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MR. DEUTSCH: Today after the House voted for a massive 90 percent tax on bonuses from TARP recipients, the Senate is getting set to take up the issue. Over the weekend, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman wrote a piece called "Are We Home Alone?" He writes, "We are in a once-in-a-century financial crisis, and we've actually descended into politics worse than usual. There don't seem to be any adults at the top, nobody acting larger than the moment, nobody being impelled by anything deeper than a news cycle. Congress is slapping together punitive tax laws overnight like some Banana Republic, the president is getting in trouble cracking jokes on Jay Leno, comparing bowling skills to Special Olympians, and the opposition party is behaving as if its only priority is to deflate President Obama's popularity."
Okay, Senator Tom Coburn is a Republican from Oklahoma. Senator Coburn, I'm going to give you a chance to start to maybe bring this world together a little bit and prove that we're not all ideologues. Would you say possibly it was a good day for Geithner and a good day for the administration?
SEN. COBURN: Oh, I think so.
MR. DEUTSCH: Good. That's a step in the right direction.
SEN. COBURN: We have had price discovery on these toxic assets. And it looks like this plan may do it. I haven't seen all the details of it yet and how we're going to leverage $100 billion of American taxpayer dollars against 400 (billion dollars) or maybe even 900 billion (dollars) of private funds. I want to see that. I want to see the downside risk. But the key in solving this problem for the banks is price discovery, and we're not going to solve it until we get there. And so I think this is a great move. It's something we've been waiting on for a long time. It's what we were promised by Henry Paulson and never got. And so I think it is the one move that will help us.
MR. DEUTSCH: Senator, you have said that you didn't think Geithner should have gotten the job in the first place. By all standards, a very comprehensive, well-received plan today. Are you changing your tune at all or do you still think --
SEN. COBURN: You know, look, I still think there's, you know, leadership matters. And if you're going to display principles of integrity, then you ought to hold the position. When you fail on some of those issues, then your credentials are going to be questioned. And they were, and they should have been with Tim Geithner. I mean, you know, I can go into the details on that, but when you claim you use Turbo Tax and it prompts you to pay your unemployment and Medicare tax and yet you don't do it, you either didn't use Turbo or you weren't being honest. So you know, the fact is is he is our Treasury secretary, he's there now. Let's hope that he continues to do some good moves that are good for the country as a whole and that we solve some of these problems.
MS. LEE: Senator, you mentioned leadership. Just to get your response directly to Thomas Friedman's column, do you agree that maybe there is a lack of leadership at the top, not just on the Democratic side but also in your party?
SEN. COBURN: Oh, absolutely. Look, I think also in that editorial or maybe in another one, what should have happened rather than the slapstick comedy of going after people's bonuses, which everybody should be appalled at but, you know, we paid that 8 billion (dollars) in bonuses that weren't appropriate for government contractors in the last four years in Washington. I mean, the outrage is appropriate. But it needs to be spread across everything that the Congress is doing. President Obama can do a lot. What he can do is say, Congress, get out of this, I'm going to call people to a higher all. Do what you should do to help this country, and that means that AIG executives, give back your bonuses. Help us all.
MR. DEUTSCH: Exactly. That's exactly the point of Friedman's column that he should have himself come out and said that. Along those lines, because you are kind of speaking from a higher perch, I was excited to hear you kind of speaking in bipartisan way tonight kind of endorsing today's events.
SEN. COBURN: Look, Donny, the thing is is we all better be for America, not for a party but for our country.
MR. DEUTSCH: Thank you, sir. That's so refreshing to hear because still so many of your cohorts on the Hill are still so entrenched. I actually think some of them are kind of behind the scenes licking their paws today, unhappy at the days events. And you know, we also don't have to rehash the Rush Limbaughs of the world and some of the other hard-right side of the equation folks, but we've got to start rooting for just getting things right.
SEN. COBURN: That's right. But we also, you know, what happened on this bonus in the stimulus package and everything, that needs to be investigated because, look, that's the behind-the-scenes, dark-of- night stuff that undermines confidence in Congress. So all that needs to come out. But it doesn't matter who did it, whether a Republican did it or a Democrat did, the fact that somebody did it is undermining the strength of the Congress today and what we need to do to fix some of the problems in this country rather than jump on everybody's back because they're the recipient of it.
MS. LEE: Senator, I'm just wondering, behind the scenes, is there a discussion amongst your colleagues that perhaps this whole notion about going for these bonuses will prohibit or make banks and private-sector investors more reluctant to participate in government programs? Has that come up as a concern on both sides?
SEN. COBURN: Absolutely. And the fact that -- look, it's time for grownups. The political posturing -- we need real leadership now, and it needs to be long-term leadership, not short-term political expediency that may gain somebody a partisan advantage but doesn't, in the long run, help the country.
MR. DEUTSCH: Senator, they're making me break here. We really appreciate how busy you are and once again appreciate the kind of statesmanlike remarks. It's nice to hear somebody say, we've got to do what's right. And good for you, sir.
SEN. COBURN: Good to talk to you. Bye.