By James Beaty
U.S. Sen. Dr. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, traveled to McAlester on Friday and leveled verbal volleys at big government, the national debt, the media and most of all, Congress.
He also said what’s best for Oklahoma may not be what’s best for the nation.
With every seat filled in the main room of What About Bob’s restaurant, several of those attending had to stand against the wall as the senator unleashed a volley of criticism against Washington.
The congressman also took questions from those in attendance, which included Republicans, Democrats and members of the local TEA Party movement.
During the town hall session, Coburn addressed the upcoming meeting between Democrats and Republicans that the president requested to try and move the proposed health care overhaul forward.
“I told Barack Obama a year ago if he wants to solve health care, he has to get guys together and get in the middle,” Coburn said.
“They didn’t do that,” said Coburn — with the president and the Democrats basically saying it all had to be their way.
“They didn’t want to hear from us,” Coburn said. “Now that it didn’t pass, they want to hear from us.”
“Do they really want to hear?” Coburn asked, indicating he suspected the upcoming summit was mostly called for political purposes.
The reason the health care measure hasn’t passed isn’t because of partisan differences, but because of philosophical differences, Coburn said.
Coburn also addressed obtaining federal funds for Oklahoma and what constitutes an earmark.
“I don’t think Oklahoma should be healthy if the country isn’t healthy,” said Coburn.
Something might be beneficial to Oklahoma, but cost $50 million, he said.
That could lead to members of Congress saying “He got an earmark. Why don’t I get an earmark,” Coburn said.
Another problem is that most earmarks aren’t bid, and aren’t needed, according to Coburn.
“Ninety percent of earmarks, you can’t find a justification for,” he said.
If you have an earmark, “You’re not thinking about the best interests of the country, you’re looking out for the best interests of your state,” Coburn said.
What’s best for the country, the senator asked — the best project in Oklahoma or the best project in Alabama?
Coburn introduced himself during the town hall meeting by saying he will have to update his bio.
“I’m 62; I have a fifth grandchild,” said Coburn.
He said he was once a businessman with about 1,300 employees.
“I’ve never seen our country with the problems we have now in our lifetime,” Coburn said, drawing some “Amen brother!” comments from the crowd.
Coburn said the nation will have to borrow more than $1.7 trillion this year “just to run the government.
“In my opinion, we have a government that’s way too big, borrowing money we don’t have, to spend on things we don’t need.”
Don’t blame President Obama, Coburn said several times.
“The cause of it is the U.S. Congress,” Coburn said. “The fact is the president can’t do hardly anything unless the Congress allows it.”
Congress is full of “short-term thinkers,” said Coburn.
The senator said his office found $387 billion worth of waste in the U.S. government last year.
“That’s 45 times the size of Oklahoma’s annual budget,” he said.
Some politicians never want to offend anybody, Coburn said.
“It’s better just to offend everybody and fix this problem.”
Solutions are going to require sacrifice, Coburn said, noting that Americans have historically sacrificed to try and make a better world for children.
What our children are now looking at in the future includes a lower standard of living, higher tax rates and lessened defense capabilities, he said.
“We need to have an awakening in our country,” said Coburn.
“What we need to do is change Congress.”
Coburn then opened the floor for questions, promising no question was “too hot.”
The first question came from a man who said he’s facing foreclosure, even though there’s been a lot of talk out of Washington about action being taken to help those in that situation.
He said he’s made numerous inquiries, but has gotten no help.
“All they want to do is foreclose on me, with no chance of keeping my home,” he said.
“Everybody says there’s money out there from the Bank of America, but nobody knows where I can get it.”
Coburn told the man to call his Tulsa office and said he would get an answer, although it may not necessarily be the answer he wanted to hear.
Another local resident, Ben Suter, asked about the federal stimulus money.
“It seems the only stimulus is in government,” he said.
Coburn replied that usually an economic multiplier effect is considered — referring to how much additional money would be spent for each original dollar.
“The multiplier effect on this stimulus bill so far has been zero,” Coburn said. “I agreed we needed to do a stimulus bill, but not that one.”
Military defense spending normally has a 2.45 multiplier effect, said Coburn.
“For every dollar spent, we create two-and-a-half more dollars,” he said.
He then criticized the federal stimulus dollars being sent to states, saying the states were sent the money “So they don’t have to make hard choices.
“Nobody with common sense could agree with it,” Cobrun said.
It’s not a partisan issue, according to Coburn.
“I want the president to be successful at stimulating the economy. He’s a friend of mine,” Coburn said.
The government should reduce corporate taxes, the senator said, adding that taxes should not be raised when businesses need to create jobs.
Speaking of health care, Coburn said the American people should know the details of deals the president made to get large organizations to back his proposed health care overhaul.
“Let’s have the details of the deal he made with the American Medical Association,” Coburn said, saying that deal cost the AMA a lot of its membership. He also referred to the benefits the AARP would receive because of the organization’s support of the president’s health care bill.
“They made $600 million selling high-priced insurance,” Coburn said.
Referring to Washington, Coburn said, “I’m the one that tries to do a spinal transplant all the time” — a comment which drew laughter from many of those in attendance.
“Does Washington finally get it?” Coburn asked.
“Half of what the government does is not authorized by the Constitution and diminishes our freedom here in Oklahoma,” Coburn said.
“People who have businesses today are swamped with rules and regulations,” Coburn said.
A woman in the crowd asked about spins with the media.
“What’s happening in America today, not just Oklahoma, is there’s an awakening of what’s going on,” Coburn said. “The level of intensity with dissatisfaction is the highest it’s ever been.”
Congress isn’t connected, the senator said.
“What you see is all this finger-pointing,” with Congress blaming others, he said.
“The people who got us in trouble is the U.S. Congress,” he said.
“Everybody wants to point a finger at the president,” when Congress is responsible, Coburn reiterated. “Your ire is rightfully focused on the U.S. Congress.”
When a woman asked about checks and balances, Coburn said “Every two years you’ve got a shot at it” — a reference to elections to the U.S. House of Representatives, which occur every two years. U.S. senators, by contrast, are elected for six-year terms.
“In the Senate, you can be a pain in the rear, and I am, I guarantee it,” Coburn said. He said every day that a new bill is not passed is a better day for the nation.
Turning to energy, Coburn said the U.S. has 32 billion barrels of oil on federal land which no one is allowed to touch.
“We’re going to send $270 billion a year to the people who want to kill us,” he said, referring to the amount of money sent to the Middle East for oil and gas.
“It’s madness,” Coburn said. “It makes you want to pull your hair out. It makes you want to ask ‘What are these guys smoking?’”
Jess Davis asked when some federal agencies might be done away with, to which Coburn advised don’t expect anything during the upcoming election cycle.
At another point, addressing the possibility of a third party, such as the TEA Party, Coburn said a third party isn’t going to do anything but ensure the election of the far left.
“Remember, Bill Clinton became president because of Ross Perot,” he said, referring to the third party candidate in the presidential election featuring Clinton, former President George H. Bush, and Perot — who analysts said drew enough votes away from Bush to give Clinton the election victory in his first term.
Coburn then segued into his relationship with the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate.
“I get along well with Harry Reid,” Coburn said, saying they have a great relationship.
However, Coburn said the media never reports that because “that doesn’t sell newspapers.”
He went on to say that he is for gridlock in Congress.
“I love gridlock,” Coburn said. “I think we’re better off when we’re gridlocked because we’re not passing things.”
Addressing Coburn, Dr. Mike Boyer said he’s seen a trend: “I see disability become a career path for young people,” he said.
On the other hand, he sees small business owners and operators saying the biggest problem they have is finding workers.
Coburn attributed that to a “problem of parenting,” saying children should be taught that work is good.
Boyer disagreed that the issue is a problem with parenting, saying it’s simply a choice among some young people to try and get on disability.
“They’re saying this is a better career path,” Boyer said.
John Browne, the Ward 3 city councilor who’s also president of the state union for letter carriers, asked for Coburn’s support on a retirement funds issue.
Coburn said the issue is more complicated than Browne described it, then went on to address the U.S. Postal Service in general.
“We have tons of great people in the postal service — it’s broken,” Coburn said. The U.S Postal Service continues to lose money, he said.
One of the ways to save money would be by eliminating a day of mail delivery, according to Coburn.
“We’ve got to cut one of the delivery days out,” Coburn said. “There’s no way we’re going to have a post office if we don’t.”
Ward 1 City Councilor Chris Feidler asked about the future of NASA.
While Coburn said space projects are important for defense, he said if Feidler has seen all the waste he had seen at NASA, it would make him want to “vomit.”
Lee Paddock asked about the recent international summit on global warming. She said she’s heard that each of the attendees took 22 other people with them and stayed at top hotels for a minimum of five days each.
“Why don’t you pay your own travel?” Paddock asked Coburn.
Coburn noted that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe traveled to the summit. Inhofe, who has scoffed at the theory of global warming, had traveled to the summit to tell the delegates that the U.S. Senate would never pass the plan they wanted.
Inhofe stayed only one day and took one staffer with him, according to Coburn.
“Why can’t they all do that,” Paddock asked.
“They’re arrogant,” Coburn replied.
Other questions centered around the Veterans Administration.
Coburn said that veterans who have served their nation and who have been promised health care should be given a card so they can get their health care wherever they want, not just from the VA.
However, Coburn added that all of the service organizations are against the idea.
Lee Dibell said that her husband had suffered a heart attack, but that the VA said it would only give him the medication he needed for a year.
The Rev. Robert Dibell asked about all the money that Congress has stolen from the Social Security funds over the years. Coburn basically replied that there’s currently no will in Congress to repay it.
Jeff Paddock said the TEA Party movement has a lot of things going for it.
“It’s got the American people fired up,” he said. Paddock asked if there was some way to get the Republican Party and the TEA Party to do something like the Contract for America, which led to a Republican takeover of Congress during Bill Clinton’s administration.
Coburn replied that the Contract on America had lost its effectiveness once the Republicans in Congress stopped living up to its terms.
Speaking to members of the TEA Party movement who were present, Coburn said “The last thing you want is to let politicians take over your organization.
“The problem is we need to get rid of this ruling class we have today,” said Coburn, who is running for re-election for another six-year term to the seat he currently holds in the U.S. Senate.
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.