Last week, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) proposed yet another piece of legislation that shouldn’t need introducing:
Sen. Tom Coburn, after rounding up bipartisan support from about 20 senators, introduced legislation Wednesday that would require federal agencies to provide detailed information annually about their programs.
The bill is a companion to one by Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, that passed the House last month.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, said the bill would require an inventory of government programs that doesn’t exist. Agencies would have to describe all programs, detail the amount spent on them and the number of beneficiaries and estimate the number of staff members, including contractors. The information would have to be posted online.
As a longtime fan of Coburn’s work on federal transparency, efficiency, and accountability, I was temporarily encouraged to see the Senator’s legislation have so many cosponsors, especially since the House version was passed.
Unfortunately, I was swiftly reminded of how much necessary and basic “good government” proposals from Coburn has been ignored over the years.
There were the anti-fraud measures Coburn and Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced in 2012. One Senate staffer told me the savings could total at least $60 billion per year.
In three reports in 2011, 2012, and 2013, the GAO found at least $200 billion in duplication across the federal government. Coburn has introduced legislation to force agencies to implement changes around these reports — but few, if any, have been signed into law.
Back in Black, the 600-page manifesto on inefficiencies, was published in 2011. While Coburn said it didn’t do enough, it cut $9 trillion from expected spending over a decade. Nearly three years later, fewif any measures have been made law.
And Coburn has worked on bipartisan and partisan legislation that would improve on the financial circumstances facing Medicare, Social Security, the Defense Department, and other agencies and departments.
Unfortunately, despite all of this work, Coburn has few real successes to show for his 16 years on Capitol Hill. He has stopped some bad legislation, certainly, and had modest victories — such as the House ban on earmarks and the elimination of some ethanol subsidies — but it’s disturbing to see that almost none of his necessary and “should have been there in the first place” bills and proposals have made it into law.
And Coburn’s not alone in this small category of “good government” Members of Congress. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) put out a five-year balanced budget in 2011 that eliminated several departments. Former Rep. John Linder (R-GA) first introduced the FAIR Tax, and the Republican Study Committee’s annual budget proposals never gotten through the allegedly conservative House of Representatives.
It used to be I got excited by solid legislation. But after more than five years of living in the Beltway, and watching conservatives be flatly ignored by statists in both parties – even though the House is under GOP control – I am wondering if most good legislation is just a waste of time.
Which leads to an obvious exit question: What options are left? Legislation is the traditional route, at least in this country, to make government change. (The unconstitutional use of Executive Orders by numerous Presidents notwithstanding.) Shutting down the government was a disaster, and Congress doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to not raise the debt ceiling.
It looks like we have to go back to basics: Voter education, GOTV efforts, and effective use of the media. As they say, elections have consequences, and oncoming fiscal insolvency is going to be one of them unless things change drastically and quickly.