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Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on the passing of Ted Kennedy and prospects to defeat Obamacare

Friday, August 28, 2009

HH: A day of great sadness around the United States Senate as they continue the process of saying goodbye to Ted Kennedy. One of his colleagues from the other side of the aisle, and the other side of ideology, but nevertheless on the came committee, Senator Tom Coburn joins me from the great state of Oklahoma. Senator Coburn, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

TC: Hugh, glad to be with you.

HH: What are your thoughts on the death of Ted Kennedy?

TC: Well, I think he was missed even before he died, because the health care debate in the Senate, especially his committee, was totally different than what it would have been if he had been leading it. We would have had a compromise bill, one that would have passed, and it wouldn’t have been just a purely partisan bill, and he would have worked it to try to get the problem solved. And it probably wouldn’t have been my ideal bill, but it would have been certainly what came out of the committee.

HH: How were your personal relations with Senator Kennedy, Senator Coburn?

TC: They were good. I mean, we had run-ins a lot, but if he gave you his word and he said he’d work with you on something, he did. A good example of that is the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act. And he wanted that act, and we eventually got it. But we held it until we got the negotiations complete after the committee. He didn’t let us do what we needed to do in committee, and admitted that, and we worked it out and got the bill. And it got signed into law.

HH: Now Senator Coburn, you’re an interesting example. You’re well known as an Evangelical Christian, and you’re well known for your friendship with President Obama. And so you are able to have these very, very stark differences with people, and yet maintain great relationships with them. And how difficult is it to do that?

TC: It’s not difficult. You know, everybody’s idea is their idea, and they’re entitled to it. And if you take somebody that disagrees with you and say you’re not valuable, or your ideas don’t count, and you dismiss them, what you do is you fail to learn something. I’m certainly not always right, and I certainly am not all knowledgeable. And by listening to people and working with them, you can learn some things. So you don’t necessarily have to agree with them. But one of the things we’ve lost, Hugh, in our country is a legitimate philosophical debate. What happens is if you disagree, some muckraker or hacker or blogger goes after you personally rather than say wait a minute, can somebody have that legitimate position. And know this happens from the right and it happens from the left. And we’re losing the Lincoln-Douglas style debate. And that hurts us. It doesn’t help us at all.

HH: Now I’m sure some liberals and leftists listening right now are saying well, look at the town halls where people are angry and shouting and booing, is Senator Coburn going to condemn them?

TC: Well, yeah, I do. At my town halls, I say we’re going to let everybody have their position, we’re not going to boo them. And we didn’t have any of that in mine, and we had plenty of people that had an opinion different than mine, and different than the vast majority of the people there. The fact is, is everybody’s idea counts, and it’s worth listening to. And even if you disagree with it vehemently, it’s still their idea, and the best way to get the problem solved is to listen to all ideas, not just to listen to one.

HH: Now let’s focus on the substance here, Senator Coburn, I am convinced this is a disaster for American medicine. It will introduce rationing, it will cause any number of innovations not to occur. It will bankrupt the United States, the public plan will drive private…well, you know the litany. Is there any way this thing is going to get 50 votes in the United States Senate?

TC: Well, the problem, Hugh, is too many people, and one of my biggest concerns, think that all the objection to the health care has been contrived. I traveled to Nebraska, Arkansas, Mississippi this week, as well as did town hall meetings in Oklahoma. And I can tell you it’s not. And it’s not about health care. That’s what people don’t understand, is they’ve seen the government take over the auto industry, take over the banks, and now they’re wanting to take over 1/6th of the economy. And when you look at the track record of the federal government, it’s poor. It’s terrible, not just in health care, in everything else we do. Name one federal program that is both efficient and effective. You can’t find one.

HH: Outside the Pentagon. Outside of the ability to destroy our enemies.

TC: It is very effective, but it is highly inefficient.

HH: That may be true.

TC: We waste $50 billion dollars a year at the Pentagon – $50 [billion]. And that’s probably an underestimate.

HH: Senator, when I first met you, it was in Colorado Springs at the Broadmoor. You were giving a speech on the deficit, the structural, inherent, built-in deficit. And that was many years ago. And since then, we’ve hemorrhaged money. When you sit back and look at the revise that happened this week from $7 trillion to $9 trillion over the next ten years, what’s that calculator in your head saying about the course we’re on?

TC: Well, it’s unsustainable. We know that. And their estimates are $4 trillion too low.

HH: Whoa. What do you base that on?

TC: Well, I base it on the Heritage analysis, plus other actuarial accounts that say, that figure in what’s going to happen on Medicare, and the tremendous shift over the six to seven years in terms of my age going in to be the Baby Boomers, and the health care inflation that we have in it. That’s why they want to ration health care.

HH: Do you expect that there will be a huge push for confiscatory taxation as a result of a structurally induced deficit of this size?

TC: I think there will be a huge push, but it doesn’t have to be. Look, Hugh, we have $350 billion dollars that I can list out for you that is pure waste or fraud every year in the federal government. So let’s just take for the next six years if we eliminated that waste, okay, that’s $2 trillion dollars, $2.1 trillion dollars. If you eliminated that $2.1 trillion dollars, and then you looked at the Constitutional basis for the rest of the government programs, about 40% of them are outside the bounds of the enumerated powers of the Constitution. They’re highly inefficient, highly ineffective, and what we ought to be doing is sending those programs back to the states, and taking less tax money, because they’ll do them much more efficiently, and much more effectively, than what we do. Not all the states will, but some will, and so we’ll get much more value for the dollars that we spend in, and in terms of helping people live their lives, and assisting people who need our help. So we don’t have, we don’t have to say we’re on a course that’s there. It is fixable. It is changeable. But it’s going to require leadership that…leadership, first of all, that has some knowledge about you can do things more efficiently, and you don’t have to accept the status quo. And that’s what these town halls have been about. They see what’s getting ready to happen to their kids. They see…

HH: Do you think your friend, the president of the United States, is listening? Do you think he is open to being corrected on this path that he’s on?

TC: I don’t know. I think he is surrounded by some people who ultimately want single payer. They understand the plan they’ve set up will get them there with a public plan, or even with a co-op plan, will ultimately get you to single payer. They think that’s the way to control it. And I think it’s exactly the opposite way to control it. I believe markets really work. If you reconnect the economic purchase with the payment of health care, and you put that in the hands of individuals, and you make sure everybody has access, we can cut health care costs by 20% in this country and cover everybody.

HH: Has he picked up the phone, the President, and called you and said Tom, we’re pals, what do you think is going on out here, what’s your advice?

TC: Well, I’ve given him advice on the health care debate about three or four weeks ago. He called me on a Saturday morning. But he wasn’t ready to listen yet, so we’ll have to wait and see.

HH: Let me talk to you about what citizens ought to do. We have been pushing the National Center for Policy Analysis petition here. It’s available at We’re going to come there in a couple of weeks to deliver those petitions. Should people continue to sign those and support the NCPA and like-minded groups?

TC: Absolutely. You know, it’s very important that the President and the majority party in Congress understand that people have had it up to their neck with the inappropriateness of Congress, the wasteful spending of Congress, and the actions that are outside the Constitution of Congress. And so anything we can do to awaken them to this rumble that’s occurring in the country I think is appropriate. You know, I was highly criticized by Frank Rich because I’m not critical of people who are critical of the federal government. I understand it.

HH: Yeah.

TC: I am flabbergasted that the American people continue to tolerate what is an ineffective, bloated federal bureaucracy that is stealing their kids’ future.

HH: You know, this week I’ve been urging symbolic contributions to people like Danny Tarkanian of Nevada running against Harry Reid, Tom Lucero in Colorado running in the House against Betsy Markey. Thousands of people have sent these $10 dollar contributions, Senator. Do you think that reflects a political earthquake out there?

TC: Well, I think you know, first of all, we’re fifteen months away from another election. Lots can happen in that period of time. What I do know is the American people are awake more than they’ve ever been, they’re aware, they’re informed of the problems and the direction of the country, they’re not happy with it, and the more knowledge they gain about what’s really going on, the less satisfied they are.

HH: Senator Tom Coburn, we’re out of time. I appreciate the time so much. Keep up the leadership on this. Your position as being a doctor is just so important at this time, and your willingness to speak clearly and plainly so much appreciates, Senator Tom Coburn.

TC: All right, Hugh, good talking to you. Bye bye.

End of interview.

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