Coburn Ups Ante in Debt Ceiling Standoff, Pushes Plan to Save $9 Trillion

At a time when President Obama and lawmakers of both parties are struggling to find spending cuts of $2 trillion to $4 trillion, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is offering his colleagues a menu of options for far more ambitious savings.

Coburn is unveiling a plan to reduce deficit spending by a whopping $9 trillion, shrink government by some 20 percent and balance the budget, all within 10 years.

"It's specific, it's detailed, it makes hard choices," Coburn said. "And it's rough, but it's necessary."

Coburn questioned all the agonizing over the search for much smaller savings of some $2 trillion, saying, "$2 trillion doesn't even pay our interest over the next 10 years. That's with no increase in interest rates."

Coburn's 600-page report lays out hundreds of spending cuts from every nook and cranny of the federal government.

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He would save about $1 trillion from the Pentagon, another trillion from discretionary spending and $500 billion more from a range of federal agencies.

"We're cutting fat, not muscle or bone," Coburn said. "We can easily take several inches from our waistline."

Coburn also wades into the tax code, eliminating deductions worth almost $1 trillion.

That brought criticism from Grover Norquist of the conservative group Americans for Tax Reform, which opposes any revenue increases. A blog post on the Americans for Tax Reform website calls Coburn’s plan “a $1 trillion tax hike plan.”

“It's not tax reform, it surrenders on spending and it's outside the conservative mainstream,” the post continues.

And one Senate Democrat disagrees with the plan, saying $9 trillion in cuts is too much.

"You don't need to do $9 trillion, in my judgment, because it requires you to make too many Draconian cuts,” Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said.

Conrad is a member of the so-called Gang of Six, to which Coburn once belonged. Conrad and the other remaining members will propose a plan Tuesday to save as much as $3.7 trillion.

“There's a lot of good thinking,” Conrad said. “I just think the package really is more than needs to be done."

Coburn anticipated the criticism.

"People who call this a tax increase are defending earmarks for ethanol, earmarks for movie producers, stimulus tax breaks, tax breaks ... for Eskimo whaling captains and deductions for vacation homes," he said.

Coburn would eliminate the mortgage interest deduction for vacation homes and phase out deductions for mortgage interest on homes costing more than $500,000 dollars.

He also takes aim at tax breaks for all sorts of projects -- everything from auto race tracks to hockey arenas to movie theatres.

And Coburn's report notes some tax deductions are downright ridiculous -- such as an exotic dancer writing off breast enhancements as a business expense. Though he would reduce or eliminate many tax deductions, he would not raise tax rates. The ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases is 7.5 to one.

The senator has no expectation his plan will be adopted as is, but he calls it a menu of well-researched places to cut the federal budget.

"I hope people pick out things out of this," he says. "The fact is, is it's a treasure trove of how to solve our country's problems."

With the White House and lawmakers stuck over how to proceed, Coburn offers a plan that has more spending cuts than anyone else has proposed, as well as some revenues, on which Democrats have insisted.