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Op-Ed: Politicians Should Say No More Often

Op-Ed

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By Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.

Last week's election results confirmed, if anything, that the mood of the electorate is decidedly anti-Establishment. Across America, candidates anointed by the Establishment - the president, congressional leaders, party leaders, etc. - are being taken out in places like Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Kentucky, West Virginia and Utah.

It was curious then that someone as adept as President Obama declined to reassure the public that he is on their side and eager to rein in both parties in an unpopular and out-of-control Establishment Congress. Instead, the president lashed out at his critics with party-line talking points. The president derided Republicans as the "just say no" crowd and, in defense of his economic policies, challenged them to, "Tell us why doing nothing would be better for America."

If the president is upset that some are overstating the degree to which the elections were a referendum on him he has a point. In Utah, for instance, some commentators suggested Senator Bob Bennett's support of a health care bill with similarities to ObamaCare cost him the election. Yet, a poll taken before the vote showed that delegates were more concerned about economic issues than health care by a 10 to 1 margin. In many respects the president is in the same boat as Bennett - neither are "the problem" per se, but both are perceived to be part of the problem rather than the solution.

In this context, the strawman argument the president and many Democrats are using completely misses the point. This argument is wrong, divisive and counterproductive.

First, the claim is false on its face. Those in Congress most deeply opposed to the president's agenda, such as myself, Jim DeMint and Paul Ryan, have our own solutions and reform proposals to fix the country's problems. Offering different solutions and saying no to reckless policies is not obstruction - it is democracy.

Two, if the strawman argument was true and there really was a party that just wanted to say no it would be surprisingly popular. Such a party would certainly be more popular than the party of yes, which many voters would describe as the Establishment.

Voters are twice as likely to believe cutting spending would help the economy rather than hurt economy (53 percent to 24 percent), according to a recent Rasmussen poll. The public believes government is way too big and that it represents itself and special interests ahead of the next generation. They are right.

In the past decade the size of our government has doubled, increasing at more than four times the rate of inflation. This raises a devastating question for the establishment. After years of saying yes to more government and massive increases in spending are we better off? Clearly, we are not. While families have been doing more with less, Washington has been doing less with more.

In their everyday lives, working Americans know that when government does nothing they are able to do more of something else. Every dollar that government does not redistribute through stimulus schemes or earmarks is a dollar that an individual consumer or entrepreneur can use to create real wealth. Not all "government investments" are wasted, of course - or at least not wasted equally - but government spends money far less efficiently than individuals. As Milton Friedman often said, people are most careful about spending their own money on themselves while they are least careful about spending someone else's money on someone else. Welfare states across the world are in a death spiral for this very reason.

The American people know the consequences of a Congress that values "doing something" ahead of nothing. Congress did something to make housing more affordable and inflated the housing bubble. Congress did something to make college more affordable and caused tuition rates to skyrocket. Congress did something to make health care more affordable and created programs that are harming patients and threatening to bankrupt our country. The list goes on.

The kind of change America wants is a more liberal use of the word "no" in our government. They want to hear politicians say no to deficit spending, no to earmarks, and no to policies that expand government rather than individual opportunity.

The timing of the president's remarks were curious because they came a day after one of his top economic advisors, Paul Volcker, former chairman of the federal reserve under Presidents Carter and Reagan, offered a very different take on our economic challenges. According to Volcker, the enemy is not "just say no" Republicans but a political culture in the United States that does not share the "same sense of urgency" about our fiscal crisis as countries such as Ireland.

Time is "growing short," Volcker said. "Today's concerns may soon become tomorrow's existential crises."

Indeed. For the party of yes, the party is over.


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