Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) files more amendments to legislation than the rest of his U.S. Senate colleagues combined.
Most of these amendments target pork-barrel projects, officially called earmarks. Known for his relentless pork-busting on the Senate floor, Coburn sends his fellow senators squealing all the way home more often than not.
"That’s why I’m not welcome when I come back to Washington," Coburn said, speaking this past weekend at the Americans for Limited Government Action Conference. The senator serves as the organization’s chairman emeritus. "And that’s why I have a food taster," he added jokingly.
Coburn recently teamed up with Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) to sponsor the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590), referred to more commonly as the "Google for Good Government" bill. The legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget to maintain a website listing the distribution of all federal funds by agency, with the dollar amount and purpose specifically cited.
Recognizing the ideological differences between he and Obama, Coburn said that what matters for now is that they both want to secure a good future for the country. Later on they can go to battle over the little things.
"We need to start working together at all ends of the spectrum or we’re all going to lose," Coburn said.
Certainly, playing petty politics is not the way to go in Coburn’s book.
"It’s not a party, an ideological stance but the true lack of willingness to compromise a position to accomplish a goal," he said.
Coburn, an obstetrician-turned-temporary-politician, said too many politicians put their career before principle, which is why he’d like to see more non-politicians enter the political arena.
"It’s time people outside of politics make the sacrifice to get into politics to make the changes happen," he said. "Congress of both stripes has failed miserably to secure our future economic stability."
The lack of trust Americans have for most politicians is to be expected, Coburn said. Although a recent poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News revealed that Americans want Congress to make ending earmarks its No. 1 priority before the close of its current session, most of Coburn’s fellow senators have yet to even slow down their spending sprees.
The biggest spender in the Senate is Debbie Stabenow (D.-Mich.). Coburn said that while she may look like a sweet, innocent grandmother, she sure doesn’t mind throwing her grandchildren’s money — and future — down the drain.
How does he know? Coburn said he keeps a running total of each of his colleagues spending habits tucked away in his desk down near the Senate floor. That way when Sen. Dick Durbin (D.-Ill.) tries to pass himself off as a fiscal conservative, he can ask him how that is possible when the record shows Durbin is the eighth highest spender in Congress.
Even the bill’s sponsors in the House, where it passed earlier this year, weren’t willing to let go of all spending projects. Acccording to Coburn, moderate Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.) made sure the legislation was carefully worded to exclude federal contracts, which is convenient when Northern Virginian contractors fund much of his campaign.
But Coburn said a few good men are standing by his side — namely John Ensign (R.-Nev.), Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) and "just sometimes" John McCain (R.-Ariz.). And that’s all he needs because, as he put it, the public "gets it." From his travels across the country Coburn said he’s learned how fed up people are with the wasteful pork projects Congress continues to fund.
There is "a rumble across the country," he said. "You may not see it yet but we are winning. Even though it’s a small number, that number has great influence."
And as public awareness continues to increase, said the senator, Americans will demand change. Right now they lack many of the tools they need to know the truth — but through increased transparency (such as is provided in S. 2590), Coburn said they won’t be satisfied until their representatives learn to represent them.
"The American people are looking for action," he said, "not campaign slogans."
Currently there’s a hold being kept on his legislation, but Coburn is confident it will be passed soon — if not during this session of Congress, during the next. The public won’t have it any other way.
“The only way we get limited government is to have limited government — not act like you have limited government and then look the other way.”