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Senator Tom Coburn on how much talk on rhetoric is too much, and the coming debt crisis

Saturday, January 22, 2011
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HH: From Senator Pat Toomey, we roll on to Oklahoma and talk with Senator Tom Coburn. Dr. Coburn, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.

TC: Hey, great to be with you.

HH: Now you caused a lot of heads to swivel this weekend, Senator Coburn, when you were on Meet The Press, and you said that you were disgusted with all the media, right and left. And so I don’t often disagree with you, but I am perplexed. Which part of the conservative media are you disgusted with?

TC: The part that continues to talk about rhetoric rather than the real problems. When we spend all our time talking about rhetoric and pointing our fingers, what we’re doing is ignoring the death knell to our country, which is our debt and our spending. And so we’ve taken a week and a half, and done nothing but talk about incivility, and this person said this, and this person said that. And all it’s done is take us off our message, which is this country’s in trouble because we’re spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need.

HH: Now Doc, I just did a segment with Pat Toomey, which was devoted entirely to the debt ceiling, and I’ll get to that with you as well. But if you do not challenge the left’s abuse of language, and its manipulation of storyline, the narrative becomes true. I talked about it with your colleague, Jon Kyl, yesterday. To even talk about it is to buy into the idea that what you and I are doing right now somehow contributes to a climate of hate. Would you have us be silent in conservative media?

TC: No, I wouldn’t have you be silent. I’d have you make your point the first five minutes of the show, and then move on to what the real problems are in the country.

HH: But five minutes does not, you know, my show has got three hours with a rolling audience, with the average time spent listening of a half hour or an hour. And if you don’t talk into the media narrative, you abandon it. I mean…

TC: Okay, so talk five minutes out of every thirty minutes. But spend the other twenty minutes on what the real problems in the country are, not what they say the problems are, because they’re obviously confused. They believe…they don’t believe in the Constitution in terms of its limited impact of the federal government on the states. They don’t believe in a limited Commerce Clause. They believe the government is the answer for everything, and I believe the answer for everything is us.

HH: Well, I agree with all that. We’ll talk about that in a second. But give me some specifics. If you’re Sarah Palin, and you cannot turn on television or radio without hearing people saying that your crosshairs ad is responsible for a massacre, should you remain silent? Or should you Tweet and speak to that issue?

TC: Well, I think what you should do is you put out a statement and say that’s just the kind of ludicrous garble that we hear from the left all the time, and it has nothing to do with it. And all they’re doing is baiting you to spend time talking about this rather that the real problems. And the real problems are, which they’ve helped create, and so have we, is that we’ve got about three years to fix our country. Otherwise, somebody else is going to be telling us what we’re going to do financially.

HH: Okay, I think that it came across, and have you heard this criticism that your statement on Meet The Press came across as a moral equivalency moment?

TC: Oh, I don’t think so. Well, maybe it did. I don’t know. The point is, well, here’s what I know, Hugh, is if we don’t concentrate and get…the American people are not focused on civility. They’re focused on how in the world are their kids going to live in this country and absorb the kind of debt we’re leaving the. And they want us to cut spending. And every time we’re talking about civility instead of talking about what the real issues are, they’re winning.

HH: Well, here’s what I know, Doc, is that if Tom Coburn doesn’t defend conservative media, conservative media isn’t around to make the arguments about the debt limit.

TC: I defend it all the time. But the point is, is we’re not perfect, either, and what we need to do is focus on what the real problems are. The problem isn’t me…look, we’ll win every debate, civil or uncivil, on the basis of the facts, Hugh. We can win those debates. And conservative talk radio, and conservative news helps us get our point across. But we can win it anyway, whether we’re civil or uncivil, in terms of what the facts are. The facts show that we’re in trouble because we’ve gone away from conservative fiscal principles, and we’ve embraced the government as the answer for everything.

HH: Oh, I agree with that. But if we don’t, if we’re not careful with the left’s narrative, Senator, we will be back to the days when the Wall Street Journal has a nice op-ed that’s read in boardrooms and in country clubs across the United States, and all of media is controlled by the left and the way left, and we’ll never hear Tom Coburn’s arguments again about why we have to get moving in three years. And so I look…

TC: My whole point was fine, counter it, but don’t…you know, look, I watch and listen. Way too much time was spent on it, I think. And you can answer it. But if you look at the evening TV shows from conservative media, 90% of it’s spent on this.

HH: I know, because if the left is defining the narrative, you’ve got to where that narrative is.

TC: But watch, who’s watching? Everybody already agrees with us.

HH: Oh, no. If you don’t, this is, to a certain extent, that which isn’t answered is accepted. That which gets rewarded gets repeated.

TC: So…but how long does it take us to answer that?

HH: It takes two weeks. It’s over now. Now we can talk about the debt limit. But if people had…

TC: Good. I’m glad we’re talking about the real problems.

HH: Well, okay, let’s get to that now, because I just finished talking ten minutes with Pat Toomey. I agree that if the debt limit isn’t lifted, there is plenty of money to service the debt.

TC: You bet.

HH: Do you have the votes necessary to stop the debt limit increase?

TC: Do we have the votes? No. That’s number one. Number two is, why in the world do we have a debt limit? What good is it if we’re going to raise it every time it comes up, we bump up against it?

HH: Now why don’t…

TC: We don’t use the debt limit to let…go ahead.

HH: Why don’t we have the votes? We just added seven Republicans in the last year. There are 47 Republicans. We have the House of Representatives. Who’s got the weak knees?

TC: Well, it’s not the Republicans. It’s going to be the Democrats.

HH: Well, you can’t pass a debt limit if you’ve got 41 Republicans who say no.

TC: Oh, yeah you can. It’s a privileged motion.

HH: So it will vote…51 does it?

TC: Yeah.

HH: But then you’ve got the House there. Should the House…

TC: Well, but…so I agree. What we need to do is we need to get an agreement that we’re going to have absolutely firm spending caps that cannot be gotten around. And that’s the only way we give a debt limit increase.

HH: How much? What’s the spending cap?

TC: It ought to be $250 billion dollars less a year minimum, right now, for the next two years.

HH: Can we do that without having children dying of starvation…

TC: Oh, absolutely. Hugh, there is so much waste. There’s at least $350 billion dollars worth of waste, fraud or duplication in the federal government per year right now. Right now.

HH: So $250 billion bucks a year for two years to raise the debt limit.

TC: Let me give you an example. Social Security Disability Trust is going to go broke in 2018. Now everybody that works pays some money into that. One in nineteen Americans now is on disability, not counting our veterans, our war fighters. Do you really think one in nineteen Americans is disabled?

HH: True, true.

TC: It’s ridiculous. There’s $7 billion dollars a year wasted on that, on people who are riding the system.

HH: Okay, so….

TC: We’ve got $100 billion dollars in fraud in Medicare.

HH: And so does this happen? Are you confident this is going to happen?

TC: I’m not confident, no, because you know, we don’t have, in Washington, people with strong spines. And here’s the rub, and this is the dividing line. Do you care more about getting reelected than doing the best thing for the country?

HH: Well, I hope there are more in the latter camp, and I hope you find them soon, because it is, it’s a nightmare right now in terms of spending. Tom Coburn, Senator from Oklahoma, always a pleasure, thanks for coming and taking the tough questions.

End of interview.

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