The speed read: Sen. Tom Coburn’s ‘The Debt Bomb’

Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is known as the Senate’s “Dr. No” for his dislike of — and “nay” votes on — earmarks, Obamacare and compassionate conservatism. In his new book, “The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington From Bankrupting America,” he takes aim at D.C. insiders, wasteful government spending and Grover Norquist. Some highlights:

On Stanley Thornton,

the “adult baby”:

Coburn made headlines last year for his criticism of Stanley Thornton Jr., a 31-year-old California man featured on the National Geographic Channel reality show “Taboo” who suffers from mental illness and lives as an infant. (He wears diapers, drinks from a baby bottle and sleeps in a crib.) Coburn questioned whether he was fraudulently collecting Social Security disability checks. “Thornton then went to the media and demanded I apologize (after he had threatened to commit suicide if his checks were cut off),” the senator writes. “I refused to apologize and instead called on Congress to apologize to the American people for creating a system that was so easily exploited by swindlers who wanted to avoid taking personal responsibility. The real problem, though, was not with the adult baby, per se, but with the politicians and bureaucrats who coddled him.”

On yardwork:

In Coburn’s universe, Thornton isn’t the only one trying to cheat Social Security. Hired help can also be suspicious. “After a bad storm in Oklahoma not long ago, I hired a man to help clear trees in my yard,” he writes. “When he completed his work he made an unusual request. He wanted me to write a check to his mother, not to him. Having seen this pattern before, I asked him point blank if he was on disability. He admitted he was, which was odd given his aptitude for manual labor. He wanted me to write his mother a check to protect his eligibility. I ignored his request and wrote him a check instead.”

On term limits:

Coburn has long championed term limits and plans to retire from the Senate in 2017, after two terms. “At sixty-four I am in my last term in the Senate and am very unlikely to ever hold another public position,” he writes. “Yet, I have tried to approach every term, and each decision, as if it were my last.”

On health care for veterans:

The military health-care reform plan that Coburn, a physician, has proposed isn’t necessarily popular on the stump. “In several town hall meetings, angry military retirees questioned why I would be going after their health care,” he writes. “I typically responded that while we were grateful for their service, they were not, in fact, promised extremely low-cost health care for life. In one particularly heated exchange, I asked a veteran, ‘Did you serve to only have to pay $230 a year for health care, or did you serve to protect our freedoms?’ ”

On Grover Norquist:

While a staunch fiscal conservative, Coburn opposes an anti-tax pledge championed by Norquist’s nonprofit Americans for Tax Reform. Because the pledge doesn’t address earmarks and helped the GOP reject a grand bargain to cut spending last year, Coburn calls it “pure stupidity.” “Norquist is a creature of Washington and consummate insider,” he writes. “He essentially functions as a career politician who has never been elected. Sadly, he and his organization have followed the path of many individuals and groups who go native.”

On President Obama
and deficit reduction:

Coburn served on the Simpson-Bowles Commission and was frustrated when his friend Obama rejected its deficit-reduction plan. “We set the precedent of forcing a down payment on spending cuts to avoid the bait-and-switch trap in which Washington enacts tax hikes but not spending cuts,” he writes. “Unfortunately, President Obama refused to embrace the recommendations and offered almost no feedback. His decision, I believe, will be remembered as one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in American history.”

On George W. Bush:

Coburn calls the 43rd president’s administration a “fiscal disaster.” “Bush squandered a historic opportunity to exercise fiscal restraint at a time when Republicans controlled all three branches of government,” he writes. “The Bush administration also brought us the tragedy of compassionate conservatism — the well-intended but flawed belief that big, activist government could be tamed by Republicans and directed to serve the poor.”

On the tea party:

Longtime legislators in both parties may disagree about the tea party’s importance, but Coburn praises the upstart movement. “Critics have created various pejorative terms to criticize the Tea Party, such as accusing them of ‘constitutionalism,’ ” he writes. “Complaining about constitutionalism in a constitutional republic is like complaining about ‘refereeism’ at a football game.”

On Newt Gingrich:

Though he was elected to the House of Representatives with the Gingrich-led Class of 1994, Coburn doesn’t hesitate to assail the former speaker. “Gingrich lost himself in personal struggles and saw the Monica Lewinsky scandal as a shortcut to Republican gains,” he writes. “In 1998, I confronted him about our failure to articulate a positive, detailed conservative agenda and how our failure to lead was demoralizing our base. His response: ‘Clinton has already motivated our base.’ Gingrich the partisan won the argument against Gingrich the principled conservative.”

Justin Moyer, Outlook editorial aide

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Justin Moyer is deputy editor of the Morning Mix.
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