I spent 10 years trying to do it and couldn’t. Maybe he can.”