NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said Congress has given up a lot of its power to the executive branch due to “laziness” and “lack of leadership.”
“We’ve given up a lot of power, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Coburn said Thursday at CPAC’s 41st annual meeting.
George Will joined the Oklahoma senator in a roundtable discussion asking whether Congress matters anymore at a time when executive power is on the rise.
Coburn explained the problem was a Congress that fails to fulfill its oversight responsibility and that is not interested in gaining the knowledge needed to solve the nation’s problems due to a “lack of work ethic.”
“Where’s the work that we’re paid to do to protect the Constitution?” Coburn said.
He said that if Congress truly wants small government it should force votes to limit government.
“We’re running under the rule of rulers. The very thing that binds us together as a nation is confidence in the rule of law. Poor leadership undermines that, good leadership reinforces that,” Coburn said.
Will said the abuse of executive authority did not start with the Obama administration, noting that the president was just continuing a pre-existing pattern established by previous administrations.
“Our country was founded in reaction against executive overreach – the prerogatives of the British sovereign,” he said. “This has been an enduring problem in American history.”
Coburn said the people who come to Congress are those seeking “to rise on the political career” rather than fix what is wrong with Congress.
“The conflict on both sides of the aisle is: ‘my political career trumps the best interests and thoughts of our founders,’” Coburn said. “That’s where we are today.”
A solution to this problem would be to introduce term limits, he said.
Will said members of Congress would never vote to limit their terms. Instead, he offered a more plausible alternative: no current member of Congress should be allowed to run for re-election unless there was a balanced budget.
Coburn, a hero among fiscal hawks, publishes every year his “Wastebook” highlighting wasteful and frivolous spending.
“There shouldn’t be just one Wastebook every year, there ought to be 535 Wastebooks,” Coburn said. “There ought to be 535 members doing the oversight and creating the transparency so that the American people know exactly what’s happening inside their government instead of working to make sure that they don’t know.”
Will argued it’s not just a systemic problem that allows the executive to undermine the legislative branch, but a matter of having the right leaders.
“Give me a half-a-dozen more Tom Coburns and we will change policy in Washington,” he said.
Coburn agreed that leadership makes a difference.
“The people that know that refuse to come and sacrifice their time, their money and their reputations to make the changes that are necessary here,” he said. “There are hundreds of thousands of Tom Coburns out there. The question is will they make the sacrifice to come here and get beat up to do what they know is in the best long-term interest of our country.”
“What we’ve got to be doing is recruiting those that have benefitted greatly from this country, that have the skills and knowledge to come up here and get us back in the direction that our founders intended us to go,” he added.
At the end of the discussion, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) strode out onto stage to hand an antique rifle to Coburn, who is retiring at the end of the current congressional session, as a lifetime achievement award for his time served in Congress.
McConnell told the CPAC audience that liberals hated it when Coburn stepped on to the Senate floor.
“He isn’t afraid about anything or anyone,” McConnell said. “He never put himself above the cause.”