Like most conservatives, I wish we had a different outcome on Nov. 6. It's important to talk honestly about what happened, and what we can do to get our nation back on track.
The hard reality is this: When the majority of Americans reward the politics of bailouts and benefits ahead of the promise of hard work, freedom and opportunity, conservatives must question not just the viability of our message; but the viability of our country.
To get back on track I would suggest we focus on a few simple points: truth, oversight, action and accountability.
One of the lessons from the 2012 elcetion is that we've failed to tell the American people - particularly young voters - the truth about where we are. The truth is, on our present course, the average young person in this country is going to inherit a lower standard of living than their parents. That is unacceptable.
America is already bankrupt. Our debt, which is 103 percent of our GDP, now exceeds the size of our entire economy. We're on the cusp of another downgrade. If interest rates go up one point, we add at least another $160 billion to our deficit every year. If rates return to historic averages, we'll add about $640 billion to our deficit every year - which is more than our defense budget.
In two years, the Social Security disability trust fund goes bankrupt. In five years, Medicare Part A - the hospital insurance trust fund - may be bankrupt. In ten years, the costs of entitlements and interest on the debt alone will consume all available tax revenues. That means our entire military and discretionary budget will be financed entirely on borrowed - or printed - money.
Our first task is to tell the truth. The second is oversight, which has to happen before setting priorities and getting spending under control.
Oversight isn't very popular in Washington because politicians on both sides prefer to create new programs instead of looking at whether the programs we've already created are working. Yet oversight resonates with families because that's how they live their lives every day. In the real world, people look their budgets and make choices. In Washington, we make excuses, and defer choices to future generations.
Oversight is about methodically and relentlessly building the case for limited government. It's also about recognizing that big changes often happen in small steps. That's why I release reports on all areas of the government. In my latest annual Wastebook report, we found federal funding from everything from robotic squirrels to climate change musicals to caviar promotion.
Here are a few more. You can't make this stuff up. We found federal funding of:
$27 million for Moroccan pottery classes
$505,000 for the promotion of specialty shampoo and other beauty products for cats and dogs
$1.3 million in corporate welfare for the world's largest snack food producer, PepsiCo Inc.
$350,000 for a government-funded study on how golfers might benefit from using their imagination to envision the hole to be bigger than it actually is. Really? Maybe we should have studied how to help politicians imagine a smaller hole in the budget.
The list goes on and on. The point of these reports is to help the public have an understanding of government that reflects reality. We could reduce the size of government by one-third today and no one outside of Washington would be able to tell the difference.
Oversight, again, isn't just the responsibility of those of us in elected office. It's the media's responsibility as well.
The last two tasks for getting back on track, action and accountability, go together. Perhaps the greatest problem I've seen in the Republican Party since being elected in the class of 1994 is the gap between our words and actions. We have two forms of conservatism in Washington. Cheap conservatism treats particular areas of the budget as sacred based on political expediency. Costly conservatism treats every tax dollar as sacred based on the principles of liberty and self-government. We have to strive for costly conservatism -- it's the only one worth having.
Many want to blame our setbacks in the Senate, in particular, on the Tea Party. I agree we need to do a much, much better job of candidate recruitment. The problem in Republican politics isn't the challengers: it's the incumbents: career politicians who say they are for limited government and lower taxes but make decisions that give us bigger government and higher taxes.
Voters will forgive us for trying and failing, but they won't - nor should they - forgive us for not trying. We must never give up. We must be specific, methodical and relentless, exposing excess and taking action. If we align our actions with our words and primary ourselves with term limits, we'll create the kind of leadership America needs.
Sen. Tom Coburn is an Oklahoma Republican.