Skip to main content

Our spending addiction is out of control

By Tom Coburn, Special to CNN
updated 6:30 AM EDT, Fri October 11, 2013
The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed. The Statue of Liberty looms over visitors below on Liberty Island in New York Harbor on Sunday, October 13. The statue was closed to the public by the federal government's partial shutdown that began October 1, but reopened Sunday after the state of New York agreed to shoulder the costs of running the site during the shutdown. Many government services and agencies remain completely or partially closed.
HIDE CAPTION
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
Government shutdown: Sorry, we're closed
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Tom Coburn: We need a long-term deal, not short-term extensions in shutdown crisis
  • Coburn: The real danger is not solving the problem of our spending addiction
  • He says for example, the Social Security Disability Trust Fund will be bankrupt by 2016
  • Coburn: The president and Congress must show real leadership and compromise

Editor's note: Tom Coburn, a Republican, is a U.S. senator from Oklahoma.

(CNN) -- The enduring symbol of the government shutdown was when World War II veterans stormed the barricades on the National Mall. They reminded those of us in public service that they fought and died so we could resolve our differences peacefully.

Nowhere on our monuments will you read the words: "I will not negotiate." In fact, our monuments tell the opposite story. Our National Mall is a monument to compromise and sacrificial leadership.

As the debate about how to end the government shutdown converges with a debate over the nation's borrowing limit, the real decision Washington faces is whether to make hard choices now or later.

Sen. Tom Coburn
Sen. Tom Coburn

We don't need short-term extensions as much as we need a long-term spending addiction recovery plan. We are out of control. Congress should do what any responsible parent would do if their adolescent child couldn't handle the responsibility of a credit card. We should cut up the credit card and live within our means.

If we do nothing, sooner or later we'll see the White House's worst fears realized -- a sudden interest rate spike, a collapse of our credit rating and a global economic meltdown.

People of good faith on both sides agree on the math. There is no way we can grow fast enough to avoid massive -- and debilitating -- tax increases or structural changes to our entitlement programs. My friend Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff to President Bill Clinton, put it best when he said we face the "most predictable economic crisis in history."

So when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew says failing to lift the debt ceiling would be playing with fire, he's the one on the wrong side of economics and history.

President 'happy' about debt deal offer
Boehner: No one gets all they want
Jack Lew: Stop being 'reckless' on debt

The real danger is not solving the underlying problem of overspending that requires us to raise the debt ceiling. As Moody's Credit Agency has explained, not raising the debt limit will not cause a default and will leave our "creditworthiness intact."

Regardless, we can, and should, act now to avoid further crisis in the future. The good news is we have plenty of options.

The president's own budget is a good place to start. In it he proposed $435 billion in savings over the next decade that many Republicans would accept. Why would he not work with us to enact those savings?

Specifically, the president proposed using a more accurate way to adjust for inflation with Social Security benefits and other federal payments. His proposal could save $230 billion over 10 years. Why should this idea be off limits?

The president also proposed saving $50 billion over the next decade by asking wealthy seniors to pay a little more for their Medicare premiums. I introduced a bill with Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill building on this policy. Why should our bipartisan bill inspired by the president be off the table?

This week I released a report with Democratic Sens. Carl Levin and Tom Carper and Republican Sen. John McCain. Featured on "60 Minutes," it exposed a "disability industrial complex" that is riddled with fraud. The Social Security Disability Trust Fund will be bankrupt by 2016. Millions of disabled Americans will face benefit cuts or middle-income Americans will face an increase in their payroll taxes. Why should we raise the debt ceiling without working to cut the billions in waste and fraud that has been uncovered in our bipartisan investigations?

Meanwhile, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has detailed $250 billion in duplication in our discretionary budget that both parties have largely ignored. Why would we impose billions of dollars of additional debt on future generations when we could instead find billions in additional savings?

I'm pleased my colleagues in the House are making similar and additional proposals of their own. The fact is the menu of options from numerous commissions and proposals amounts to trillions in savings. What we need is the political courage to act.

The real question is: If now is not the time to negotiate, then when? Delaying these decisions might be good for our political security, but it will seriously undermine our economic and national security.

Our founders understood that politicians and factions would always be tempted to not compromise, and would try to ideologically cleanse the public square of meaningful opposition. This hyperpartisan mentality was on display with both the passage of Obamacare and the counterproductive backlash in my own party. The result has been a government shutdown.

As someone with a record of cutting spending and holding popular -- but costly -- bills, I'm not afraid to say that principled compromise is courageous, and neither should anyone in public office. I believe the very compromises that gave us our nation can be used to save our nation.

As much as I would love to see 67 pure conservatives in the Senate, that isn't going to happen. And as much as I would love to cut spending by $9 trillion, as I detailed in my own "Back in Black" plan, I'll settle for less if we can save America in the process.

At pivotal moments, our best leaders have always chosen negotiation and compromise over domination and humiliation. George Washington could have been king but he gave up power. Abraham Lincoln chose reconstruction over retribution. Harry Truman gave our vanquished foes a new beginning with the Marshall Plan, and he even let Japan keep its emperor, and with it secured the peace.

It's time for President Obama, and all our congressional leaders, to do the same. All our problems can be solved, but only if we participate. The time to do so is now.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tom Coburn.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT