Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has become the main villain in the battle over the 9/11 First Responders Bill, which will grant over 7 billion dollars in health care assistance to those who have become ill as a result of their heroic work in the aftermath of the World Trade Center bombings. He is leading Republican opposition to the bill, on the grounds that it still needs to be paid for despite its worthy purpose and its undeniably deserving beneficiaries.
Coburn is one of the most dedicated deficit hawks in the Senate, which means that he realizes that the federal deficit will never be brought under control if feckless House members and Senators can always be shamed and bullied into spending money the government doesn’t have, or into rejecting necessary cuts, through the use of one or more predictable refrains:
- This expenditure is special.
- These are really deserving people.
- Refusing to spend this money is heartless!
- Spending this money is the right thing to do.
- This is an excellent program.
- Cutting this won’t do much to reduce the deficit.
- How can we justify not doing this when we spend money on that?
- We gave tax cuts to the rich; we can’t deny these benefits now.
If the United States is going to avert eventual fiscal catastrophe, discretionary spending will have to be reduced in opposition to every one of these arguments, which must be subordinated, every one of them, to “we can’t afford it.” There is very little evidence that many, or enough, of our elected officials will have the courage to resist these seductive arguments for making just one more unfunded expenditure, avoiding just this one proposed cut, or adding just a few more billion to our debt.
We may disagree with Coburn’s opposition to the First Responders Bill, but we should value, respect, and be grateful for his brand of integrity, responsibility and courage. We’re going to need a lot more of it, and soon.
UPDATE: (12/22/10) Dr. Coburn agreed not to block the bill after sponsors knocked about 2.5 billion dollars off its cost, and it was passed. That’s 2.5 billion less added to the deficit, in part thanks to a Senator who had the courage to be called “heartless” and worse. Now all we need is for other Senators to do the same thing a few million times, and our deficit worries will be a thing of the past!