Coburn's Farewell: 'Protect the Future of Our Country by Upholding the Constitution'

By Susan Jones | December 18, 2014 | 11:00am EST

This frame grab from video, provided by C-SPAN2 shows Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. giving his farewell address on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014. (AP Photo/C-SPAN2)

( - The retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) bid an emotional farewell to the Senate last week, urging his colleagues to be mindful of "our founding documents" and to honor their oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States."

"Your state isn't mentioned one time in that oath," Coburn said. "Your whole goal is to protect the United States of America, its Constitution and its liberties. It is not to provide benefits for your state. That is where we differ. That is where my conflict with my colleagues has come. It is nice to be able to do things for your state, but that isn’t our charge. Our charge is to protect the future of our country by upholding the Constitution and ensuring the liberty that is guaranteed there is protected and preserved."

The nation's Founders were "absolutely brilliant, far smarter than we are," Coburn said, as he hailed their concept of limited government:

"I believe the enumerated powers meant something. They were meant to protect us against what history says always happens to a Republic -- they have all died. They have all died. So the question is, What will happen with us? Can we cheat history? Can we do something better than was done in the past? I honestly believe we can, but I do not believe we can if we continue to ignore the wisdom of our founding documents. So when I have offended, I believe it has been on the basis of my belief in Article I, Section 8" (which enumerates the powers of the Congress).

Observing the constitutional limits on the "size and scope" of the federal government will help solve the nation's problems, Coburn said.

He mentioned his father, a man who never went beyond the fifth grade but was a "great believer in our country."

"He would not recognize it today," Coburn said. "The loss of freedom we have imposed by the arrogance of an all-too-powerful federal government, ignoring
the wisdom and writing of our Founders that said: Above all, we must protect the liberty of the individual and recognize that liberty is...a God-given right.

The Founders wanted to avoid a dominating central government, Coburn said. But that's where the nation is heading, as its leaders get "too much involved in decision-making" and the individual right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is infringed by "what comes out of this body and this Congress every day."

Coburn said the magic number in the Senate isn't 60 (the number needed to invoke cloture) or 51 (a simple majority): "The most important number in the Senate is one -- one senator," because each each individual member has the power to advance, change or stop legislation. "It only takes a single senator to withhold consent to stop most legislation," Coburn noted. Such power and responsibility must be "refined" and used wisely, he said.

Without naming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Coburn critized him for changing Senate rules to give Democrats more power: "Every Senator has the power to introduce legislation and, until recently, offer amendments. No single senator should be allowed to decide what the rights of another senator should be. That is tyranny...To exercise the rights we have been entrusted with, we must respect the rights of others. That is the true power of our Constitution. That is also the
true power of the Senate. It is what binds our nation together, and it is what is needed to make the Senate work properly again."

Coburn said the Senate was designed to force compromise, not gridlock, and he urged his colleagues to seek "areas of agreement where compromise can be found." Coburn admitted that he has not always done that. "I should have," he added.

He also hailed the value of "vigorous" congressional oversight as an "effective tool to expose government overreach and wasteful spending" and to set national priorities.

"I would end with one final comment," Coburn concluded: "The greatest power I have not used as a senator, which I would encourage you to use in the future, is the power of convening. You have tremendous power to pull people together because of your position...That power is the power that causes us to compromise, to come together, to reach consensus. So my encouragement to you is to rethink the utilization of the power of convening. People will come to you if you ask them to come."

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