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Joining us now is Oklahoma Republican senator Tom Coburn, a member of
the Simpson-Bowles Commission of the finance committee and author of "The
Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America."
Senator, thank you very much for being here.
COBURN: Good to be with you, Ezra.
KLEIN: Now, you`re a conservative guy.
You`ve got conservative constituents in Oklahoma. What do they say about your attitude towards Norquist`s pledge?
COBURNK: It`s a nonfactor, just some constructive criticism. I think
it`s totally overblown by the press. We agree that the government
shouldn`t grow. We want the lowest tax rates we can have. We don`t want
to raise taxes on anybody.
But, you know, Pat Toomey put forward in the super committee, the
Simpson Bowles had me and Senator Crapo and Senator Gregg on it. We voted
for reforming the tax code which would raise revenues. We had 33 senators
vote to eliminate the ethanol blending tax credit.
It`s overblown. We want to fix the problems in the country and we`re
willing to have increase revenues for the government. And what we -- our
problem with the Grover tax pledge is he randomly picks what he decides is
a tax increase. I would tell you that eliminating tax credits and tax
gimmicks and loopholes is eliminating spending. It`s not raising taxes.
KLEIN: Well, I think this is actually an important point, right? So,
the tax code has these things called tax expenditures. They give people
money to help buy a house. They give oil companies money. They give money
for ethanol, and millions of other things. And they are bigger than
Medicare. They are huge. It`s more than a trillion dollars according to
Tax Policy Center.
Now, Alan Greenspan says he should be considering spending. And
Donald Marron, who`s a Republican and one of the heads of the Tax Policy
Center, says they should be consider spending.
So, do you consider them spending? Or are they just spending as parts
of the tax code?
COBURN: I do.
KLEIN: And one thing then that can be hard to figure out, because
given -- there`s been many Republicans, almost all of them who are
currently served in Congress, who have signed the pledge is, it is just
then a negotiating position? I mean, you mention that behind closed doors
and Simpson-Bowles in the super committee, there have been to varying
degrees willingness on the side of Republicans to raise taxes above where
they are now in part of a large deficit deal.
So, then how -- if it`s overblown, why -- how should people take of
the fact that so many Republicans have signed it?
COBURN: Well, I`m not sure. In the heat of the campaign, I would
tell you, Indiana, Grover had any bearing in Indiana. It was all -- most
of it was about repealing the Affordable Care Act, not about taxes. It was
about not spending money that we didn`t have on things we don`t absolutely
And so, what I would say is the reason we`re stuck on senator isn`t
Grover. The reason we`re stuck on center is we haven`t heard from the
administration what they`re willing to give in terms of entitlement reform,
saving Medicare, saving Social Security and what can we do to reform the
tax code so the revenues to the government actually come up.
They are historically too low. Most people agree with that. The
point is, you know, what we have is tremendous advantage. This last week,
the flood insurance bill that I held up in the Senate, why did I hold it
up? Because it`s got a billion dollars worth of subsidies for flood
insurance for people second and vacation homes on the coast.
Should hard working American factory workers and service workers pay
and subsidize somebody`s second vacation home flood insurance? That`s
spending in the tax code. According to Grover, if you eliminate that
subsidy, you`re raising taxes.
KLEIN: You`re a member of the fiscal commission and of the gang of
six. Both of which were productive, both of which came out to some degree
with bills. So, let me ask you about the Democratic side of this, too.
When you and your fellow Republicans get together with Democrats
behind closed doors, is there more agreement than people just watching what
happens in public in Washington?
COBURN: By far, Ezra. When we all get together and talk and the
cameras aren`t rolling and the press isn`t there, everybody knows we`re
going to have to do a lot of changes to Medicare. Everybody knows we have
to reform Social Security to make it sustainable in the long run.
The question is, is how do you get the mix of change in the
entitlement programs and the reform and the tax code? Nobody said it
shouldn`t be progressive and how do we make sure someone on Social Security
has enough money to survive if that`s their own source of income? How do
we do those things and where is the bargain?
And we`re going to get there, because the rest of the world is not
going to loan us the money. The question is: why aren`t we doing it now
rather than piddle around from the politics of today.
KLEIN: Senator Tom Coburn, a member of the Simpson-Bowles commission,
Oklahoma senator, and author of "The Debt Bomb," which I have is very good.
And you guys should all take a look at it -- thank you very much.
COBURN: All right. Ezra, good to see you.
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