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MSNBC "Interview With Senator Tom Coburn" - Transcript


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MS. BREWER: Oklahoma Republican senator and fiscal hawk Tom Coburn says the economic stimulus bill represents one of the most egregious acts of generational theft in our nation's history. Watch this.

SEN. COBURN: (From video clip.) It's a virus. It's the virus that we have that says you don't have to worry about what it costs in the long run; you don't have to target it; you don't have to be efficient; you don't have to look at programs and make sure that they're working; you don't have to have metrics. And now, because the states are in trouble, we're going to absorb a portion of the problems that the states have because they haven't been fiscally prudent. And we're going to say, "We're going to bail you out." (End video clip.)

MR. WATSON: Now, President Obama says that the economic stimulus plan will actually put millions back to work, but some Republicans, like Senator Coburn, say it's a bailout buffet of unnecessary spending. Senator Coburn joins us live from Capitol Hill.

Senator, good to see you.

SEN. COBURN: Good to see you, Carlos.

MR. WATSON: Now, Senator, talk to me about the stimulus bill, which right now ranges anywhere from 800 to 900 billion (dollars). If you were architecting the bill, how big would it be?

SEN. COBURN: Well, I don't know. The most efficient use of money is not here in Washington but rather with the individual American consumer. And I know that it's not necessarily politically viable to say, but our bill right now sits at about $940 billion in the Senate, and we're not through with it yet. But I'm wondering how much we lose in terms of efficiency when we have the government doing this rather than individuals.

MR. WATSON: So Senator Coburn -- but that actually leads to my question, and frankly, some of the critique that you hear that Republicans -- be it you, be it John McCain, be it others who are long-time public servants -- are making a critique but aren't offering an alternative.

SEN. COBURN: Oh, sure, we did. We offered an alternative yesterday for $404 billion. We're trying to help take care of those who, through no fault of their own, have lost their jobs. There's food stamps in it, a prolongation of unemployment benefits and --

MS. BREWER: But -- but --

SEN. COBURN: -- targeted -- targeted expenditures that are going to create real jobs.

MS. BREWER: But Senator, I -- today, Paul Krugman has an op-ed in The New York Times that says the American economy's on the edge of catastrophe and much of the Republican party is trying to push it over the edge. More specifically --

SEN. COBURN: I just -- I -- that's just absolutely unfair. Every one of us want (sic) to do what's right in the long run for this country. Look --

MS. BREWER: Let me -- okay -- let me -- more --

SEN. COBURN: -- all the economists --

MS. BREWER: Senator -- excuse me -- one second --

SEN. COBURN: -- all the economists agree that -- that if in fact we don't fix housing and don't fix liquidity, you can throw $10 trillion into this economy and it isn't going to do anything.

MS. BREWER: More specifically, aimed at you individually, Steven Pearlstein writes in the New York Times today, quote, "Coburn complains that of the 3 million jobs to be saved or created, one in five will be government jobs. In Oklahoma," he writes, "one in five workers is employed by the government." Why are government jobs bad jobs when it comes to stimulating the economy?

SEN. COBURN: They're not bad. They're just not as stimulatory, because they don't produce any wealth. If we're going to create jobs, we ought to create jobs that actually create more wealth. Look, the only way we get out of this is real economic growth. There is no economic growth with a government job. So he either knows nothing about economics, or he's very confused.

MR. WATSON: And -- and -- and --

SEN. COBURN: A government job does not produce economic wealth.

MR. WATSON: And Senator, be clear: You're including in that, for example, doctors who work for the government. You're including increased military jobs. You're saying none of those create additional wealth?

SEN. COBURN: No, they don't.

And the other point that I would make: Look, it ought to be about priorities. If we really want to stimulate jobs, then we ought to be doing things that are going to actually produce something in the future that we need anyway. Like, we have 233,000 bridges that are falling down in this country.


SEN. COBURN: Why haven't we directed much more to that? A lot of that we can do now.

MS. BREWER: Then why aren't we hearing Republicans push for that? Because what we hear is "tax cuts." But we just had an -- a big report from the civil engineers that said we need $2 trillion in order to bring our infrastructure up to par. And boy, I'll tell you, if you're standing at the Minneapolis bridge collapse, it's obvious.

SEN. COBURN: That's -- well, it's obvious, but you also had a Congress that wouldn't get rid of their earmarks to pay to fix bridges.

MS. BREWER: Right.

SEN. COBURN: So there's an institutional problem here. I admit to that.

But the -- look. Every family -- you just talked about the couple that lost their job.

MS. BREWER: Right.

SEN. COBURN: They're going to have to make choices right now, aren't they? They're going to make priorities. They're going to say what we're going to spend it on -- what is most valuable and what is least.

What we've tried to do is to say let's make it where we get the most value for the American. We're going to -- American child. We're going to borrow a trillion dollars from our grandkids, and if we're not great stewards with that, we will owe them the most -- aggrandizement apology ever in history.

MS. BREWER: It's true. It creates a big chasm in the future generation. Senator, thank you so much for your time today.

SEN. COBURN: You're welcome. Thank you.

MR. WATSON: Thank you, Senator. Have a great weekend.

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