Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, is committed to opposing a supplemental spending bill that includes $33.5 billion to escalate war in Afghanistan, unless the funds to pay for it are found.
On May 10th Senator Coburn wrote to his colleagues asking for their support for an amendment that would offset the new spending in this bill with cuts elsewhere. I spoke on Monday with Senator Coburn’s communications director John Hart who assured me that Coburn intends to oppose the supplemental spending bill unless such an amendment is passed.
Hart said that Senator Coburn’s position is that our nation is spending way beyond our means, that Congress has been violating PAYGO rules frequently (statutory rules requiring that all spending be paid for with new revenue or offsetting cuts). Hart said that Senator Coburn has frequently put holds on bills and believes this is justified in the current instance, regardless of whether he’s been completely consistent in the past. The PAYGO statute makes an exception for supplemental war spending, but — as Coburn points out — this spending blatently violates the spirit of PAYGO.
Coburn, Hart said, wants to give the Democrats a chance to pay for the war, something that some leading Democrats have said in the past year that they want to do. Senator Carl Levin and House Appropriations Chairman David Obey said six months ago that they would not pass any more war funding without creating a "war tax" to pay for it; they proposed legislation to do just that. Chairman Obey and President Obama are also among those who have previously vowed not to use "emergency" supplemental spending bills anymore.
Hart mentioned "a lot of waste in the Department of Defense" as a place to look for offsets, itself a remarkable position to hear a Republican senator promoting. More remarkable will be seeing a Republican filibuster of a bill that includes war funding, even if it is funding to escalate, rather than to maintain, a war, and even if the opposition is based purely on financial policy. Most members of Congress who speak against wars, usually Democrats, tend to fund the wars they "oppose" on the grounds that not to do so is to "oppose the troops." Republicans in the House dismissed this criticism last June when they all voted against the previous war supplemental. Coburn dismissed it as well in his May 10th letter, printed in full below:
May 10, 2010
I appreciate your support for the effort to pay for the $18 billion cost of H.R. 4851, the Continuing Extension Act of 2010 approved by the Senate earlier this month. I am once again asking for your support to pay for the cost of legislation expected to be considered by Congress in the coming weeks.
The Senate is expected to consider yet another "emergency" spending bill in the coming weeks. The bill could cost as much as $70 billion and will contain the annual supplemental war appropriations as well as tens of billions of dollars for a variety of other unrelated purposes, none of which will be paid for with reductions in other federal spending. Without question, we must fully meet the needs of our military men and women with the equipment and supplies they need to win and return home. But we must do so responsibly, by offsetting the full cost of the war efforts with cuts to lower-priority federal spending.
As you know, on February 12, 2010, President Obama signed into law the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act (PAYGO). In the weeks following its enactment, the Senate has repeatedly ignored the spirit of PAYGO by borrowing $173 billion to cover the costs of new spending rather than paying for it by cutting lower priority spending. Just over a year ago, the national debt was $10.6 trillion. Today, it is $12.9 trillion, and every American owes more than $41,000.
With the federal government borrowing 43 cents for every dollar we spend, our spending is on an unsustainable course. I will, therefore, do everything I can to ensure Congress pays for the annual supplemental spending bill and plan to offer an amendment to offset the full amount of the legislation. I am open to all offset suggestions and would appreciate your support when the pay for amendment is put before the Senate for a vote.
Time and time again, Congress waits until the last minute to consider important legislation and then declares the billions of dollars in costs as “emergency” as a way to avoid making the tough decisions required to pay for the price tag. Congress can continue to borrow billions of dollars by declaring a bill an emergency to avoid paying for it today, but eventually the cost must be paid. Our nation’s $12.9 trillion debt is endangering our financial recovery, the future of our children and grandchildren who will be left paying for the bills we are incurring today, our national security, and the very freedoms of men and women in uniform are fighting to protect and preserve. That is why the real “emergency spending” is this type of irresponsible spending that is creating a true emergency for the future of our nation.
Again, I appreciate your support in the past and I hope I can count on you again as I do whatever I can to help restore fiscal discipline in Washington by forcing Congress to pay for the costs of all new spending.
Tom A Coburn, M.D.