Cooper Sounds the Cry of Alarm: Is Anybody Listening?

Posted September 10, 2008 at 3:38pm

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) likens himself to a modern day Paul Revere, sending out a warning to lawmakers and anyone who will listen to his call that the nation’s finances are in distress and desperately need fixing.

Cooper, now in his ninth term overall and now representing Nashville, is a mix of crusader, doctor and accountant who chooses to do battle on the budget front, diagnosing the nation’s fiscal problems, prescribing solutions and taking the lead on big issues. He is unconcerned about whose feathers get ruffled. [IMGCAP(1)]

“The enemy is coming, and all I’m trying to do is warn my fellow citizens,” Cooper said in a recent interview “If they choose to be informed, and I think they will want to be informed, I think they will be terribly angry.”

A member of the fiscally conservative House Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition, Cooper was the group’s chairman in the 109th Congress. The 54-year-old Tennessean has been a constant critic of handling the federal budget, especially on entitlement spending.

In 2006, he persuaded the House Budget Committee to adopt accounting rules for the government more in line with those used by private industry. He has argued that existing government rules underestimate deficits.

Cooper is outspoken on the need to overhaul politically popular entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

“The biggest problem is runaway health care spending,” he said. “There’s a much greater urgency to reform Medicare and Medicaid than Social Security.”

Cooper, who spent eight years in investment banking, estimates there is $500 billion to $700 billion a year in wasteful health care entitlement spending.

Cooper began his fight on health care reform in 1992, when he proposed a rival plan to that of then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. His plan garnered support from both parties, but he ran into fierce White House opposition.

Most recently, Cooper teamed with Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), urging Congress to create a long-term bipartisan spending reform commission that would hold town hall meetings and create a report on spending and revenue scenarios. The bill (H.R. 3654) already has 110 co-sponsors, a broad mix of Democrats and Republicans.

Outside of Congress, support for the plan has come from David Walker, former head of the Government Accountability Office, the Brookings Institution and the Heritage Foundation.

Cooper especially wants the government’s books audited in preparation for the new administration — he’s a hearty backer of Sen. Barack Obama and wants the Illinois Democrat, if elected, to start his tenure with a clean slate.

Cooper has said he wouldn’t leave Congress for a position in the administration.

Despite all the warnings and calls for budget changes, Cooper isn’t all doom and gloom.“I believe in the resiliency of our government,” he said. “We rose to the challenge before.”