Interview with Senator Tom Coburn

Interview with Senator Tom Coburn

By The Situation Room - July 7, 2011

CROWLEY: Joining me now, Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma.

Senator, I know that you have, today, spoken with Speaker Boehner about the Republican position, or at least his position, going into these debt talks. What can you tell me about where you are now when it comes to the revenue side of this equation?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, I think Speaker Boehner related that we're -- everything's on the table, and I think it should be. I think that's the only way we solve this problem for our country. And so, I think it'll be a component of anything that we do. But there are some caveats with that, Candy, is reforming the tax code is one of the things we need to do to create jobs to allow the pent-up capital that's sitting on the sideline to go.

So I think the combination of reforming the tax code and stimulating the economy and the revenues enhancements that will come to the federal government form that, as a direct result, but also as an indirect result, is something that should be part of any agreement.

CROWLEY: OK, so if I understand it, you all -- the code for this -- that is code for you all are amenable, at least some Republicans are amenable, to closing the so-called tax loopholes for corporations or millionaires or whoever, if there is a reform in the tax code.

Can you -- first of all, is that correct? And second of all, is that something you can get done between now and August 2nd?

COBURN: No, but you could certainly put a provision that you'd have a clawback in any debt limit if it didn't get done. So I think --

CROWLEY: Explain that to me just a little. COBURN: Well, what you say is you have a tentative debt limit agreement that gets canceled if this doesn't happen by a certain time. But I'd be careful in terms of reaching too far.

You know, just like cutting back spending too quickly can have a negative influence in terms of stimulus in the economy, so can raising taxes. So the big thing is, is how do we do this in a way that actually stimulates the economy and enhances the revenues to the government? And that will take some time to work out. But you can put steps in any agreement that would make that time happen by a time certain, otherwise the debt limit gets held up again.

So I don't think implementing that will be as difficult in terms of agreement on that as the actual implementation and meeting the deadline at a later time.

CROWLEY: And so, as I understand what you're saying, yes, you and other Republicans might agree to closing some of those loopholes if it were part of tax reform, the process for which you would write into a debt ceiling deal.

COBURN: Right, but remember what tax reform means. It means not only eliminating tax expenditures, but also lowering the rates markedly --


COBURN: -- both in terms of corporate rates and individual rates.

CROWLEY: OK. And let me ask you, because now, as we understand it, the president also wants to put Social Security reform and Medicare reform, something you've been involved in, on the table.

If you were to ask Medicare recipients, for instance, to pay more for their co-pays, is that a tax hike to you?

COBURN: No, it's not. When the law was passed, they were supposed to be paying 50 percent of Part B, and we --

CROWLEY: Prescription drug plan, Part D.

COBURN: No, Part B. Part B, not Part D. Part B, which is your outpatient.

You know, they're paying one quarter of it. And so having some implementation, especially like Senator Lieberman and I have sponsored, is bringing them to 35 percent, but for the wealthy in this country, making them pay 100 percent. In other words, mean-testing Medicare, but still protecting those that are on the low end.

CROWLEY: And does the same then go for Social Security? Some kind of means testing is not to you a tax hike?

COBURN: No. But I think it's important to note the reason you have to fix Social Security is because we're going to have to borrow $2.6 trillion to fund it. So what you can do is put means-testing into Social Security and slowly increase its age. Not anybody now, in the next 10 years, would have any true impact on them, but do that in such a way where you can make it viable for 75 years.

CROWLEY: Can Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader McConnell please the Tea Party side of the Republican Party as well as get a deal? Is that possible?

COBURN: Sure, because not getting an agreement, regardless of what your principles are, hurts everybody in America, including the Tea Party. And so, it is important that we, number one, send a signal to the international financial community that we have understood our problem, that we're going to get a large change in terms of what's going to be on the table in terms of total dollars, $4 trillion to $4.5 trillion dollars -- and that, by the way, is the minimum to send a signal to the international financial community.

But if in fact you don't do that, and you don't pass a debt extension with that, then everybody in this country loses, plus the economy loses. So it's not just about borrowing more money. There's no question we could do all of this without enhanced revenues. We could do that, but changing the tax code actually causes the economy can grow.

So we can do both, and we can satisfy the demands of the diverse group of people that are in the "Tea Party" by solving the problem and also making large strides so we're towards downsizing the federal government.

CROWLEY: So, as I understand your message today, you do believe that some overall -- a deal that would result in an increase in the debt ceiling could include some revenue enhancements or tax hikes, depending on how you want to parse those words, as long as it was accompanied by a deal to later fix tax rates and an overall tax reform. Is that correct? Is that where you are?

COBURN: Well, I would -- not quite. What I would say is an agreement could be had that at a certain within the future, that the tax rates would be lowered but a large number of tax expenditures would be eliminated. And what we saw -- we actually have some good history from the middle '80s, when Speaker O'Neill and President Reagan did this. We actually saw four years of greater than -- on average, 4.9 percent economic growth.

And that's what we need right now. We need the economic growth to put people back to work.

CROWLEY: Senator Coburn, if I can get you to answer this in one sentence or less.

The chances that we're going to get a deal before August 2nd are?

COBURN: I don't know. I really don't know.

CROWLEY: OK. That's fair.

Thank you so much for joining us, Senator Coburn.

COBURN: You're welcome, Candy.

CROWLEY: I appreciate it.

COBURN: Bye-bye.


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