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.
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.”
For Coburn, he just sees the recent attention for his plan as a continuation of a fight that he’s been spearheading since he arrived in the Senate in 2004.
“What it is, is people look at it and say, ‘Why would we continue doing the stupid things?’” Coburn said, noting that his staff has been providing background detail to people who approach them about the plan. “I think people just common-sense look at it and say, ‘Why would be doing these things?’ So it’s not hard. If you actually spend the 20 hours it takes to read it, I mean, you come away with the idea of, ‘What’s going on in Washington?’”
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