Dr. Tom Coburn spent 16 years in Congress and quit because lawmakers refused to make tough choices to spare future generations the burden of crushing debt, and he is now calling for a Convention of the States so state and local leaders can do the work Washington politicians refuse to address.
Coburn served Oklahoma in the House of Representatives from 1995-2001. He was elected twice to the U.S. Senate before resigning in 2015. He is also the author of ” Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government.”
Article V of the U.S. Constitution provides two ways for amendments to be enacted. The more common way is for both chambers of Congress to approve an amendment by two-thirds majorities, followed by three-quarters of the states ratifying the proposal. However, Article V also allows for two-thirds of states to convene and approve amendments which would still require approval by three-quarters of the states.
Coburn says business as usual in Washington proves politicians are not up to the task of reining in government.
“Everybody said things would change in 2010. Then they said things would change in 2014. Then they said things would change in 2016,” said Coburn, who contends there’s a very simple explanation for why those campaign promises are not kept.
“Most members of Congress are conflicted and the conflict is this: Do I do what’s best for the country and maybe lose my election or do I do what’s best for my political career so I can maintain my status as an elite?” said Coburn. “The desire for power, which our founders very well knew, trumps everything else.”
Among Coburn’s biggest frustrations is how public service has become a career for so many, rather than lawmakers serving for a brief time and then returning to their private lives.
“If you didn’t have career politicians, they wouldn’t be looking for the next office. It’s not the public service is in any way dishonorable. It’s that motives for most of those that run today is to get and hold and advance power,” said Coburn.
As a result he says people who want to make tough choices to tackle problems like debt and spending are scorned for putting their colleagues in a difficult position.
“Their peers say, ‘Don’t do that. We’ll have to make all these hard choices. We’ll get beat up here.’ What they need is an excuse to do the right thing” said Coburn.
“They need an excuse to be able to come home and say, ‘I’m sorry I had to cut this program because we have to balance the budget. It’s dishonorable to borrow against your children. We’re going to make these hard choices and if you don’t want to re-elect me it’s fine. I’ll be happy to go back to my real job,'” said Coburn.
“But the problem is two-thirds of the people in Washington have never had a real job,” said Coburn.
Coburn says the 1995 federal government shutdown is a perfect example of lawmakers refusing to stick to their principles and allowing government to spiral out of control. The Republicans eventually buckled in the face of intense media and political pressure, and GOP leaders have been very reluctant to even threaten such a move ever since.
Coburn was a House freshman at the time and says Republicans snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.
“What we saw post-collapse of the Republican leadership was that the president was getting ready to cede the spending cuts that we wanted to make. Had we had those spending cuts, you wouldn’t be running half-trillion and trillion dollar deficits,” said Coburn.
“Leadership can either go on the basis of courage or on the basis of fear, and what you’re seeing in Washington from the career politicians is fear.” he said.
“If you’re going to shut the government down, don’t open it up until you’ve won everything you need to win. Take the heat and lose your slot. Is it better for a politician to lose an election and the country to be better off or is it better for the politician to maintain power and the kids that come after us suffer dearly,” said Coburn.
Coburn was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010, but walked away in January 2015 with two years remaining in his term. Was it because Congress was doing nothing to honor its promises to get the nation’s fiscal house in order?
“It was 100 percent (that),” said Coburn. “I had told the majority leader two years before I left that I was going to leave if things didn’t change, if we didn’t start addressing the real issues, if his leadership wasn’t going to address the real issues. If he didn’t put people in position to address the real issues, there’s no reason to stay there and participate and get an ‘Atta boy’ because you’re a senator but you’re not actually accomplishing anything for the future of our country,” said Coburn.
“Nothing happened so I went to him and said, “I told you I was leaving. I’m leaving.’ I did and it was a good decision because now I’m working on the solution big enough to solve the problem,and that’s the Article V amendments convention,” said Coburn.
He says this is America’s best chance to get the ship headed in the right direction.
“The real question for you and the average American family, whether you’re liberal or conservative, is who gets to decide. Is it an un-elected bureaucrat in Washington or is it you as a free citizen in this country,” said Coburn.