Yesterday I wrote a piece for Politico, in which I wondered why a Republican senator like Tom Coburn would undermine the contrast between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by caving to Democrat calls for tax increases. I wrote the piece out of sheer frustration: here was one of the erstwhile heroes of fiscal responsibility, undermining the movement he once championed just before a crucial presidential election. As someone who works hard every day to make sure we hold the line on government spending, Coburn’s cave felt like a betrayal. Someone had to say something, so I did.
And boy, did I get Coburn’s attention. Today, his Communications Director penned a response to my piece that dripped with D.C. arrogance, calling me inexperienced and my criticism a smear. Some might be intimidated by such a response, but to me it just clarified the problem.
Coburn is right to defend his record as a fiscal conservative. I did not criticize him because he is a tax-and-spend liberal, but because he has been a leader of our movement who is now abandoning the cause in our hour of need. I absolutely share his frustration with the slow, often backward, pace of change, but that does not excuse his giving up on the cause he was elected to champion.
The simple truth is this: with government debt capped, the only choices left are to cut spending or increase taxes. If we hold strong against new taxes, and if we make this election a referendum on that choice, we have the opportunity to realize the goal that generations of budget hawks have fought for. But by softening our position, Coburn has undercut that entire effort.
Like his past record on fiscal responsibility, Coburn’s stance against careerism in congress deserves its due credit. But, having had the foresight to know that someday all idealism will be bent to fit Washington’s purposes, Coburn has still become walking proof that even committed conservatives like himself eventually fold under the strain. Just look at his self-defense: he claims that he has never called for an increase in the tax rate, when what Americans want is a simplified, enforceable version of the tax code. While Washington tries to distract us with debates over the tax rate, my fellow patriots and I know that the loopholes and complexities in the tax code render the official tax rate nearly irrelevant for those who can afford the best accountants and lobbyists.
But Coburn has spent so much time in Washington that he doesn’t understand that Americans see past the political theater. And with a unique opportunity to reform the federal budget without raising taxes or adding debt, his indulgence in D.C.-style evasion is bad policy and bad politics. I’m saddened that Coburn doesn’t understand that politics in this country have changed for good, but I refuse to let him hold back the movement for fiscal sanity now that we are so close to unprecedented success.