EDITORIALS

Conservative Sen. Coburn tallies breaks for the rich

Sens. Tom Coburn (left), R-Okla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in 2006
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE | AP
Sens. Tom Coburn (left), R-Okla., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in 2006
Posted Nov. 24, 2011, at 9:12 p.m.

Surprisingly, one of the most conservative members of Congress is warning publicly that the federal government has been coddling the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class.

Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, is listed by the American Conservative Union as one of only 12 senators with 100 percent ratings. Yet his 36-page report, “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous,” reads like a product of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It shows that he knows that something big is going on in American politics: a growing recognition of the fact that the rich are rapidly getting richer at the expense of the poor and middle class.

The report is the first comprehensive compilation of government benefits enjoyed by millionaires, defined as individuals with annual adjusted gross incomes of $1 million or more. Since May, Sen. Coburn has had his staff collecting data from 21 government agencies on all sorts of payments and benefits to millionaires.

Most of the payments and benefits are legal under present law. He calls for new legislation to make the millionaires pay their own way and to cut off their Social Security and Medicare benefits and halt their tax deductions for such items as farm programs, summer homes, yachts, foreign travel and art contributions.

Among the nuggets in the lengthy report were millionaires’ receipt of $316 million in farm programs in the period from 2003 to 2009, more than $9 billion in Social Security benefits from 2004 to 2008, $7.5 million in disaster insurance from 2007 to 2010, $74 million in unemployment benefits from 2005 to 2009, and $607 million in deductions for business entertainment expenses from 2006 to 2009.

While he opposed increased taxes on the rich and demonizing the successful, Sen. Coburn concludes “We should not pamper them with unnecessary welfare” and assailed “this welfare for the well off” and “this reverse Robin Hood style of wealth redistribution.”

This blast from a conservative lawmaker sounds like a warning to his fellow Republicans that the public is worried about the increasing disparity between rich and poor. They appear to be seeing through the false conservative claim that helping the rich get richer will lead to a trickle-down to benefit the middle class and poor.

The rich are suddenly getting a bad name, especially the big bankers, with their huge salaries and bonuses and their role in the housing bubble that led to the Great Recession that continues to afflict many Americans. The super-rich “1 percent” has gotten into the common language.

The Internet is playing a part as a powerful new medium. It caused Bank of America to abandon its announced $5 monthly charge for a debit card. It acted quickly when Internet complaints went “viral.” And the Internet is still a venue for the issue. A fake Bank of America video has customers thanking the bank for not burning down their houses and casting them into dungeons.

It’s a whole new world in politics and communication, and Sen. Coburn has shown that he gets it.

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