PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) I'm disappointed that Congress resorted to passing all this spending in one massive, more-than-1,400-page omnibus bill. When Congress wastes so much time and leaves this work to the final days before Christmas, it is not a responsible way to run this government.
MR. KUDLOW: All right, got that right. The war on pork-barrel earmarks had a troop surge yesterday when President Bush threatened to veto the whole kit and caboodle of them. And here's the five-star general of the earmark-destroying army, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican from Oklahoma.
Dr. Coburn, thanks very much for coming on the program.
SEN. COBURN: Good to be with you, Larry.
MR. KUDLOW: Senator, let me just ask you, have you spoken to Mr. Bush or have you spoken to his budget director, Jim Nussle? Because I guess they're getting ready to cut a lot of these earmarks down.
SEN. COBURN: Well, we spoke before his speech, but it was a couple of days ago. But I'm very excited about the president, for the first time, taking on some of this. It's not law. Ninety percent of these earmarks are report language, they're not law. They don't have to be carried out. And presidents in the past have chosen not to pick a fight. But you've got over 11,000 earmarks passed this year, probably about $25 billion worth of it by the time you really see what it is. And I think it's high time with our debt going up $1 million a minute, $1.4 billion a day that we're borrowing from our grandkids, we ought to start being a little wiser with how we spend money and making tough choices about priorities.
MR. KUDLOW: I spoke to Senator McConnell about this the other night. And he's done a lot of good things, but he said to me -- I was a little troubled by this -- he said look, on the question of earmarks, he said elected politicians -- elected politicians -- are much better than faceless bureaucrats in allocating the public's money. I just don't see why we need to do this at all.
SEN. COBURN: Well, we don't. First of all, the reason you can make a statement like that is we don't bring the bureaucrats in and make them explain why they spent the money the way they did. If in fact we had good oversight and spent most of our time doing oversight instead of worrying about getting reelected, we wouldn't have to direct things. We'd see the proper priorities come through the regular programs. There's no question sometimes Congress needs to get into the middle of it. But I'll remind you, President Reagan vetoed a transportation bill that had 12 earmarks, because he said that's not the way we should be running our government.
MR. KUDLOW: Yep. Does the Republican Party really on this subject, budget spending in general, corrupt earmarks in particular, does the Republican Party have to be, to coin a phrase, holier than the pope in order to remove the stigma that cost them so dearly in last year's election?
SEN. COBURN: Well, you know, Larry, I'm not sure it's just about the party. This year, there was no big reduction in earmarks. There were no earmarks last year, because we had a continuing resolution. This is about our country, it's not about either party. Both parties are just as guilty. We can't have one party claiming that they're doing a better job than the other one. In fact, they aren't. This is about us having to make tough choices and starting for once to say we shouldn't have these programs, we shouldn't have wasteful programs, and we should be doing our work on that. We know that 20 percent of our discretionary budget is either wasteful, duplicative or defrauded. Why aren't we working on that instead of doing earmarks? And that's what the American people want us to do. I would tell you I think the Republicans are better than that. But both parties have a tremendous problem with that, and it's really about how are we seen at home and whether we're really more interested in getting elected than we are in fixing the long-term problems of our country. That's what we need to be focusing on.
MR. KUDLOW: Three Democrats along with yourself and Jim DeMint and some Republicans voted against this big bill, presumably because of the pork and the earmarks. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Are they giving you help on this stuff?
SEN. COBURN: Absolutely! They see the problem, and they're thinking about the long term. They're thinking we need to be working on the problem. Russ Feingold is a great man. You know, we have far- differing political views, but he's a very principled person when it comes to wasteful spending. He doesn't do earmarks. You don't have to do earmarks to get elected. And matter of fact, if you're doing earmarks, if you think about -- we earmarked $1 million for a river walk in Massachusetts, $200,000 for a post office museum in Las Vegas, $700,000 more for bike trails in Wisconsin and Minnesota. I mean, why are we doing that when we can't build the bridges that we need?
MR. KUDLOW: Senator Tom Coburn, thank you very much, sir, and I wish you all the best on the holidays.
SEN. COBURN: Thank you. Same to you, and I hope you have a great week off.
MR. KUDLOW: All right, thanks, sir.