The Debt Bomb – US Senator Tom A. Coburn, MD

Spy Magazine (1986 – 1998) used to provide an invaluable service by occasionally having interns read books of the day and then summarize and compare the juicy bits.  Around this time I began marking in pencil pithy passages of the books I was reading and later typing them out in a database program for future reference.  Maybe because of this blog or maybe because there haven’t been any books lately that I’ve been interested in reading all the way through since Iain Murray’s “Stealing You Blind” (excerpts here) I haven’t kept up this habit until last week when I picked up a book by a US Senator based on its title alone and was pleasantly surprised to find:

We are where we are today because career politicians have prostituted the founders’ clear intention to limit government in the name of “doing good.”  xiii

President Bush does deserve his share of blame.  In many respects, his administration was a fiscal disaster. 24

It isn’t the banks or the free-market system that is to blame.  It is the disruption of the free-market system by career politicians who promised things European economies could not afford.  Europe brought on its crisis by creating disincentives to work. If we don’t reduce our debt burden, we will be n the same position in the very near future. 27

These private exchanges, in which senators had the humility and curiosity to be students again, were a welcome departure from business-as-usual posturing. 31

At the end of the day, our $15 trillion national debt is a monument to Washington’s real values – self-preservation and careerism.  39

Domenici and most appropriators delegate their decision-making authority to staff members who often cultivate cozy relationships with special-interest groups they hope to one day work for, earning salaries of $300,000 to $500,000 or more.  51

Today, our government is a tyranny of good intentions.  politicians believe they are doing good things but have put our very future at risk by making promises they have neither the means nor will to keep.  Government has committed generational theft on a massive scale.  For the last thirty years we have lived off the next thirty years.  64

Today, a staggering 1 in 18 Americans is considered disabled, which is an impossibly high figure. 78

The night of my victory in 2004, I received a call from President Bush.  After he congratulated me, I said, “Mr. President, I’m looking forward to helping you cut spending.”  There was nothing but silence on the other end. 88

Over the past several decades, in fact, Washington has hardly been a city immobilized by gridlock.  Instead, Congress has been an assembly line of new programs and a favor factory for special interests.  Our economy is on the brink of collapse not because politicians can’t agree, but because they have agreed for decades.  For years, a bipartisan supermajority in both parties has agreed to borrow and spend far beyond our means. 110

Keynesianism is so popular, and dangerous, because it is so compatible with the congressional politics of instant gratification.  For career politicians, there is no greater pleasure in life than spending someone else’s money to promote their own reelection campaigns.  And it’s far easier to send a press release promoting a new grant or spending initiative than to investigate which programs are working.  In practice, Keynesianism gives career politicians a pseudo-intellectual justification for being lazy. 134

The major failing of Keynesians is their refusal to acknowledge that every dollar spent on “stimulus” is a dollar taken out of the economy. 134

On several occasions I have seen members introduce bills that duplicated exactly programs that already existed.  This reveals two things.  One, members are generally lazy.  And two, they often do what special-interest groups tell them to do. 176

The conventional wisdom among career politicians is that spending cuts hurt people while spending increases help people. 186

The truth is, most politicians mean well but are completely clueless about health care policy, which is one reason we have the system we have today. 215

We intuitively expect and demand transparency and choice in every area of the economy except for health care and education. 218

Instead of a rational health care market based on transparency and choice, we have a bizarre system of perverse incentives that create the illusion that someone else is paying the bill. 218

Vice President Biden, who is a very nice man but has no experience in health care – or any field outside of politics – chastised me in a video message for daring to suggest that seniors would “die sooner” if the bill became law. 222

Forty percent of doctors don’t accept Medicaid patients because reimbursements are so low. 232

If the Court decides Congress has the power to force consumers to buy health insurance and, by implication, eat their fruits and vegetables, the last vestiges of the Commerce Clause’s limitations on government interfering with the market will be washed away.  America will never be the same. 234

Families are struggling to make ends meet and are making painful economic choices as politicians in Washington borrow billions to provide welfare to the wealthy.  Politicians on both sides refuse to fix big problems and defend stupid politicies because changing those policies would involve upending a comfortable political status quo. 242

Norquist even testified before the fiscal commission that all provisions in the code should be permanent, even the dumb ones. 246

Politicians and bureaucrats, on the other hand, will almost never do what is right and efficient when they can do what is safe and comfortable, especially if it involves helping a parochial interest or anchor chain maker back home. 264

Defense contractors large and small write politicians fund-raising checks, and politicians send defense contractors earmarked funds. 265

“Did you serve to only have to pay $230 a year for health care, or did you serve to protect our freedoms?” 273

Our nation has the capability of becoming virtually energy independent while creating millions of jobs if we would embrace the reality that for the next twenty years at least, we will have a fossil fuel-based economy rather than an economy based on unproven “green” technologies. 286

most politicians live in a state of constant fear and will respond to what they perceive to be agitation in their states and districts. 288

Almost all career politicians are part of the axis of excuses. 290

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tough Love on July 16, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    Not much to disagree with ………….


  2. Posted by muni-man on July 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Coburn’s very sharp. I’ve seen him in numerous interviews and he’s very knowledgeable, but frankly, he’s like a fish out of water by serving in Congress. He’s fighting a futile battle. Trying to control the debt now is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube. Virtually anything they try to touch (S.S., Medicare, welfare, education subsidies, tax loopholes, defense, etc., etc., etc.) will cause HUGE outcries from the affected interest group(s), resulting in just more inaction.
    The debt officially passed $15T on 11/16/11. Per the debt clock today (243 days later) it’s at $15.884T. So we should be rolling by $16T on/about 8/17. Not bad – $1T more debt accumulated in ~275 days. I really don’t think there’s a workable solution. If they try to substantively claw back any gooberment goodies, they’ll unleash massive civil unrest so I guess they continue to spend the country into oblivion for awhile longer until some ‘event’ triggers the start of the ultimate financial meltdown.


  3. Posted by Anonymous on July 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Hey TL, by the way, my cousin served as a marine in Iraq. He drove a hummer across desert to pick up fuel. It was an extremely dangerous job he performed in the service and protection of our country. He got paid very little, I bet you are very pleased about that.


    • Posted by Tough Love on July 16, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      Our front line troops deserve all they get and MORE.

      Hardly comparable to ANY Civil Servants including police officers. Oh, sorry about that …. you’re one of them and think you deserve a pension 6 times greater in value than a comparably paid Private sector worker …. and with Taxpayers paying for 80-90% if it no less.

      Keep dreaming.


  4. Posted by Eric on July 16, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Yes. Where would we be without endless wars Tough Love? We must keep the printing presses running top speed along with maxing out our national credit card. Also, we must keep interest rates at 0 to really screw the seniors on fixed income.


    • Posted by Tough Love on July 17, 2012 at 12:01 am

      The wars are horrible human & financial tragedy. But onece the idiot politicians start one, our front line soldiers deserve all our support …. true heros (not like you know who).


  5. Posted by Eric on July 16, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Speedo. I agree with you. I am getting ready to short the long-term bond, but this is tricky business with our corrupt Fed. I love that J.P. Morgan has more than 70 trillion dollars in derivatives on its books. Got to love that the government and the big banks are one in the same and the too big to fail bull shit is a sheer stoke of brilliance!
    All should have gone bankrupt like Lehman and MF Global. Their kiddies would have also lost their trust funds. That was a VERY big deal to them in the discussions.


    • Posted by speedo on July 17, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      No …don’t do it …I have tried to make money from the short side ..TBT… but alway on the losing side as long as the printing presses are printing it will be inflation that care of our debt …..of course by then a gallon of gas will be $10.00 and food will only be for the 1% ….I truly believe someday we will devalue the dollar then all debts and pensions can be paid ….. just like in Zimbabwe ….do you know they have a one trillion dollar bill that common folks carry around like it’s pocket change …..that is exactly how our pensions will all get honored


  6. Posted by Eric on July 17, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Tough Love:
    I understand. The ones that start the wars would never fight in them or have their kids fight in them as well. To make matters worse, they have nothing but utter contempt for those that end up doing the actual fighting. I would say to a politician wanting to start a war, if you want to start a war, go ahead, pack up your belongings, move, bring your gun and good luck to you. There would be no more wars. 99% of them are useless cowards.


    • Posted by Tough Love on July 17, 2012 at 9:09 am

      Quoting …”The ones that start the wars would never fight in them or have their kids fight in them as well.”

      That’s why a “draft”, where the children of the wealthy and powerful might wind up on the front line, might be a good idea. Certainly a powerful incentive to think it through very carefully, explore alternatives and go to war only when there are no other alternatives.


  7. Posted by Eric on July 17, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Thanks for your concern. The dollar has already lost more than 95% of its value since the Federal Reserve was formed in 1913 in order to protect its value. Since Nixon took us off of the gold standard in 1971, a dollar in 1971 today has the purchasing power of 18 cents. By the way, Nixon had no choice but to do so due mainly because of the French wanting gold in exchange for her dollar reserves. We simply did not have enough gold. Economist Milton Freedman convinced Nixon to do it.
    The decline in the value of the dollar going forward will be far more rapid and severe. If it were not for the Euros problems right now, all eyes would be focused on the dollar.


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