Tom Coburn, former Republican senator from Oklahoma, talked about his new book, Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government, on Thursday’s Breitbart News Daily.
Coburn explained to SiriusXM host Alex Marlow that the “D.C. monopoly” of the title refers to Washington’s outsized role in making decisions for states, municipalities, and even individual citizens.
“In New York State, Oklahoma, Kansas, and every other state, if you look at the money raised in-state, an unelected federal bureaucrat tells you how to spend 60 percent of it – how you must spend 60 percent of it, and what the rules are,” he explained.
He said this was contrary to the American ideal of individuals deciding their own futures and shaping the future of their communities through city councils and state legislatures.
“The way to smash this republic is by using Article V to re-establish and return the Constitution to the relationship that it was intended to be,” Coburn said. “What that means is a limited federal government with decisions made at state houses and local communities, and the federal government doing what it was supposed to do, the limited role that it’s supposed to have.”
“The assumption of a monopoly usually is, when they have such great power, there’s no consideration given for anybody else’s thought,” he observed. “So ask yourself the question, ‘How well is Washington working today? How well is Congress working today?’ They’re not, and the cost to bear them is tremendous.”
“You know, this monopoly is going to put our kids – I’m talking about the millennials, the largest demographic in our country – the average millennial is on the hook right now for $1,700,000 that will have to be paid back in the next 50 years,” Coburn reflected. “What I’m talking about is the 50-year unfunded liabilities of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid, disability, military pensions, federal government pensions; it’s $144 trillion.”
“If you think about that for a minute, that’s the other thing monopolies do: they spend money with impunity because they’re not going to be the ones that have to pay it back,” he observed.
Marlow noted the political gulf between efforts to reform current spending practices and the almost incomprehensible mountain of “unfunded liabilities” described by Coburn, which few politicians dare to describe to their constituents, let alone tackle through legislation.
“I think there’s a real simple answer to that,” Coburn replied. “Most politicians want to get re-elected. They want to be in Washington. So if you start making hard decisions, which is going to cause sacrifice for all of us, they’re afraid they won’t get re-elected.”
“The real deficit in Washington is trust, and if you look at Pew’s latest research, not many people trust Washington,” he observed. “Well, the legitimacy of the government depends on trust. The legitimacy of your elected representatives means you trust them to make the hard decisions – even some that are painful to you, if, in fact, the long-term health of our country depends on it.”
“And yet, nobody’s working on that,” he lamented. “Why? Because there’s not the willpower of the career politicians to do what’s in the best interests of the country. They do what’s in the best interests of their political career. I saw it in and out for the 16 years I was there, six years as a congressman and then all four years and ten years as a senator. The conflict of interests means we don’t have any statesmen, or very few.”
Coburn recommended invoking Article V as the antidote to voter frustration over the difficulty of reforming the federal government.
“You’ve got a way to fix Washington, and it’s a way our Founders gave us,” he said. “You don’t have to be frustrated anymore. What you have to do is come join the millions of us that are going to use this tool to restore the Constitution.”
He explained that Article V was born from the Founders’ universal awareness that governments rarely give power back to the people voluntarily.
“The first portion of Article V was actually about us – giving us a way to restore relationships and balance and power. Then later came allowing that the Constitution could be amended by Congress,” he elaborated. “What they said in Article V is that if two-thirds of the states call for an identical consideration in identical areas, that the Congress has to call a convention of the states.”
“The convention of the states is a calling of commissioners from each state to consider whatever that call was in the application made by two-thirds of the states,” he continued. “And now, that’s 34 states. What happens is when you get to 34 states, Congress has to call it. A convention is held and each state sends its delegate, with each state receiving one vote on any matter that is put up there.“
“The only things that can be discussed are within the application for the convention,” Coburn said, addressing a common objection that amending the Constitution would quickly degenerate into a circus in the modern American political environment. “The reason that will hold is, number one, they’ll use the same parliamentary rules that they use in their state houses, in terms of rules of operating this convention. The second thing is, the federal government is never going to forward something outside of that application to the states for approval because they’ll get blocked, and the courts will support that block if that wasn’t part of the application.”
“Whatever comes out of there are simply recommendations back to the states that here are the things we think ought to change, and then 38 states have to approve that within seven years. If they do, we have changes,” he said.
Coburn said his recommended applications for constitutional change are clearly spelled out in the book. Each is intended to give Congress the institutional strength to make changes that politicians are unlikely to agree to independently because of their own political interests.
“Why isn’t there a balanced budget amendment?” he asked. “Why aren’t we giving backbone to the members of Congress and saying you have to do this? And then they can come home and say, ‘I had to; we have a balanced budget amendment with generally accepted accounting principles.’”
“The second one: there would be limits to the scope and jurisdiction of the federal government. And third would be putting term limits on not just elected, but also appointed federal officials,” he added.
“If you stay within those three things, you could have amendments that came out of that, and then the states would decide. In other words, we get to decide, and we haven’t been deciding. Washington’s been telling us what to do. We should be the ones telling Washington what to do. While they’ve been telling us what to do, they’ve racked up poverty for our kids and dropped us to seventeenth in the world in terms of economic freedom,” he charged.
“It’s fixable, and the great smile that comes on your face is, you can actually do something about it. You can join this group of millions of people at ConventionOfStates.com and become one of the people that’s supporting this movement to rebalance the federal government, rebalance the branches of the federal government, and rebalance the relationship with the states,” Coburn said.
Marlow asked for a frank assessment of the odds that 34 states would support the reforms Coburn recommends, given our polarized environment of “deep blue” versus “deep red” states.
“I think we’ll get to 34. I don’t doubt that,” Coburn replied. “I don’t think it has to do with red and blue. It has to do with me deciding versus government deciding.”
He proposed that even people in super-liberal Berkeley, California, would likely agree that it was better to make life decisions at the individual and local level, instead of letting Washington decide everything.
“Besides, there’s a fourth estate in Washington that decides everything, and none of them have ever been elected to any job. It’s called the bureaucracy,” he added. “I don’t think it’s red-blue. I don’t think it’s conservative-liberal. If you want to restore freedom to America, whether you’re on the left or the right, what you want to do is rebalance the relationship between the states and the federal government and rebalance the relationship between the federal government’s branches.”
“I don’t see that as a problem. Will people say, ‘We don’t think you ought to have a balanced budget?’ Who doesn’t think that? What adult doesn’t think – I’m talking true adult – doesn’t think you shouldn’t steal from your kids? That’s not controversial,” he contended.
“The other thing is, do we really want Washington telling the state of California how they’ll handle health care? Maybe California could have some good ideas other than what comes out of Washington,” he suggested.
“Just talk about what’s going on in Washington today. Nobody’s talking about the real things that will fix health care. Isn’t that interesting? Nobody in Washington is talking about the real things that will fix health care,” Coburn offered by way of example.
“Americans pay 33 percent too much for everything they pay for in health care. Everything,” he asserted. “If you had true price discovery, where you could actually find out what things cost in your community and find out what the outcomes were, then what you would see is people shopping their health care.”
“But you can’t find out what things cost ahead of time. So the real answer to health care is mandate that there be price transparency across the United States, and then let markets work – because they will. We’ll see a marked reduction within two years, if we have price transparency, that will cut the cost of health care in this country a third,” he predicted.
“Remember that the big hospitals that are vertically and horizontally integrated are nothing but monopolies. If you go to a hospital parking lot at two o’clock in the morning – I’m talking employee parking lot – and you go to that same parking lot at two o’clock in the afternoon, you’ll see five times as many cars. What that tells you is, they’re 20 to 30 percent inefficient because almost everything else is operating in the hospital – maybe not at the same level, but not five times less in the middle of the night,” Coburn said to illustrate his point.
“You have these fat insurance companies, fat in both non-profit and profitable hospitals that aren’t driven to efficiency. What they need is competition,” he stressed, citing a report from universities and think tanks in April recommending the changes he endorsed for achieving price transparency and encouraging constructive competition in the medical industry.
However, he said there was little enthusiasm for serious healthcare reform at present because “there’s too many monied interests in Washington lobbying against real competition, real price transparency, and real quality transparency.”
Coburn said his Article V coalition now includes 12 states and hopes to add another eight to ten next year.
“We’ve grown to 2.2 million volunteers now,” he said proudly. “We’re trying to move that to five. That’s why people listening to you today, if they’ll sign up at ConventionOfStates.com, learn about this, they can read this book – all the naysayers, every question that somebody who is worried about this is answered in this book. It gives you a resource of all the background, all the legal cases, all of what our Founders did.”
“The Annapolis convention of states is what called the Constitutional Convention,” he noted. “This has been going on in our country for years. Lots of compacts out West were conventions of states. The point is, if you become knowledgeable in it, you’ll see this is the answer that our Founders gave us for fixing our country and restoring what is rightfully ours, which is our liberty.”
Coburn was confident his movement can attract the civic participation it needs, even in an era of short attention spans.
“I think the point is, when you start becoming impacted personally with a choice, and you can’t make a choice that you should be able to make because some federal regulation is impacting you, it doesn’t matter whether you’re liberal or conservative or red or blue,” he said, returning to the polls that show widespread distrust of government, even among an ostensibly left-leaning younger generation widely indifferent to civic education.
“It’s not about being a political junkie, and it’s not about being hooked into this 24/7 news cycle. It’s about how do you get to live your life,” Coburn said. “Most Americans say, ‘Just leave me alone. Let me do my thing.’ That’s getting harder and harder to do. If you have a way to make sure you can do your thing in the future, then you’ll become involved in this.”
Coburn concluded by looking back to an earlier book he authored, The Debt Bomb. “That’s going to happen to us. Unless we get great leadership, unless we force a balanced budget amendment in Washington, the Great Depression is going to seem like a small burb in terms of how it impacts us.
Breitbart News Daily airs on SiriusXM Patriot 125 weekdays from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. Eastern.
Listen to the full audio of the interview above.