By SEAN ROWLEY
TAHLEQUAH — firstname.lastname@example.org
A conservative stalwart to some and a controversial lightning rod to others, Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn was in Tahlequah Wednesday to speak to constituents during a breakfast at Go Ye Village.
The breakfast was arranged by the Tahlequah Area Chamber of Commerce.
“There is some good news coming out of Washington that isn’t talked about,” Coburn said. “We have cut discretionary spending by $160 billion in the last two years. That’s $160 billion we’re not going to borrow against our children.”
Coburn told attendees unfunded federal expenses would nonetheless amount to $73 trillion over the next 30 years.
“The disappointing thing to me over the last few years is that we’ve not addressed those unfunded liabilities,” he said. “We know where the problems are. We know how to address them, but politically we don’t have leadership in Washington (D.C.), either with the president, or in the Republican House (of Representatives), or the Republican leader in the Senate or the Democratic leader in the Senate.”
About 60 were present and asked questions on topics ranging from campaign finance reform to immigration reform to the Affordable Care Act.
Asked about campaign finance reform, Coburn said the issue could be made irrelevant if the U.S. Constitution were amended to place term limits on Congress.
“I don’t think we need campaign finance reform,” he said. “Careerism is the thing that kills us, because the politician focuses on the next election rather than the long-term best benefits for the country. Seventy percent of the Senate has never had a job outside politics. That doesn’t make them bad people, but they are highly limited in terms of real-world experience. The only thing they know is politics.”
Coburn said the Republican Party has no coherent position on immigration reform, adding that he believed immigrants should be welcomed but that border security should be enhanced.
“One of the unique characteristics of our country is immigration, which I believe has helped make us very successful,” he said. “But ... securing borders is an absolute requirement for a country.”
Calling his immigration stance “pretty straightforward,” Coburn said the first priority should be border security, followed by addressing the issue of illegal immigrants already in the U.S.
“There are 11 million people in this country who came here not to cheat, but for opportunity,” he said. “Most are great people but they did break the law. I don’t think we should hand them cards and let them vote, but they should be treated with the respect of any human being who wants to come here to better themselves and help their families.”
Speaking at length on the Affordable Care Act, Coburn contended there was nothing affordable about it.
“It will add about $120 billion a year in costs,” he said. “If an insurance plan doesn’t meet minimum government requirements, it doesn’t qualify. The government tells what a business will offer employees, and about a third of employees in the country will lose the insurance they have today. It also doesn’t address the biggest problem with health care, which is that it costs too much.”
Coburn also spoke on Wednesday afternoon at Northeastern State University.
Elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010, Coburn also represented Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, winning election in 1994, 1996 and 1998.