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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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COOPER: Sharing that view that a tax increase is all but inevitable, a growing number of House and Senate Republicans, including Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn.

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COOPER: Senator Coburn joins us now.

Senator, you've said the tax rates are going up on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans, no matter what it sounds. And it sounds like more and more Republicans are coming around to your way of thinking. I understand you've been talking to Republican colleagues about supporting this, while insisting also on spending cuts, particularly in the area of entitlement spending. What level of support right now is there among your colleagues for a deal like that?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Actually, what you heard isn't accurate. I haven't been pushing this at all with my colleagues. My colleagues will make a decision based on what they want. So I -- you know, I'm not trying to lead on this effort.

Mine is just a realistic assessment. The law is such that it is that tax rates are going to go up. The question is will we keep them from going up on everybody? Or will we keep them from going up on everybody except those above $250,000? That's the law. COOPER: So just for accuracy -- accuracy's sake, you're not going around trying to rally supporters to that?

COBURN: Not at all, not at all.

COOPER: You're not having conversations with your colleagues about that?

COBURN: No.

COOPER: OK. You say you prefer rate hikes to capping deductions. Why is that?

COBURN: Well, just simply because you can lower them again in the future. There isn't an economist in this country that thinks raising taxes is actually going to help our economy grow. And, you know, you have a quote that we're going to get somewhere around $70 billion a year out of this. But we're never going to get 70 billion out of it, because people are going to change their behaviors.

And so we're going to get much less than that. And that change in behavior will be less capital flow into job creation. So it's a negative thing to do. I understand the politics of it, but it's a negative thing to do.

COOPER: For you, does any deal include -- have to include cuts or reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security?

COBURN: Well, why wouldn't we want to fix the real problems in front of our country? I mean, there is no deal.

Look, the fiscal cliff is kind of a misnomer. I know that's what we talk -- we went off the fiscal cliff a long time ago when we started spending -- when we doubled the size of the government in the last 11 years and when we gave increased benefits in Medicare without creating the tax revenue source to pay for it.

So the question is, is not Medicare, Social Security. Why would you not just address the real issues that are facing our country and the very things that are going to cripple us if we don't address them?

And saving Medicare, guaranteeing that benefit to people in the future ought to be important. We have three million people. They're going to go into Medicare. And three million the next, and three million the next.

COOPER: At this point, what kind of leverage do you think Republicans really have to -- to force a deal, get a deal?

COBURN: I don't know. I think, again, that's Washington speak for politics, rather than policy. Again, I think we ought to raise it another notch up. Shouldn't we be having the president of the United States with the leaders of both houses of Congress come together and say what are the real problems, both in the short and long term facing our country? Should we not be about addressing those? Should we not be about decreasing the massive growth of the federal government in areas that aren't making any difference and the GAO has $200 billion a year of that?

COOPER: So why isn't that happening? That sounds rational and that sounds reasonable.

COBURN: There's no leadership in Washington either at the presidential level or the leadership level in Congress.

COOPER: Simple as that?

COBURN: I don't know of another explanation, other than people to stand up and say, "I think our country is worth saving." And playing politics for the short-term political gain may help you in the short run, but in the long run it does tremendous damage to our country. It does tremendous damage to the confidence of government in our country, and it does tremendous damage to those that we want to have confidence in, who are going to loan us the next trillion dollars this next year.

COOPER: Then -- I guess my question then is, why aren't you trying to convince your colleagues to come around to see it the way you do? Because you said there's no leadership on Capitol Hill.

COBURN: It doesn't matter what I think about the details. What does matter is about the process and the policy. What I would tell you is people are playing to the media rather than playing to the future of the country.

The thing that's unique about our country is we've cheated history several times. You know, we've been at very low points. I'm not sure we're going to cheat history this time. Because I think the short-term political gain seems to be more important for the politicians than the long-term future of our country. And to me that's very disturbing, and to me I smell a hint or an odor of us ultimately failing because we don't have quality leadership.

COOPER: Senator Coburn, appreciate you being on. Thank you.

COBURN: You bet, Anderson.

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