Balanced Budget, Obama Care, Space Programs, 2010 Election: Interview with Colorado Congressman Mike Coffman

I was privileged Thursday with the opportunity to conduct a one-on-one phone interview with Congressman Mike Coffman, Republican from Colorado’s 6th CD.

As co-founder of the Balanced Budget Caucus on Capitol Hill, it’s not surprising that Coffman is heavily focused on the importance of this issue. “You have to take the power away from Congress,” he told me. “It certainly has worked in some states.”

Coffman continued that he is “amazed how much overhead there is in the federal bureaucracy. The majority of what we do here has nothing to do with our constitutional responsibilities. It seems like the federal government is involved in every level of government.” He believes the Balanced Budget Amendment will “force Congress to deal with its constitutional responsibilities.”

I agree with the Congressman that this Amendment is an important next step for Congress to take if there is to be any hope for fiscal discipline from Washington, D.C. The Amendment is an important piece, but it certainly isn’t the endgame.

Coffman has heard the objections that a Balanced Budget Amendment would open the door for some interest groups and politicians to demand higher taxes rather than cut wasteful spending and reduce the size and scope of the federal government. He says it’s worth the risk and that “it’s better to make the tough choices now,” especially given the unprecedented tide of popular sentiment for cutting spending and reducing debt.

The Colorado Congressman is hopeful and expects that a Balanced Budget Amendment would be high on the agenda of a Republican-majority House in 2011 (“I think Republicans have a great shot in the House in terms of achieving a majority, and I think that will certainly make a difference in moving Balanced Budget Amendment forward,” Coffman said, noting that previous efforts in 1995 and 1997 very narrowly fell short in the Senate. A two-thirds majority vote would be needed from both Houses to send a constitutional amendment to the states for ratification.)

At the same time, Coffman recognizes the power of proposed efforts to roll back and even repeal the Obama Care monster and those efforts likely would take immediate precedence if a new House Majority Leader is sworn in next year. Still, he concedes the political limitations that will prevent full success in this area right away.

“The reality is it may take successes at ballot box in 2010 and 2012,” Coffman said. “The President is going to have to sign off on it. We can certainly try to deny funding to the program. The good part of Obama Care — if there were a good part — is that the big entitlements don’t kick in until 2014, so that gives us an opportunity to be able to turn around how things are running in Washington in order to have a new Congress and a change in the White House.”

When asked if the state-level grassroots efforts — like the Independence Institute’s work to Defend Colorado from Obama Care — provide any momentum or support to the Congressional repeal plan, Coffman replied, “I think that sends the right signal to Congress.” He also noted that “it gives momentum to the legal challenge as they go forward.” The Congressman called the individual mandate in Obama Care “a horrible stretch of the Constitution” and stated his support for the lawsuit filed by numerous Attorneys General, including our own John Suthers.

During our conversation, I also introduced concerns raised by fellow RMA/PPC blogger Don Johnson that Congressman Coffman has shown some level of fiscal conservative hypocrisy in fighting to protect government financial support of his district’s space program jobs.

Johnson’s piece was based on a Denver Post report, which stated: “Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, sent a letter to President Barack Obama Thursday urging him to protect jobs in NASA’s Orion crew-capsule program.” But as Coffman noted to me, he supports stopping fiscal diversions from the Constellation program, not the Orion program.

More importantly, said Coffman, “[Obama is] merely moving the money around to other programs that he wants. The beauty of a balanced budget requirement is it forces us to have the debate. If I lose the debate, so be it. But let’s have the debate…. You know, I think Constellation is important, and I would challenge the administration on that, given the other priorities of the administration. But there’s no requirement at the end of the day.”

Mike Coffman certainly is on message with a focus on the Balanced Budget Amendment issue.

I then inquired a bit about the 2010 elections here in Colorado. He has announced his support of the respective Congressional candidacies of Cory Gardner (CD4), Ryan Frazier (CD7), and Scott Tipton (CD3). Coffman acknowledged that if the political tide is strong enough he believes all three of them could win — which would reverse the state’s delegation from 5-2 in the Democrats’ favor to 5-2 Republican.

Beyond this fall’s victory, Coffman said if he had the opportunity to work with Gardner, Frazier and Tipton as colleagues on Capitol Hill, “We would have a better chance to have a Balanced Budget Amendment to pass the Congress; obviously, a chance to fight for limited government. And they all have a respect for the free market.”

When asked about state-level races, Coffman specifically mentioned Scott Gessler as someone who could fill the Secretary of State office he recently held. “He stands for maintaining the integrity of the ballot box,” Coffman said of Gessler.

Finally, I asked the Congressman what message he would send to the new Tea Party activists out there who are intent on changing the shape of Congress (after our talk, I learned that our state of Colorado has a greater share of self-professed Tea Party members than any other).

“God bless them for being involved. I share their concerns in terms of we’ve got more government than we could possibly ever afford, and that needs to change,” Coffman said. “I think they are mobilized for all the right reasons, and they are going to have a real positive effect on the Republican Party, going forward.”

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