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A Doctor in the Senate: Interview with Sen. Tom Coburn (Part 2 of 2)

August 20, 2012

Accuracy in Media interviewed Sen. Coburn just days before the Supreme Court announced its decision on Obamacare. This feistiness and willingness to hit back at these journalists who just don’t “get it” has been part of the senator’s appeal.

In the interview, we focused on his new book, The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington From Bankrupting America. Coburn has led the way in calling attention to the incredible amount of waste, fraud and abuse that exists in our federal government, including the massive duplication of bureaucracies, sometimes as many as 50 or more that do virtually the same thing, and for which there is no accountability, and no metrics to measure the success or failure of the programs.

Below are the remaining excerpts from the interview the author conducted with Sen. Coburn, which also covered his views on Obamacare, and the President’s use of executive privilege to shut down the investigation into his Justice Department’s Operation Fast and Furious. You can listen to the complete interview or read the transcript here.

SENATOR COBURN: If, in fact, we have a mandate that we have only so much money to spend, you have two ways of doing it: You can let a market force allocate that, or you can have bureaucrats allocate it. So you can have this complex government organization known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board that starts deciding what they’re going to pay for things—well, when they start paying less for things than what they cost, people quit doing them. The other thing is, if they decide that you’re 70, and they’re not going to invest this money in you—so Medicare isn’t going to pay for your stints in your heart even though you’re 70 years old, because they don’t have the money to do it. That’s what’s coming under a government-controlled health care plan. We can do better than that. Every other area in our economy does better than that. The free enterprise system, with the appropriate checks and balances, can cause us to wring a lot of money out of health care, improve the quality, and decrease the overall costs of health care in this country.

SENATOR COBURN: The problem isn’t with the American public; the problem is with the elite political class that responds by furthering their own careers rather than fixing the country. Remember the other thing: Media likes to focus on a fight, rather than on the problem, and so we have coverage that’s extraordinary and flamboyant because it’s interesting when two people are fighting, or two ideas are fighting, but they never focus on what the problem is and why we need to solve it now rather than wait.

ARONOFF: You have laid out a four-point plan to get the country back on track. Why don’t you basically run that down, because I think there are some very good points in there. Let me take the first one: Reform the tax code. This is interesting—I know through your Simpson-Bowles work you’ve talked about it, lowering the tax rates across the board, getting rid of a lot of loopholes. Everyone seems to agree with that, yet at the same time, Obama and the Democrats seem determined to see the tax rates go up at the end of the year. That seems in direct conflict with the notion of tax reform, lowering the rates and so on. How do those two concepts ever mesh?

SENATOR COBURN: We have a problem with confidence in our country. We have $2.6 trillion in cash sitting in business bank accounts right now. That’s about $1.6 trillion more than we normally have, and the reason it’s there is, there’s no confidence and no certainty about the economy, or what the tax rates are going to be.

SENATOR COBURN: So if you were to lower all the rates for everybody, and limit the deductions to charitable contributions, limited, and mortgage deductions, limited, you could have rates of 8%, 12%, and 24%. That would give a jump start to our economy like you’ve never seen. You’d see that $1.6 trillion run off those books and be invested in our economy.

ARONOFF: You’re also on the Senate Judiciary Committee. [In June], President Obama invoked Executive Privilege over Operation Fast and Furious…What is your view of this Executive Privilege? Do you think this is justifiable?

SENATOR COBURN: What it looks to be is completely political. First of all, the statements that have been made thus far are that White House had nothing to do with this, and, probably, that’s true—they didn’t have any knowledge of it. But the fact that Executive Privilege was invoked means that they’re trying to delay the onset of the transparency that’s required to resolve this until after the election. So I think it’s a purely political move, I think there’s significant smoke there, and there’s probably some wrongdoing that they didn’t want to see exposed before the election. Now it’ll go to court, and will not be resolved until after the election, so what they did was put up a wall…so nobody in America can actually know what’s going on. I mean, you can’t have the Justice Department say one thing, then ten months later say, “No, that’s absolutely false. We were in error when we told you we had no knowledge of it.” They did have knowledge of it, and, probably, the problem wasn’t in that it was a wrongheaded idea and somebody made a mistake—the problems usually occur in this when people start trying to make excuses or cover up what they’ve done. That’s the problem. The wiretap information that has been available to members of Congress and the various committees actually proves that the Justice Department did know what was going on, that they issued the wiretaps and were involved in it.

ARONOFF: When we see this position by the White House on the DREAM [Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors] Act, where they decided that they’re going to allow these people from 16-30 to stay in the country and, in essence, give them at least a two-year pass, a work pass—this is after President Obama had said, on numerous occasions, that he didn’t have the power to do that…We’ve also seen this with DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act]—he seems to just make decisions that are, really, part of the legislative process. What do you see with this overreach of executive power?

SENATOR COBURN: I think the glue that holds our country together is the rule of law. If you undermine the rule of law, you do two things. One is, people lose confidence in you, because it’s obvious, especially—he has no power to issue the executive order that he did. It can’t carry the force of law, and when it comes to court, he’ll lose that, and he knows it. So he’s undermining the rule of law, and saying, “What the Congress says doesn’t matter, I’m chief executive, I don’t care what the law is, I’m going to do this.” But, more importantly, when you’ve undermined the rule of law, what you do is, you cause other people to not have confidence in the rule of law, and then they say, “Well, if the rule of law isn’t important to the head law enforcement individual in this country”—i.e., the Attorney General—“and it’s not important to the President, because he just changes it whenever he wants, I feel free, then, to not follow the rule of law myself!” That breeds anarchy. So the number one thing any President has to do is to abide by the rule of law, and create confidence in the rule of law, so the rest of us will follow it. That’s the one thing I think has given America its exceptionalism—here, more than anywhere else, maybe with the exception of England: You can count on the fact that you may not win in court, but you can have a day in court, and that laws have meaning and are enforced. We’re as close to getting perfect justice as we can—it’s not perfect, but we’re as close as any society’s ever come to doing that—and when you have the leader of our country, and his chief law enforcement officer, undermine that core principle, which was outlined by John Locke, what happens is, you undermine the foundations of our country.

SENATOR COBURN: There’s no question about it. There’s no question about it: Those [national security] leaks came from the White House. They’re quoted in press reports of high level White House people, so there’s no question about it. What you don’t know is what the motivation is. You can make an assumption that it’s all politically motivated, based on the President, but you can’t know that. But the fact is, doing that has done grave danger to our country, grave danger in terms of our ability to work with other people, put multiple lives at risk because people have violated the very principle under which you can have significant capabilities to defend our country.

SENATOR COBURN: I think that our problem is that the profession of journalism has been impeached, and has been undermined, and I think there are very few true journalists out there today who can actually present a story and you don’t know which way they’re thinking. They have the capability to do that, but they’ve lost the professionalism to do it, and editors have totally failed, in terms of how they edit stories to take out bias in the presentation. Talk radio is very similar to that, as well, and so are the talking heads on the cable news channels—all of them. I think we’ve lost a lot. I think Americans are a whole lot smarter than that. They don’t need to be told how to form opinions. They have the capability of doing that. If you present them with the facts, they’ll come to a conclusion.

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Copyright ©2012 Roger Aronoff

Roger Aronoff is the Editor of Accuracy in Media, and a member of the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi. He can be contacted at roger.aronoff@aim.org.