OKLAHOMA CITY— Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn criticized increased federal spending and the rising national debt Wednesday at a town hall meeting where he said policies supported by the Democrat-controlled Congress could create an economic burden for future generations.
Coburn, a conservative seeking a second six-year term in the Senate, chastised his congressional colleagues for what he called an unwillingness to live within the nation's budget and reign in the federal government.
"It's all about big government and not individual responsibility," Coburn told about 150 voters in northwest Oklahoma City. "We have to live within our budget. What we have is an obligation to our kids and our grandkids."
Coburn, a Muskogee physician with a reputation for opposing home-state spending projects known as earmarks and other federal spending practices, said $350 billion is squandered by Congress every year on government projects that are wasteful, redundant or don't work. He vowed to continue his efforts to hold Congress accountable. [See where Coburn's campaign cash comes from.]
"I've got a flat forehead from beating my head against the wall," Coburn said.
He said the size of the federal government grows about 11 percent a year and is twice what it was in 1999. The Congressional Budget Office reports government spending grew each year between 2001 and 2006 when Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress.
Coburn also said the federal deficit is expected to double in the next five years.
"That puts our kids and grandkids at great risk," Coburn said. "The problems in front of us are big. We're at a real dividing point in our country."
Coburn made the comments during a campaign swing through central Oklahoma before the July 27 primary election that also will take him to town hall meetings in Stillwater and Ponca City on Thursday.
Coburn, who has said his second term will be his last, fielded a series of questions from GOP supporters who expressed frustration and fear at policies supported by Democratic President Barack Obama and approved by Congress.
"I hear the frustration in your voice," Coburn told one voter who expressed outrage at federal spending on stimulus and corporate bailout packages.
"Will America wake up before it's too late? I don't know the answer," he said.
Responding to another voter, Coburn predicted the new health care overhaul law supported by Obama will force health care costs up, reduce citizen access to health care and force millions of Americans to enroll in Medicaid, the government-run health care program for low-income citizens.
The federal health care law expands health insurance to 30 million people, allows parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until age 26, and expands Medicaid coverage. Starting in 2014, most Americans will be required to have health insurance or face tax penalties.
Coburn, who described Obama as a friend with whom he speaks on the telephone every couple of weeks, rejected a constituent's suggestion that Obama should be removed from office and charged with treason for his support of spending programs that have increased the national debt.
Instead, Coburn blamed federal spending practices on "chicken politicians who don't want to have to take tough votes."
"The problem is with members of Congress," the senator said. "What they don't want to do is say what they're for by their votes."
In 2006, Coburn worked with Obama, then still a senator from Illinois, to create an online database to make federal spending more accountable and transparent.
Coburn said he would like to expand that effort during his second term by changing contracting policies at the Pentagon to make spending on defense programs more transparent and eliminate set-asides, which require a percentage of government funds and contracts be reserved for businesses owned by minorities or other groups.
"I don't believe in set-asides. I believe in real competition," he said.