By Cass Rains
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn shared lunch with Enid Noon AMBUCS Friday, saying he wanted to see taxpayers' money better spent in Washington, D.C., and to do so using more transparency in government spending.
Coburn, R-Ok-la., told the group of about 70, be-fore opening a question-and-answer session, he is not making many friends in Washington, as he is trying to do away with earmarks and so-called political pork barrel spending on Capitol Hill. Earmarks are projects pushed by individual lawmakers that benefit their districts.
"What is required of us as a nation is to get back to what works for us," the senator and doctor said. "Any problem before us is easily solvable."
Coburn said he wanted people to know what they are getting for their money, and right now it isn't that good of a deal.
"My whole goal is trying to reform the Senate and Congress through transparency," he said.
Transparency in government
Coburn said he wants to see all money spent by government transparent, so taxpayers know exactly where each dollar is going.
"What it will do is put all the money we spend online, all the way down to the sub-, sub-, sub-contractor," Coburn said.
He said he wants all senators and congressmen to do away with earmarks, no matter which party they hail from.
"I'm not real partisan, I see big problems with both parties," he said.
The senator was first asked if there is any chance another proposal for a presidential line-item veto will be introduced. With a line-item veto, the president could cut out specific projects, rather than veto the whole bill.
"There's no question it can," Coburn answered. "Most senators don't want the line-item veto."
Coburn said most members of Congress don't want to see the line-item veto because it exposes earmarks.
Going it alone
Former Enid Mayor Ernie Currier asked Coburn if he feels alone in Washington.
Coburn said his first year in office he was alone. That year, the average number of votes for his amendments was eight.
"The way to win, for me and you, is to embarrass the Senate," Coburn said, in reference to blocking pork-barrel spending. "We're having an impact."
He recommended voters put people in Washington who have no experience in politics because they are more likely to act in the interests of the public and not lobbyists.
"The collective wisdom in Washington you could probably put in a thimble," the senator said to laughs. He was referring to the "circular thinking" of politicians who approve of further spending to get their projects authorized.
"The way to solve it is to enrage the American public," he said.
When asked about health care, Coburn proposed the country move toward a free market system of care.
"We're paying way too much for what we're getting," he said.
He said a problem with programs that allow everyone the opportunity to receive health care is care is not immediately available.
Coburn was asked what he thought of President Bush, and the senator said he spent more than an hour with him two weeks ago.
"He is a wonderful man. He's not a liar, he's not a deceiver, he's not a manipulator," he said. "He has terrible skills in communication."
When asked of a failed ethics bill, Coburn said politicians were to blame.
"Lobbyists aren't the problem. The problem is us," he said.
He said campaign laws should be changed because it is up to senators and congressmen to make moral judgments.
A man in the audience asked Coburn if he supported veterans, noting most veteran-related organizations posted co-sponsors of bills favorable to veterans online.
Coburn said co-sponsoring a bill was not the same as support.
"The way to tell who is supporting the veterans is to look at the votes," he said.
Coburn said co-sponsoring a bill is an easy way to give the appearance of support and does not require any follow-through. He said most co-sponsors simply add their names, then do nothing to ensure a passing vote.
"If I'm going to co-sponsor a bill, I'm going to put myself behind it 100 percent," he said. "The thing that counts is the votes."
War in Iraq
The last topic of the lunch was spending with the war in Iraq.
Coburn said, "I don't think there is an easy answer."
"We're not paying for the war," he said. "It's all supplemental spending we're charging our children."