Tom Coburn Goes Large

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), a noted adversary of government waste, used to belong to a bipartisan deficit reduction group called the “Gang of Six.”  He quit when the group reached an “impasse” back in May.  Rumor had him considering a return, but instead he decided to forge through that impasse on his own, and today he will release his own deficit-reducing budget package.

Coburn’s plan is more ambitious than anything else on the table at the moment, keeping in mind that absolutely everything on the table comes from Republicans, because the Democrats have not proposed a single concrete budget plan.  The gentleman from Oklahoma is thinking about $9 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years. 

I would once again like to insist that media reports of budget discussions emphasize the time periods involved.  The budget and deficit are always spoken of in annual figures, but deficit reduction is invariably discussed over the course of a decade.  Remember that the future is the undiscovered country, and an as-yet unelected Congress awaits us there.

Since we’re running a $1.6 trillion deficit at the moment, Coburn’s bold plan would reduce the deficit by roughly two-thirds.  We would still add $5 trillion to the national debt by 2020 if nothing else changes, leaving America $19 trillion in the hole.  That’s the wild frontier of fiscal responsibility in Washington today.

Senator Coburn deserves great credit for thinking bigger than anyone else, but to quote Tom Hardy in Inception, “You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

The new Gang of One plan would cut $8 trillion from federal spending, with $1 trillion coming out of the Defense Department.  Much of this would come from surgically excising the kind of waste that Coburn, a medical doctor back in the real world, invests great effort in analyzing.  He calls the Pentagon cuts “difficult but not super hard,” provided we use “common sense.”

If he hasn’t chosen a name for his budget package yet, I would like to suggest “The Difficult But Not Super Hard Common Sense Budget Act of 2011.”  It has a nice ring to it.

The most provocative element of Coburn’s proposal is the trillion dollars he plans to get from tax simplification, which would involve generally lowering tax rates, while eliminating a number of targeted exemptions.  As a general principle, the idea of tax simplification has great appeal.  Some of those targeted deductions are used to control our behavior, while a simpler tax code will impose lower compliance costs on the populace.  Reducing rates overall, while cleaning up the schedule of deductions, is a positive step toward both liberty and economic growth.

Details will be forthcoming at a press conference this afternoon, so we will soon know exactly what kind of tax reduction and simplification Coburn has in mind.