I am an avid email activist, multiplying my tabs almost every day with the fill-in forms that I intend to send as soon as I get some time between working.
So when I got a response from Senator Coburn about the stimulus package recently, I simply had to reproduce it here and respond to it.
I'm going to do my rebuttals mostly off the cuff - I was obsessive about politics for the two years that the election lasted and it almost completely wore me out on the subject, so I've been in let-the-news-come-to-me-in-my-inbox mode ever since January 20 - but since you're already on the Internet (and on Daily Kos), it's pretty easy to look it up if you want to (and tell me with pertinent links if you think I'm wrong).
Dear Ms. [tryptamine],
Thank you for contacting me about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1, also called the "stimulus"). As you can imagine, I have received a large volume of letters and calls and appreciate the opportunity to respond. I also appreciate the valuable input I have received over the past several weeks from my fellow Oklahomans on this issue.
Off to a bad start already. The majority of our "fellow Oklahomans" are drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub types. Hardly in step with someone like me, who considers Sweden's system to be the closest to a perfect model of government as contemporary human beings are going to get.
As you may know, the Senate passed H.R. 1 on February 13, by a vote of 60-38, and I was one of 38 senators who voted against this bill. I opposed this legislation because it represents the worst act of generational theft in our history. Our nation cannot afford to take on an additional trillion dollars in debt on a stimulus bill that will not only fail to stimulate the economy, but could also seriously delay our economic recovery.
In a time when everyone is saying that banks need to lend more money and everyday Americans like myself shouldn't stop spending because we all need to get more money circulating, doesn't it seem like a terrible idea to restrict government spending?
I can't help but have a visceral reaction to this as well. My generation is already paying for similar policies that have been put into action over the course of our lifetimes without our input. My generation already sees things like home ownership, lack of debt, and even raising children as unattainable or distant-future luxuries, which is a big step down from my grandparents' generation and my parents' generation. So why not add some more shit onto the pile? When you're already drowning in manure, is another load really going to make that big of a difference? To shamelessly mix my metaphors, the camel's back was broken long ago but that didn't stop anyone from beating it.
As a nation, we got into our current economic difficulties by spending money we did not have on things we did not need and running up a debt that could not be repaid. We will not get out of it by having the government run up the debt by one trillion dollars or more. Yet this is precisely what this bill proposes to do. Less than 10% of the bill could be considered true stimulus, if one assumes tax credits and infrastructure spending will jolt the economy. The other 90% of the bill will go to special-interest programs and earmarks, an ill-conceived bailout to states, and permanent spending increases that expand government's reach in areas like health care and education.
I've actually heard this idea on the left, too - that it was Consumerism and Overspending (always disembodied nouns that no one wants to own up to feeding or playing with themselves) that got us here. But no matter where it comes from, I have to disagree. In a roundabout way, perhaps they could be blamed; they naturally lead to a nation that judges itself on the superficial basis of materialism. But we are totally erasing the addiction to greed (not money, which is innocent) that carried us so far on so little. Those who could, took, and those who couldn't did what they had to do to survive. That meant "irresponsible" actions like taking out reverse mortgages to pay for a bypass (like my grandma did), bridging long periods of unemployment with credit cards (like my friends did), taking out massive loans in an attempt to get an education that suited one for something more than coffee-slinging (like I did), etc. We aren't the only ones.
Can you honestly say that we didn't need those things - food, shelter, health care, work, and dignity? And do you dare blame us that the American Dream itself promised us that we would be able to have those things if we were just willing to sacrifice?
Have we not sacrificed enough?
And here's the funny thing about "expand[ing] government's reach in areas like health care and education": the point of government is to facilitate for the people what they cannot do themselves as individuals or small organized groups. The social contract of our modern, supposedly-democratic government is to muscle the aspects that are out of line back into line, with the full force of all 358 million of us. I'm not an anarchist, sir, because I believe this to the very core of my being and believe anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. So considering how extreme (in a bad way) quality and costs have gotten in health care and education, it is about damn time that government steps in. Neither one should be a luxury that only the rich or risk-takers can afford - but that is what they are right now.
I will just skip the "true stimulus" comment; it should be obvious by now that I strongly disagree.
Our nation simply cannot afford to spend our limited federal funds on a piece of legislation that has no guarantee of working. The national debt currently stands at over $10.6 trillion, the largest in the history of the world. This bill will add $10,800 of debt to every American family with little hope of a return on our investment. The bill's selling point is that three million jobs will be created or saved by this package. What is alarming is that each job will cost $286,000 to create or save. Moreover, one in five will be a government job.
I'm guessing here that you think I'm just a dumb Okie hick who will be intimidated by your big, gloomy numbers.
Let's skip the fact that I'm not a native Oklahoman and go straight to the problem that Oklahomans have been unfairly treated like idiots for far too long by people from the coasts and should not be getting that crap from their own senator as well.
In a historical comparison, our national debt is not that high. I'm fairly positive it was higher during World War II - which both you and I gasp agree was a necessary expenditure. Another necessary expenditure that is going to increase our national debt is keeping us from going into a second (well, more like fifteenth or so, if you look at all of American history, but let's just pretend we've only been a country for 109 years like everyone else does) Great Depression. I am okay with that. Interestingly, the last Great Depression was partially ameliorated by a very large but necessary expenditure that also increased our national debt. Brother, can't you spare a dime?
The return on the investment will be the job creation, infrastructure improvements, and thawing economy. What else should we expect in return, gold bars and mink coats?
Ignoring my serious but only instinctual doubts about your numbers, we wouldn't have to spend so much on creating jobs if all of the money we spent on making your party's friends richer for the past eight years (including your own gift of $700 billion to the irresponsible banks that got us into this mess in the first place, which also raised the national debt) was somehow magically returned to the Treasury. But that raises the Republicans' boogie man, tax increases - particularly on the rich, who can actually afford it - and exposes the Orwellian (Republican) concept that paying less in taxes will somehow provide the government with a larger revenue stream.
Government jobs are better than no jobs.
One of the more disappointing aspects of the bill is that it is loaded with old-fashioned pork, despite President Barack Obama's insistence that members of Congress refrain from adding earmarks. In fact, the bill contains the most expensive earmark in history: $2 billion for a project known as FutureGen, a clean coal power plant in Matoon, Illinois, which even environmentalists say is a waste of money.
(Funny tangent: I am an environmentalist, Mr. Coburn. I'm sure you think everyone in Oklahoma is the kind of person who throws styrofoam cups and plastic bags out of the window of their Hummer - because that's the kind of person you and your colleague Mr. Inhofe would like us to be - but some of us actually care enough to do crazy things like reuse and recycle.)
Otherwise, what can I say? Sounds like a pretty stupid deal. I'm not a "clean coal" believer anyway. But I have a feeling you would say the same thing about any power plant earmarks, no matter how reasonable they were. And let's be honest and cynical for a moment: earmarks are Washington, D.C. They are, in fact, part of the reason you are there, to carve out pieces of the national pie for your constituents back home. You have about as much luck removing them as you do removing the stench from manure. But it sure does give you a reliable platform to run on every 6 years, doesn't it?
On top of this, there are countless examples of waste riddled throughout the bill, such as $248 million for furniture at the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters, $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities, $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service and $110 million to the Farm Service Agency to upgrade computer systems.
Hmm, yes, waste. You have a really strange concept of waste. Let me explain how this works to you, since you don't really seem to understand. For furniture, trees need to be cut, sawed, transported, carved and shaped, and manufactured - all of which are jobs. Renovations also require a lot of work - work that keeps or creates jobs. Upgrading computer systems means extracting the raw materials, transporting them, manufacturing them into computer pieces, transporting those to the places that need upgrades, putting them into the computer and making sure that they work - all of which are jobs. The Farm Service itself is also someplace that I am pretty sure has and could create more jobs. And while you don't say exactly what would be happening with that $150 million for the Smithsonian museum facilities, as a person who might one day seek a job in the very field that the Smithsonian services and supports, I don't see my future employment prospects under the headline .
If you want to talk to me about how this money might end up in the hands of the Chinese so we need to bring manufacturing jobs back to the US, I'll be willing to listen. Until then, you're just blowing smoke.
Additionally, this bill lays the groundwork for radically overhauling our nation's health care system by putting health decisions into the hands of bureaucrats and taking them away from patients and doctors. As a practicing physician, I believe we should trust doctors and patients, not politicians and lobbyists, to make decisions about health care.
My health care decisions are already in the hands of bureaucrats, not doctors. Private industry bureaucrats who I am also handing large sums of money to with only a dim hope of ever seeing that money again. Private bureaucrats with absolutely no accountability, thanks to Republicans like you who don't want to do anything to regulate the health care industry, who apparently see nothing wrong with people's health and lives being tethered to an industry that seeks to increase its profits at every turn, a giant blood-sucking behemoth that currently decides my quality of life based on the completely arbitrary standard of what my income is. My doctors at least, I am confident, would like to see me live a long, healthy, happy life, but it is the bureaucrats at my health insurance company who decide what kind of care I get and only give a crap about me as much as I have money - which is not much.
The bill also includes an irresponsible bailout to states that have run up huge budget deficits for themselves. Unfortunately, the bill rewards states that refused to live within their means while punishing states like Oklahoma, that planned ahead and set up rainy day funds to make it through economic downturns. This bill gives the wrong incentives to states. It encourages poor budgeting and spending beyond the state's means with the assumption the federal government will be there to bail them out.
Most of those states have run up those deficits because your beloved ideology was too busy trying to suck them dry to notice the major shortfalls that were resulting. Those deficits are the direct result of your much-touted tax breaks but you know what? You get what you pay for.
If we're going to include Oklahoma in this example, the reason we are doing fine is because our state government is miserly and apparently doesn't give a crap about the higher-than-average rate of poverty and appalling lack of health insurance. I wouldn't count that as the ideal.
One reason the public is skeptical of this bill is because the bill's authors made zero effort to eliminate any wasteful spending to help pay for this package even though Congress wastes at least $300 billion every year. Few families in America have the luxury of avoiding tough economic choices. Yet, career politicians in Congress refused to make any tough choices because they did not want to offend the special interest groups that finance their campaigns.
This is rich, being told by a politician how the public feels. Guess what, Mr. Coburn, I am one of "the public". So are all of my friends and family. They don't care about your special interest group boogie man, and they do not consider anything that will maintain and/or create jobs to be wasteful. So I'll thank you for not treating me like I'm the one who is out of touch.
Also, on the subject of Congressional waste, stop paying yourselves and your families and friends so goddamn much money. And raise taxes on the highest income bracket. I really do believe it is that simple.
What is not in the bill is as troubling as what is. The package does nothing to address the housing problems that helped trigger the credit crisis. It also contains very little meaningful tax relief to make small businesses and American companies more competitive. Instead, the bill relies on a philosophy that says the government can spend our way out of the problem. I simply cannot agree with that approach.
There is another bill that is supposed to help with the housing problems, but I'm willing to bet that you don't support it because it's a Democratic bill.
As the owner of a small business, I can tell you that the last thing I need right now is another tax cut (and, I should add, none of the previous ones have actually helped me anyway. In fact, I'm insulted that you would even talk about "small businesses" when mine has consistently been left out in the cold by the policies of the party that supposedly has our back but only seems interested in handing my tax money to their buddies in the largest corporations).
What I really need relief from is absurdly high healthcare premiums for shitty service (the only one I can afford) and the looming costs of my incredibly expensive college loans - almost the same amount as I currently pay in rent.
You know, that education and healthcare that you consider so wasteful and don't want to see government expanded into in spite of the fact that "the public" is drowning in the impact of their bureaucratic greed.
In fact, I would be able to hire someone to help with my business - you know, create a job - if it weren't for these expenses. But no, government can't spend it's way out of this because "spending" apparently somehow means "vaporizing money", not "exchanging valued paper for goods and services", in your little world.
One of the lessons I have learned from the practice of medicine is the danger of treating symptoms rather than the disease. Doing so makes the disease worse and causes the symptoms to come back with a vengeance. It is time for government to quit masking the symptoms and deal with this crisis at its source: toxic assets in the mortgage market and a federal government that continues to pollute our economy with pork and failed interventionist policies.
Again, thank you for contacting me on this most important issue. Best wishes!
Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
United States Senator
Really, you've filled your letter with so much "pork", I'm starting to feel lethargic. I think I'm coming down with something... Oh wait, I already have Chronic Cynicism.
Don't preach about treating the disease rather than the symptoms and then diagnose the symptoms as the disease. The toxic assets of the mortgage market and "failed interventionist policies" (Huh? Where did that come from? Didn't you vote for every one of President Bush's war funding bills?) are mere symptoms. The earmarks you so love to rail against are the normal workings of the body. The real disease is unchecked, unaccountable greed and a stalemate in the financial sector; the real disease has been supported by your party for my entire life by your insistence on ever-decreasing taxes and facilitation of hoarding by the richest. You have let the disease run rampant for eight years, and yet now you finally want to do something about it? I'm no doctor but to keep up your metaphor, I'm pretty sure that letting the condition continue unchecked for so long and then treating only two symptoms and a normal function is a good way to kill your patient. (Frankly, I'm a little frightened for yours now.)
So thanks to your intransigent, inept handling of the patient, we're at the point where we need to treat the symptoms because the symptoms are doing the most damage. Let's put this in terms you'll understand (and continue the apparently unavoidable fecal theme of my response): if your patient is constipated, you don't tell them to eat less fiber. If your economy is constipated, you don't withhold the bran.