Dr. Coburn, Heal Thyself

November 04, 2011 2:15 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) says special interest tax breaks persist because senators can't resist the urge to lavish financial benefits upon their local and financial supporters:

"We're our own worst enemy," said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and a vocal advocate for reforming the tax code. "And that's based on parochialism and lobbying. You have to reform the tax code for two reasons — we're wasting a ton of money and it's stifling growth."


Now, about the cuts that aren't in Coburn's proposal: He slashes credits for renewable energy, and credits that help consumers buy energy-efficient appliances, but some tax breaks that affect the energy industry remain in place. In particular, oil companies fare quite well. Coburn cuts only two oil company tax credits, the Enhanced Oil Recovery Credit and the Marginal Well Tax Credit — both of which Coburn says are "currently inactive," as they only apply when the price of oil is low. Meanwhile, he leaves in place tax breaks that provide $21 billion in savings for the five biggest oil companies. Those companies combine for about $90 billion in profits each year, and Coburn wants to keep giving them $2 billion a year in tax breaks, even if it means eliminating a tax credit that helps his constituents save money by purchasing more efficient appliances.

It probably won't surprise you to learn that the oil & gas industry, led by Koch Industries, has been Coburn's third-largest source of campaign funds. [...]

It's bad enough that at every turn, Coburn slashes benefits and tax credits for working-class Americans while leaving in place billions in breaks for his enormously profitable campaign donors. Adding insult to injury, Coburn does so while regularly paying lip service to fairness. He writes of "small business and the middle class" bearing undue burden, and of the well-connected wealthy and powerful getting special treatment. He calls for "sweeping tax reform that creates a level playing field" and the removal of "some of the most egregiously unfair, unwarranted tax preferences in the code." But his plan further burdens the middle class and the poor, while maintaining significant tax advantages for the wealthy.

The incredible thing about Coburn is that based on how frequently he diagnoses the problem, he knows perfectly well that he's been bought by big oil companies — and he chooses to remain bought.