U.S. Congressman Howard Coble

Star & Lamp Archives, Spring 1995

110th Congress Pic of HC

While Coble did not originally have a “fire in the belly” for Congress, he did have a penchant for saying “no”– a single word that has become his battle cry. 

Since being elected in November 1984, Coble has become a member of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He is also Chairman of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, having served in the Coast Guard and having spent 18 years in the Reserves. In a 1985 article in Spectator Magazine, Coble explains why some call him “Red Button Coble”: 

“One day I stood up on the House floor, and you know each of us has a card that we’re given to activate our voting machines? I took my card out, I said, ‘Folks, there is a “no” button at your panel: 1 said, ‘Try that red button for a change, it works: I said, ‘You might like it!'”

“I don’t want to be known as ‘Congressman NO; but we’re gonna have to be willing to say ‘no’ to some of these special programs and special projects because they’ve been doin’ it recklessly and imprudently for 40 years, and we’re runnin’ out of time,” he added. 

These days, of course, these words do seem to be, more or less, the language of Washington –what everyone has on their agenda. But in one fight against spending, Coble has at times stood by himself. Since his first election in 1984, Coble vowed not to take part in the congressional retirement plan. Ever since, he has fought to enact legislation to reform congressional retirement benefits. As a freshman Representative in 1985, he introduced a bill to cut pensions to the same size as those for other federal workers. Not one congressman stood beside him at the news conference. 

The congressional retirement plan currently costs taxpayers over $15 million each year. At the end of 1993, there were 391 living former congressmen receiving pensions, with an average annual annuity of $44,479. Some former congressmen receive over $100,000. “I do not believe,” says Coble, “that retirement benefits are necessary to entice qualified Americans to run for Congress. Instead, the generosity of the congressional Oension has prolonged the tenure of many of our colleagues.

With the tum of a new tide in Washington, it is expected that Coble will now receive more support for what has been his one-man crusade against what he calls a “taxpayer rip-off.” “Now people are listening to me,” Coble told the Star & Lamp. “I hope we can get reform.” Bill Zel iff (R-.N.H.), who along with two others joined Coble in cosponsoring g a bill last year to abolish congressional pensions altogether, says that it is a “travesty” that Coble’s fight has been overlooked until now. “A guy who stuck his neck out when he did, at a time when it was unpopular, deserves a lot of credit. Now anybody can get behind this stuff because it’s in vogue,” he said.

But now, for perhaps the first time since he came to Washington, it appears that the 64- year-old Pi Kapp –affectionately described by the Washington Post as a “cigar chomping, back slapping congressman from Tobacco Road” — is definitely in style.

(Star & Lamp Archives, Spring 1995)