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Tom Coburn Predicts Fiscal Cliff Will Be Avoided

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo

“If you give me the opportunity to play as a legislator, offer serious amendments to fix things, I’ll try to do it,” he said. “But that hasn’t been the case this last two, almost three years.”

The 2012 “Wastebook” is essentially a compilation of work done by Coburn’s staff both in his personal office and at the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Investigations, where he serves as ranking member. The staff relies heavily on work done by the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office in assembling the report on potentially wasteful projects. Coburn has actually led an effort to block cuts to the GAO budget, thinking that the auditing arm of Congress finds enough waste, fraud and abuse elsewhere to more than justify the expense.

Coburn has demonstrated himself unafraid of using arcane Senate procedures to help secure votes on his proposals. Last year, he forced a test vote on ending a tax credit for ethanol over the objections of some farm-state lawmakers by filing his own cloture motion.

He considers targeted tax preferences to be no different from equally targeted subsidy programs on the spending side of the ledger, which has put him at odds with many Republicans.

His report highlights the tax credit for a by-product from paper production known as “black liquor.” Coburn says that is just one example of the problem with targeted tax benefits.

“The question is how is it that we continue to have a tax code that continues to allow the well-connected and well-heeled to get benefits that other businesses don’t get, and so I’m not against renewable forms of energy or utilization, but I’m for a tax code that’s clean,” Coburn said.

Coburn continues to work on a budget overhaul plan as one of the “gang of eight” Senators attempting to craft a comprehensive deficit package. He declined to comment on the specifics of those talks out of concern that might undermine negotiations. Members of that group met last week at Mount Vernon and talks are ongoing, even if support from the Senate leadership has been limited.

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