By Van Mitchell
Special to The Sun
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn told a Guthrie town hall audience Wednesday that because he doesn’t believe the federal government should have a role in job-training programs he favors the U.S. Department of Labor budget cuts targeting Job Corps centers across the country including one in Guthrie.
Coburn, R-Muskogee, made those comments at the Oklahoma Sports Museum at 315 W. Oklahoma Ave.
The Department of Labor recently announced significant reductions in capacity at seven Job Corps centers. In total, the department is intending to reduce a total of 2,909 slots, a reduction that represents more than 5 percent of Job Corps’ total capacity.
As of now, the Guthrie Job Corps is losing 250 slots down to 400.
Job Corps is a no-cost education and career technical training program administered by the Department of Labor that helps young people ages 16 through 24 improve the quality of their lives through career technical and academic training.
“I don’t believe there should be one federal job-training program,” Coburn said. “The Department of Labor is poorly run and so is Job Corps and that is why you are under a cut across the board right now. Where is it in the Constitution that the federal government ought to be running job training programs and we have 104 job training programs run by the federal government.”
Coburn said he favors letting state and local governments tackle the role of job-training programs.
“The ones that I know that are run by the state have much better accomplishments than those run by the federal government,” Coburn said. “The question is do we have an obligation to help our fellow citizens get to a better position so they can have a life-skill to make a living — absolutely. How we do it matters. The answer is run it locally and run it through the state. That’s exactly what we need to do. If you want to fix our country you can’t keep defending programs that are highly ineffective.”
Mary Coffin, president of the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce, said the budget cuts will have a significant impact on the Guthrie Job Corps.
She said eight staff members have been let go so far and 250 student slots have been eliminated from the program.
“I think it is devastating,” Coffin said. “No matter what scenario you run through our people are going to be out of jobs here in Guthrie. They shouldn’t go after the good ones. One of the issues they have is they are making cuts straight across the board and they are not really looking at the Job Corps that are performing well. Our Job Corps is No. 4 in the nation. Our Job Corps should be the last Job Corps they even think about cutting. We need to have more Job Corps like ours because we actually put out people that become law-abiding citizens, pay their taxes and open up businesses. It is totally wrong with what they are doing.”
Lucy Swanson, administrative assistant in marketing with the Guthrie Chamber of Commerce, said she agreed with Coburn about the federal government having too many programs, but adds doing across-the-board cuts is the wrong approach.
“I think he has a long litany of things of why it’s wrong to have these programs and I agree with him that the federal government runs way more programs than it should be but you cannot just cut,” Swanson said. “There are human beings behind these programs and you just can’t arbitrarily make cuts on programs without there being a process in place to get these people help in other ways. You just can’t turn people out in the cold.”
Coburn also touched a variety of other topics including other sequestration budget cuts.
“This next year we are actually going to spend less than we did last year,” Coburn said. “It is by design. The sequestration is happening. It’s better that way than none.
“Sequestration is like when your wife tells you to go out and weed the flower beds and you get the lawn mower out and mow the flower beds down. That is what sequestration does.”
Coburn said he has worked hard to highlight the waste in government spending.
“The consequence of wanting more and more is less and less for your kids and your grandkids,” Coburn said. ““We can fix our revenue issue. Our problem is spending. We can’t keep spending money on things we don’t have.”
Coburn discussed trying to save Medicare and Social Security from bankruptcy.
“We are going to try and save Medicare,” Coburn said. “Medicare is in trouble. Most people don’t know that in four-and-a-half years Medicare Part A is going to be bankrupt. Something is going to have to happen. We need to improve it and we need to streamline it. If we can save Medicare then we can save Social Security. We have to fix it and keep our commitments. But not doing anything is the most dangerous thing we can do.”
Several audience members raised concerns about pending gun control legislation in Congress and whether Coburn, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, would support it.
“Nobody has a better record on the Second Amendment than I do,” Coburn said. “I believe in the Second Amendment and I don’t think it should be infringed upon.”
Coburn also was asked about immigration reform.
“No immigration bill is going to pass the U.S. Senate until we can certify that our borders are controlled,” Coburn said.
Coburn said the biggest problem in Washington, D.C., today is the lack of morals and leadership.
“Our biggest problem is we don’t have character-based leadership in Washington,” Coburn said. “How you fix that is to change who is there. The vast majority of Oklahomans are conservatives. We are at a time where we are really worried about our liberties. The answer to that is to shrink the federal government and bring the responsibilities back to where they belong.”