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Deficit Panel Feels Coburn’s Influence

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Tom Coburn's "Back in Black" deficit reduction plan is getting attention from outside groups as well as members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.

Though few would suggest that tax code reform will be easy or that it can even gain GOP support on the panel — Kyl himself walked away from the Biden group over an impasse on revenues — as long as Coburn is a player, tax reform could stay in the conversation. Super committee members have been engaged in multiple, hours-long negotiations daily as they try to hit their Thanksgiving deadline to submit a plan to the rest of Congress.

Outside the room, groups looking to sway policymakers have turned to “Back in Black” for a practical reason: It’s one of the few existing frameworks that actually has published details.

As opposed to the gang of six efforts or the Bowles-Simpson recommendation, “Back in Black” provides what sources called “actionable” pathways to deficit reduction. And in a situation where everyone is pressed against the clock — outside groups have until the end of next week to submit their suggestions — using ideas already clearly outlined can be an advantage.

For example, Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank, sent a 14-page policy memo to the super committee co-chairmen, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). Of the 71 endnotes sourcing the group’s framework, 17 of them were from Coburn’s plan.

On revenue reform alone, Third Way adopted many of Coburn’s ideas, including changing the way the Consumer Price Index is calculated to update tax brackets, reforming the tax treatment of foreign-earned wages, ending mortgage deductions for second homes and eliminating ethanol tax credits.

“Our main interest in his work was that here’s a Republican who sees the problem in the tax code and concedes that up front and is willing to discuss that in addressing the deficit,” said David Kendall, Third Way’s senior fellow for health and fiscal policy.

“A lot of the reports that are out there already just have goals, sometimes a few specifics, but not to the level that Sen. Coburn has proposed,” Kendall said, adding the group had discussed ideas that it liked with Coburn’s staff. “You might not agree with everything he suggests, but he’s put it out there in a way that makes it actionable.”

On the cuts side, Republicans on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce and the District of Columbia adopted many provisions that Coburn floated to eliminate government waste, such as cutting the federal vehicle fleet by 25 percent, reducing the federal contracting workforce and enacting a three-year freeze on pay for Members of Congress. Subcommittee ranking member Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) sent a letter to the super committee making those recommendations last month.

Moreover, top Senate GOP aides are not surprised Coburn’s ideas are being taken seriously because they viewed his plan as a comprehensive compilation of GOP ideas that many in the Conference can support.

“Dr. Coburn has long been seen as one of the most thoughtful and effective budget cutters in the Senate. When he offers a plan, people take notice,” a leadership aide said. “And there’s no doubt his latest will draw a lot of long, hard looks from key players both inside the committee and out.”

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