Senator Coburn’s time-out threatens cooperation from the other Republican members. The hardliner’s membership provides cover. 24/7 scrutiny of political orthodoxy leaves little tolerance for compromise. Senator Warner says he believes the Gang of Six “will work.” It won’t if the impractical ideology of the no-tax nuts drives the debate.
While the debt and deficit headline the public debate, the operational debate is not about the debt. Last Sunday Senator Warner strayed from the power points distinguishing budget expenditures from tax expenditures while he addressed Democrats gathered in Virginia Beach. Calling out Paul Ryan’s budget proposals, Warner talked about the efforts to dismantle “programs that have been contracts between the American government and its people.” All of the discussion, Warner pointed out, has centered around 12% of the Federal budget. That 12% includes Head Start, Pell Grants, investments in education, roads, rail, and mass transit, energy programs that would end the dependency on foreign sources of energy (an indirect subsidy of those attacking us), law enforcement and all of the things that a responsible government does to keep the nation competitive and secure.
“Mr. Ryan’s budget would take that 12 cents and make it 4 cents over the next 25 or 30 years.”
This is the crux of the argument against those who cling to a 17th century pipe dream, wanting to use the portion of expenditures that promise to keep America competitive in the 21st century to balance the budget. It is a fact that we are borrowing 41 cents of every dollar to keep the government running but that fact does not justify dismantling the nation in a fire sale that deprives our children and their children of any hope of remaining competitive in the global economy. That is a greater threat than the debt, which is substantial enough.
Warner sees the Gang as a way to break the impasse resulting from the current political polarization. But that polarization may leave the Gang frozen in time without Coburn who provides the other members cover. The shame is that it might not be the work of the Gang that sent Senator Coburn into hiding. Without him, the remaining Republicans may not find the work worth the political risk despite Warner’s continued optimism.