Congressional honor in choices

Edit Note: As Congress debates raising taxes and hidden spending, Dr. Coburn (R-OK) recently delivered a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate expressing his concerns and a challenge to make hard choices in light of our growing debt and deficits.  A condensed version of that speech follows and it should be considered by every thinking American: 

We are at a defining moment in our country.  There is not anybody in this body who does not recognize that our country is on an unsustainable course.  They know it.  It is well known.  The world knows it.  We can argue about how close we are to the debt crisis and the liquidity crisis, but no one disputes that one is coming. We just don’t know when …

[W]e are not willing to make the hard choices. We will not come together and do what is best for America. What we will do is just take another shot of morphine, drink another drink on the Titanic, and hope that somehow it gets better …

The fact is, we already have a debt commission. It is called the U.S. Congress … We are the debt commission. We have to have a plan to avert the catastrophe that is in front of us …

It is not something that can wait a year.  We are going to have a major liquidity crisis, and we are also going to have a major interest rate crisis. Nobody knows when it comes. But the one thing we do know is that if we don’t have a plan, we will no longer control our ability to get out of our problem; the people who own our debt will control how we get out of our problem.

So if, in fact, we want to hand over our responsibility in the Senate to the bondholders of the world, then we should continue to not have a plan. But if, in fact, we want to embrace the oath we were given, then we should have a plan.
As we debate over the next 2 weeks coming up to Christmas, part of that debate has to be whether we are grown up enough to recognize that the party is over and that we better start bailing water, we better form the line, the bucket brigade; otherwise, we are going to go down with the ship.

That is realism. That is what is getting ready to happen to us. Mr. Bernanke cannot solve our problems in this regard. Only we can solve these problems for the American people.

Cutting spending should be the easy part of our solution.  We can document hundreds of billions of dollars a year that are wasted, defrauded, or duplicated in the Federal Government … I often hear my colleagues assert the power of the purse when it comes to earmarking, but I never hear the same thing when we talk about trying to cut spending. The bias is to spend, not to cut spending. We are either going to do it or outside financial forces are going to force us.

Some people say it is suicide to tell the American people they have to sacrifice. I adamantly disagree with that.  They are grown up.  They get it way ahead of us.  They have already seen what is happening to us.  They are feeling it now.  They have this innate sense that we are disconnected from the very real problems they are seeing. They are ready to do their part.

I will borrow a line from someone far more eloquent, J.F.K.:  “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.”

What does a shared sacrifice mean? It means that if you live in this country and make a decent income, you need to be more responsible with your health care and retirement than you are today.  If you have gamed the system to get disability benefits or workmen’s compensation, sorry, your free ride is over.  If you are receiving a special tax break because you have a good lobbyist, you are going to have to give that up.  If you are a defense contractor, you might only get a bonus for doing exceptional work, not standard work, not for just showing up to work.  And if you are a politician, it might mean you have to lose an election to do what is best for this country.

If we think about what is required and how we would achieve real change, we have two truths in tension: One, we have a government we tolerate; two, the American people have the power to change that government.
We can solve all of the difficult challenges before us, but we can’t solve them if Washington will not even debate the problem. And if we can’t overcome our courage deficit, the American people have a responsibility to replace us all–to replace every one of us.

Courage is having the fortitude to do the right thing for the right moral reason at the right time regardless of the consequences to you.  And we lack that in our body politic today.

I know a lot of people see this tax deal as a big political victory. I do not see it as a victory at all for the country or for our side.
Actually, a former Bush staffer, Dan Bartlett, is quoted as saying:
“We knew that, politically, once you get it into law, it becomes almost impossible to remove it. That’s not a bad legacy. The fact that we were able to lay the trap does feel pretty good, to tell you the truth.”

This gentleman just ignored the magnitude, severity, and urgency of the problems that face America.

The political cynicism that accompanies this should give us all pause to think for a minute on the games that are being played in Washington. Congratulations. Somebody embarrassed somebody else.

How does making our entitlement dilemma worse by passing Medicare Part D feel? It is now up to $13 trillion in unfunded liability, and the rich get the same benefit as the poor; does that feel good?  How about doubling the size of the government since 1999; does that feel good, especially at a time when fraud, waste, and abuse have doubled?  Does it feel good that we have done nothing to reform Social Security in the years since people applauded in the middle of the State of the Union address because of President Bush’s failed effort to fix Social Security?  Does that feel good?  Did that solve something or was that political showmanship?  That belies the history of this body of coming together.

Economists worldwide and some of the brightest people at Harvard and MIT, the University of Texas, Pennsylvania, they don’t sleep at night right now. They know we are on the razor-thin edge of falling over a cliff.

The fact is, both parties have laid a trap for future generations by our inaction, our laziness, our arrogance, and our crass desire for power.  We are waterboarding the next generation with debt. We are drowning them in obligations because we don’t have the courage to come together and address or even debate a real solution.

The history of our country, at least what I saw growing up from the 1940s to the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s, was that our Nation thrived because we always embraced the heritage of service and sacrifice when our future was at stake. We actually have seen some of that in the last 10 years.

I challenge my colleagues to go to Gettysburg or Philadelphia or visit ground zero and ask:  What went through the minds of the brave young Americans when the doors of their landing craft opened on Omaha Beach?   What motivated the heroes on flight 93 on 9/11 when they stormed a cockpit occupied by terrorists?   What did our Founders think when they signed the Declaration of Independence, knowing their lives and fortunes were on the line?   They were thinking about the future.   They were making that critical decision to have courage in the face of adversity and take with it what may come.  But they knew doing the correct and honorable and right thing was more important than their reputation or any other thing they had.

Here is what one of our Founders thought. Almost 234 years ago, on December 19, 1776, Thomas Paine was contemplating the great and uncertain struggle that lay ahead in our battle for independence and freedom. He said: “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace’ …’

Let it be our day.  Let it be today.