Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn on the tax deal compromise
HH: Joined now by Oklahoma’s great Senator, Tom Coburn. Senator Coburn, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Merry Christmas.
TC: Hey, Merry Christmas to you, and it’s always good to be with you.
HH: Thank you, Senator. Senator, if the deal negotiated between Republicans and the President comes to the floor of the Senate in substantially the same form as has been reported, will you vote for it?
TC: Don’t know yet. It depends upon if I get a chance to pay for it. You know, I am obviously for us not raising taxes on anybody. We’ve got to have a bigger plan than that. What is facing this country, and people are not willing to face up to, is we’re running out of time to control our destiny. And we need to get some type of concession from our leadership, and I’m talking Harry Reid, that we will have some type of plan on the floor to address the real issues in front of us. We’ve got to cut spending. We’ve got to reform entitlements. And we’ve got to do it soon, and we’ve got to send a signal to the rest of the world that we’re getting ready to get on a dive. And I don’t usually agree with the liberal press, but we’ve got to stop digging. And this idea of the tax cuts is a great shot of morphine for our economy, it’s the right thing to do. But where are the spending cuts to help lower the deficit, rather than increase the debt a trillion dollars?
HH: Senator Coburn, I just heard your speech on the floor. I was watching C-SPAN. I heard you say we’re still digging, and I heard you say the only way we get out of the hole we are in is if we make shared sacrifice. I heard the whole thing. And then I was thinking about the deal, and the deal’s got billions and billions of dollars of new spending in it. Even if you consider extending the current tax rates not to be new spending, there is billions and billions of new spending. Is that what you mean has to be…
TC: You mean in this tax cut deal?
HH: So are you saying unless that is at least neutral, you’re not going to vote for it?
TC: Well, we need to pay for it. Look, Hugh, there is three hundred, I can document at least $300 billion dollars worth of waste, fraud or duplication in the federal government that happens every year. Now granted, a hundred billion of that is in entitlement programs, but two hundred billion isn’t. And the fact that we don’t have the courage to stand up and go after those people who are protecting their vested interests with inefficient spending of your money? It’s just got to stop. Otherwise, otherwise, we’re going to get to the point…you know, when this thing comes on us, it’ll be too late.
HH: And in terms of this tax cut deal, Senator Coburn, because people are looking for clarity, how much spending cuts do you have to see added to this bill in order to support it?
TC: Well, I think first of all, I’m not sure I have to win, but we certainly can’t not try. I’d like to see about a hundred billion to a hundred and fifty billion dollar worth of spending cuts per year. Not total, per year.
HH: And if you do not get that, you will not vote for it?
TC: Well, I haven’t made that decision yet. I may not vote for it.
HH: Now this is where I go back to your speech…
TC: Now you’ve got to think of the long term as well as the short term.
HH: I know you won’t take offense at this, but I get very frustrated when I hear people say we’ve got to have clarity from Washington, D.C., and we’ve got to get right, but then we can’t get clarity on what people’s position are. That’s why, in fact, I was upset that Senator McConnell, who I admire a great deal, went into a secret deal that no one had told anyone about beforehand. How in the world is the public going to judge this if people don’t know what’s in it, and what their positions are?
TC: Well, that’s exactly why I can’t commit yet. I haven’t seen the first piece of legislative language on this.
TC: All we’ve had is press reports. We haven’t seen anything. And you know, quite frankly, I don’t trust Washington. And until I can read it and look at it, I can’t commit, because I don’t know.
HH: How much time are you, and how much time is the public going to have to do just that?
TC: Well hopefully, if this is doing just what they said it’s going to do, this should be a ten or twelve page bill. And it ought to go up, and the American people ought to look at it.
HH: And if it does just what they say it’s going to do, and nothing more, that ten or twelve pages, will you support that?
TC: Only if I get a chance to try to pay for it.
HH: But if they turn down your paying for it, can you keep…
TC: Well then, I probably won’t vote for it.
HH: Would you support cloture if they don’t pay for it?
HH: Now…thank you. That’s the clarity I think we need. That’s what Senator DeMint said yesterday. Are there other people like you?
TC: There are, but there’s not that many. You know, the real problem is short term thinking versus long term. I believe that we ought to do the extension of these tax rates. But I also believe we ought to cut government spending like crazy. And if we’re going to get out of the problem, we want to send a signal. The one reason I might consider voting for this is the one thing that’s lacking in America today is a confidence in the future. And if we could restore significant confidence of the tremendous amount of capital that’s sitting on the sideline not being invested, which is not creating jobs, that’s something to do.
HH: But do you think a two year deal does that? Because I have had emails from very successful business people telling me that doesn’t do it.
TC: It may not do it to the degree. The question is do people have some clarity, do they have some hope that Republicans are going to have more of a voice in the future, and that that’s going to continue? I think that’s the thing that would give them clarity?
HH: Do you think it’s possible that in fact this kind of a compromise undermines the idea that the Republicans were a new sheriff in town that was going to cut spending, and was going to go after the tax code in the right way, and that in fact, it’s the same old, same old? It’s like the immigration deal? It’s like the Gang of 14? You sit down with the Republicans, and you can count on the Republicans throwing their hand in?
TC: Well, that’s why I think we ought to pay for it. It’s exactly. You know, I don’t want to get caught in the trap saying that once you’re paying a certain tax rate to the government, and it’s lower than what it was, that the presumption is that was the government’s money and not yours?
TC: It’s not the government’s money. And we have so ignored the Enumerated Powers in the Constitution, we have a government we can no longer afford, and we have programs designed to compassionately help people that are being defrauded and abused like crazy. And I’m talking like SSDI and federal workman’s comp, and all these other things that most Americans don’t even know about that have tremendous fraud, have tremendous, you know, people milking the system. And the free ride has to be over for everybody.
HH: I heard you say that, and I couldn’t agree with you more. But I also, I was wondering, what do you think about raising the estate tax to 35% on estates over $5 million? I think that’s an immoral tax. I think Republicans have always believed that’s immoral.
TC: Yeah, I think if you hear the talk in Washington, and here’s what it is. It was getting ready to go to, what, $1 million and 55%?
TC: This has got to be better? We can’t get the other? And it’s probably true, so the pragmatism kicks in. But the question is, is it still right? No, it’s not right. You’ve already paid taxes on all that.
HH: And it’s a permanent concession. If we lose that battle, it’s a permanent concession to 35%.
TC: Well, I can tell you you’re going to lose that battle. I think this bill is going through.
HH: Can I hold onto you for another segment, Senator Coburn?
TC: Sure, sure.
HH: Great. When we come back, one of the reasons…are you sure it’s going to go through the House as well? They just signed a Pledge For America that has at least five points that contravene this deal. Do you think they can actually pass this?
TC: I have no idea. But I think it’s going through the Senate.
HH: All right, I’ll come back and talk with Senator Tom Coburn about his role on the Debt Commission as well. He just gave a great speech. If you can go find C-SPAN and replay that, it would be well worth doing, as well as Senator Michael Bennet’s response. I hope you go find him and drag him into a corner some way and get to work with him, Senator Coburn.
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HH: Senator Coburn, I know that Senators are loathe to criticize members of the House, and House loathe to criticize members of the Senate. I ask you as a plain-speaking Sooner, however. In the Pledge To America that the House GOP signed in September, there are these five commitments – to permanently stop all job-killing tax hikes, to act immediately to reduce spending, to cut government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels, to read the bill, and to advance legislative issues one at a time. Is it possible to square what we’re calling the deal with those five commitments?
TC: Yeah, because they’re not in control. That was if they got in control. And the fact is, they’re powerless. The House runs by an iron fist. They don’t have the power on that. The question is if we could delay all this stuff to next year, I guarantee everything you just read they would do.
HH: And so if the Senate were to delay it using your 42 votes, the House could never agree to this?
HH: So no House Republican should vote for it, though.
TC: Well, I’m not going to label what they should or shouldn’t vote for. The fact is there, in this bill, there’s some good and some terrible. And they’ll have to decide that for themselves.
HH: What’s the terrible part?
TC: The terrible is we’re expanding and continuing to expand unemployment without eliminating waste somewhere else. I don’t have any problem with helping people who are unemployed. And I think most of us would like to do that. But they don’t want to do it on the backs of their children.
HH: Now I’ve got to ask you, because I want to give you three minutes or so, we can’t replay your entire speech from the floor, but you were very eloquent about why you voted for the recommendations of the Deficit Commission. And I know you took some heat for that. And I’d like to have you explain to this audience for as much time as we’ve got why you did that.
TC: Well, I actually see what’s getting ready to happen to us. And nobody knows exactly the time, but it’s not five years from now. It may be four years from now, three years from now, maybe next year. And the fact is if we don’t have a plan with which we start having an austerity budget, where we send a signal to the rest of the world that we get it, we know we’ve lived outside of our means, we’re making the hard choices now to make cuts in spending, in entitlement programs, all these…so my vote was to get us to a point where we have the debate, because not debating doesn’t count. It’s the biggest shirk of our duty that we could have. And so I wanted, you know, I didn’t agree with this plan, per se, because first of all, it would kill the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma.
TC: And I’m not for that. But the fact is, we’ve got to start having the debate. And so I’m willing to put everything on the table, and I’ll win to protect the oil and gas industry in this country. It’s the most stupid thing we’ve ever done is to hurt our own exploration for our own resources.
TC: It’s a double whammy against us every time. But we’ve got to have the debate. And the longer we wait to have the debate, the less likely we’ll be able to control our outcome, our future.
HH: Now you also said in your speech, Senator Coburn, that the American people are ready for this. And I can 100% agree with that. They want to do hard things. But I don’t believe they trust anyone in Washington, Republican or Democrat, to be honest about that. That’s why I didn’t trust the Deficit Commission. I didn’t, you know, Senator Simpson came out early with Erskine Bowles, and they threw down before the Commission voted, and I said right there, that was a PR stunt.
HH: When and how do you guys rebuild credibility on any of this stuff?
TC: Well, I think you rebuild credibility by making the first hard votes, by coming together and saying it doesn’t matter, Democrat or Republican. The fact is that if you’re a Democrat or a Republican, or a conservative or a liberal, if the bond vigilantes get America, everybody suffers. And even…let’s say you’re a hard-core liberal, and that you think the government ought to do more and more ways. You know what the realistic fact is, is if this happens, there’s going to be a lot of people we’re not going to do anything for…
TC: …whether you agree with the Enumerated Powers or not. The fact is even liberals are starting to get the fact that they’re not going to be able to do any of the things they want to do. We’re going to be, well, I won’t say how bad I think it’ll be, because I don’t want to scare your listeners. But I think we’re going to see something like we’ve never seen, which is predicted for republics.
HH: I’ve got a quick question for you, 45 seconds. I just want the audience to hear this, Senator Coburn. If California or Illinois or New York comes calling upon the Senate of the Unites States…
TC: Over my dead body.
HH: That’s what I wanted to hear. It will never happen, will it?
TC: Well, they may come calling, but if in fact…you see, that was what was wrong with the stimulus. We transferred the worst habit of Washington to the states. We said you don’t have to be responsible. Here’s a whole bunch of money. So we delayed the time at which they had to make hard choices. And now they’re all in worse positions this year, and going to have to make even more difficult choices. The way to run it is the way Chris Christie’s doing it.
HH: And the Congress is not going to bail them out, correct?
TC: Not with anything that I can do. Everything in my power, I will do to stop it.
HH: Senator Tom Coburn, always bracing, great speech today. Thanks for coming on.
End of interview.