By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn fielded questions Wednesday from a group of nearly 200 people at a town hall meeting at the Muskogee Civic Center.
Coburn’s quips about Washington’s political culture, some of his colleagues in Congress and Warren Buffett’s eagerness to share his wealth with the federal government drew sporadic applause and laughter.
The more serious issues raised by the crowd ranged from health care and energy policy to the military and tax code. The Oklahoma Republican also addressed pressing concerns about the economy, which he predicted would continue to decline if politicians fail to exercise the necessary precautions.
Coburn cited Congress’ failure to cut $4 trillion from the national debt for the recent downgrading of America’s credit rating. He predicted the possibility of another downgrade next year if something is not done.
“What we’re doing is exactly what Greece did — kick the can down the road,” Coburn said. “We’re about to come up against the wall where we kick the can and it comes back and hits us in the shin.”
Coburn said the only way to solve the country’s economic problems is to change the culture in Washington “from the president on down.” Voters, Coburn said, need to elect representatives with “real-world experience — not political experience.”
Washington’s apparent inability to get anything done, Coburn said, is based upon what he described as a “conflict of desires.” He said too many Washington politicians are more concerned with political expedience and personal careers than doing what’s right for the country.
Coburn said he has doubts the so-called super committee — created by recent legislation authorizing an increase in the federal debt limit — will accomplish anything.
“I think what we came up with is a scam,” Coburn said of the committee, noting the debt plan can be changed with 60 votes in the Senate. “You don’t think there are 60 cowards who will vote to change that before they have to go home and tell their constituents we cut your Medicare?”
Despite the doom and gloom predictions, Coburn said he remains optimistic about America’s future. But he said it’s going to take ordinary citizens to make things happen.
Coburn praised the Tea Party movement for raising public awareness of the nation’s problems. But he also said there is a need in Washington for compromise, something that has been lacking.
Besides eliminating duplicate federal programs, wasteful spending and fraud, Coburn advocated tax reforms that would do away with income taxes and impose a national sales tax. He also advocated a balanced budget amendment.