Tom Coburn, the former senator currently leading a movement for a Convention of States, unloaded on Congress during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Wednesday.
"America doesn’t trust you anymore. That’s the truth," Coburn said, appearing alongside the head of the Government Accountability Office during the hearing to discuss duplicative federal programs.
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The GAO recently released its annual report, finding the federal government could save hundreds of billions of dollars just by consolidating duplicative programs.
Coburn, making his first appearance before the Senate since his farewell speech when retired in late 2014, pleaded with Congress to take action to reform government, simplify the tax code, and save taxpayers billions of dollars in the process.
Coburn is leading a movement of more than 1 million activists working to hold a Convention of the States, allowed by Article V of the Constitution, to force Congress to balance the budget. He said 10 of 34 states needed have passed resolutions so far.
"I would just tell you a little of my background this last year in 2015 I spent my time in 21 different states," Coburn told the committee. "And America doesn’t trust you anymore. That’s the truth. Because they don’t see the actions coming out of Congress that should be coming out."
"And that doesn’t mean that they’re right all the time, but you’ve lost their confidence," he said. "And that’s not one party, that’s both. And so when you have hundreds of billions of dollars that could be saved and aren’t, and they know it. You know, they actually read your reports. People online, and then they use social media, pass it around."
"The important thing is to restore the confidence in the country what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it," Coburn said.
Coburn praised the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which he served as ranking member for two years, but said much more work needs to be done.
"The unfunded liabilities of this country, with its debt, is $142 trillion," he said. "That’s $1 million per family, or that’s $1 million per taxpayer. Nobody knows what a trillion is but when you’re telling a young family with small kids, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s the debt burden that’s coming to you over the next 25 years, you better be prepared for it.’"
Coburn said "too much government" and "too intrusive a government" is to blame for median family incomes being the same size as in 1988.
Eugene L. Dodaro, comptroller general of the United States and head of the GAO, also testified before the committee, detailing his agency’s latest report that gave 92 recommendations.
He called on Congress to streamline the Department of Homeland Security’s more than 400 human resource management systems, end the Pentagon’s $118 million annual expenditure on destroying ammunition, and reduce improper disability payments.
"We think there’s opportunities for tens of billions of dollars in additional savings," Dodaro said. "Most of the big dollar savings so far have come from the Congress taking action."
Coburn also pointed to fraud in the Social Security disability programs, saying, "There’s no doubt in my mind, 100 percent sure, one out of three people in this country collecting disability are not disabled."
Throughout Coburn said Congress needs to stop focusing on fixing the symptoms but focus on fixing the disease. He called for a more simple and fairer tax code, which he said could eliminate 90,000 IRS agents, who make 77 percent more than the average American.
He pointed to Alexis de Tocqueville, quoting at length the French political philosopher’s Democracy in America, to explain the current upheaval in American politics and the presidential race.
"Some of you may have read it, some of you may not have, but it tells me where we are today in our country," Coburn said. "And having been in 21 states the last year, and 15 already this year, and what I’m hearing, I’m hearing what Tocqueville described back in the late 1700s."
Coburn cited Tocqueville observations that centralized power of "small, complicated rules, minute and uniform" leads to the "will of man … not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided."
"Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd," Coburn said, quoting Tocqueville.
"That to me in my experience, my opinion, is where we are today in our country," he said. "I think that’s why you see the presidential race that we’re seeing."
Coburn said his movement for a Convention of States is gaining momentum because Americans "actually sense things are out of control in our country."
"Throw the politics aside," he said. "Here’s what I’ve discovered, all this waste, all this duplication, all this fraud has a constituency. And so a lot of people don’t want to take a vote to eliminate it because it will offend a group of voters or a group of contributors."
"I think you ought to offend them all," Coburn said. "And I think you ought to do what’s right."