It’s D-Day against the national debt 

Sixteen years ago, I was among a class of 73 freshmen Republicans who came to Washington for reasons very similar to why 87 freshmen Republicans were just elected. The country was alarmed by Washington’s attempts to take over our health care system and disgusted with Congress’ spending and self-indulgence.

It’s well-known that the 1994 Republican Revolution sputtered and failed to turn the country around. The failure of that revolution, though, was not so much a matter of failed tactics, but failed character.

Each turning point for the worse — the failure of the government shutdown, the betrayal of the term limits movement, overspending, the K Street project, earmarxism and entitlement expansion — came about because of hubris, self-preservation and careerism.

This time, I’m confident the outcome can be different if the freshmen and others keep a couple of principles in mind.

It’s not about Republicans. It’s about the republic.

In the past decade, experts on both sides have boasted about permanent majorities. The country has no time for such foolishness. Our future is as uncertain and tenuous as at any point in our history.

The perfect political moment to tackle our debt problem will always be a mirage just beyond the horizon of the next election. The time for hard choices, and leadership that honors our heritage of service and sacrifice, is now.

The enemy is not the other party, the president or your colleagues but the idea that the federal government is at the center of our national life, the equalizer of all injustice and the provider of material wealth.

Ideas are much harder to displace than individuals. Running the table in 2012 will not solve anything if the country is not prepared to change their expectations of the federal government. The left is betting that the public’s support for entitlements, once acquired, will trump their disgust with deficits.

This is the real debate that will determine the future of our country. We have to earn a mandate to reform entitlement and reduce the size of government by building credibility one step at a time with aggressive oversight and commonsense spending cuts.

So far, the new House majority is sending all the right signals. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who himself was a casualty of the leadership shakeups of the late 1990s, has learned these lessons better than anyone.

Beginning the new majority with a reading of the Constitution is a wise move. The fact is, the government we can afford looks much more like a government that is constitutional than previous Congresses have wanted to admit.

The House is taking other important steps. House Whip Eric Cantor’s, R-Va., “cut-as-you-go” approach to governing reflects reality. House transition chair Greg Walden’s, R-Ore., move to cut the cost of Congress by $35 million is leadership by example.

House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s pledge to bring nondefense discretionary spending to 2008 levels will build credibility and make further reforms possible. Finally, the majority’s pledge to vote to repeal the health care law is the first step in a long battle to repeal this fatally flawed legislation.

The real challenge for new members, however, will come later when the certainty of principle wanes and competes with the allure of power. The debt limit debate will be a key test. Some have cautioned new members against “playing chicken” with the debt limit.

Yet, by growing government to an unsustainable level, both parties have been playing chicken with our future and our national survival.

Boehner has described the House as an “outpost in Washington for the American people and their desire for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government.” I’d suggest the new members have a chance to secure not just an outpost, but a beachhead for freedom in a struggle as significant as any in our history.

For new members, this vote can be your D-Day against debt, and the dissolution of the republic itself.

Sen. Tom Coburn is a Republican from Oklahoma.

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Sen. Tom Coburn

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