Mandeville, LA – Exclusive Transcript – Check out Mike’s exclusive interview with Senator Tom Coburn right here! They discuss career politicians, leadership and courage in Washington, and of course the debt and deficit. And don’t forget to look for Mr Coburns book “The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America” the next time you’re in your local bookstore!
Begin Mike Church Show Transcript
Mike: Senator Coburn, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken with you, my friend, but it’s always great. How are you?
Senator Tom Coburn: I am fine. I appreciate you having me on. I didn’t know your moniker was King Dude.
Mike: I don’t know if you’re into the whole Twitter thing. You’ll have to get the Twitter feed.
Senator Coburn: I will.
Mike: Senator Coburn, I was reading your book. I was just reflecting. Before you came on, I had reached back into my archives to a conversation you had with Neil Cavuto, many of the ones you’ve had with Neil, two years ago or so when you had proposed a budget that had $9 trillion worth of cuts in it. You were remarking to Neil, the cuts are there. We can make them. None of the cuts have made it into the budget. Is that what propels you or impels you and just drives you to say I’ve got to do more, so let me write a book called The Debt Bomb?
Senator Coburn: Well, the motivation is to try to get people to have a better base of knowledge of what we’ve done, how we got here. It’s really quite disgusting how we’ve abandoned what the Constitution says is the role of the federal government. What’s even more disgusting is the fact that we’re just falling all over ourselves in programs meant to do good things that duplicate one another. No one is looking to see if they’re effective. Half of them are there just to keep people employed in a government job instead of actually accomplishing something for the American people.
I wanted people to see what was out there, but also what’s getting ready to happen to us. We’re on an absolutely unsustainable path. If in fact we don’t make changes, the world is going to make us make changes. We’re not going to determine our destiny. That’s not the America I want. That’s not the America I grew up in. That’s not the America the founders had envisioned for us.
Mike: In the introduction to the book, you write this in how we lost control. You go back to the sage of Monticello. You go to Jefferson. “As Thomas Jefferson said, ‘The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.’” Then you write, “Jefferson, in particular, warned the real threat to democracy would be the cost and scope of government itself.” He wrote, “I consider the fortunes of our republic as depending in an eminent degree, on the extinguishment of public debt.”
Doesn’t extinguishing public debt, as Jefferson had alluded to, require eminent men? You and Senator Paul I would throw into that. I think Senator DeMint is with you as well as Senator Lee. We were just pondering whether or not Senator Toomey of Pennsylvania is in that lot. I asked Rand Paul the same question yesterday. He has informed me that he has a budget that’s coming up next week that will have something along the order of $700 billion worth of cuts that balances in five years. What do you put the chances of this happening at right now?
Senator Coburn: The chances of us actually responding positively?
Mike: Yes, sir.
Senator Coburn: Zero. It’s zero right now.
Mike: Well, he’s candid. Is it really that bad?
Senator Coburn: Yeah. The fact is that the vast majority of people in Washington are career politicians. They’re thinking, how do I get reelected? I’m not about to vote on something that could isolate or alienate anybody for my reelection campaign. That’s why you heard the farce yesterday from Kent Conrad on supposedly the Bowles-Simpson budget, which wasn’t the Bowles-Simpson budget, but we’ll do it after the election. People ought to know where we stand before the election. You ought to have the courage to stand up and say, here’s our problem. Here’s what we have to do about it. The interesting thing is, there’s not one problem in front of us we can’t solve. We just lack leadership and courage. We have a bunch of cowards in Washington that refuse to do what is necessary to secure the future for us and our kids and grandkids.
Mike: Senator Tom Coburn, the book is called The Debt Bomb: A Bold Plan to Stop Washington from Bankrupting America. Chapter One, Senator Coburn, I really liked this. This was a very enjoyable read, by the way. “Red Ink Rising,” this is how Senator Coburn’s book starts. “Our national debt is our biggest national security threat,” said Admiral Mike Mullen on June 24, 2010. Then you write, “Imagine that it started like this on August 4, 2014, in Tokyo.” Would you flesh out your, I don’t want to say fantasy, but your doomsday scenario that you’re fleshing out in “Red Ink Rising”?
Senator Coburn: I just create a false situation in which people around the world who actually own our debt — the Japanese own a trillion. The Chinese now own 1.3 trillion. There comes a point in time, just like there did for Greece, that people start making a decision as to the worthiness of our ability to repay that debt. That doesn’t come slowly; that comes abruptly. There will be one morning where the people who are the financial decision makers look at our debt and say, “I think it’s time we start moving out of it.” When somebody significant starts moving out of it, then the bond vigilantes start running. I just created a little vignette there which shows what can happen over a very short period of time to your debt.
We’ll see today what’s happening on Spain’s debt. I will tell you, if Spain has trouble selling ten-year bonds today, you’re going to see the bond vigilantes sell Spanish bonds and you’re going to see their yields go up. When the yield goes up, the cost of borrowing for us goes up. The one point I would make for your listeners, if we went back to historical interest rates right now, the cost of interest to the federal government would rise by $650 billion a year just for interest.
Mike: $650 billion?
Senator Coburn: Yeah. It’s just ten years from now that if we don’t do something major, every dollar that the federal government raises will be spent on interest, Medicare and Social Security and nothing else will happen.
Mike: Just to show the stasis, it’s almost like things are chiseled into alabaster somewhere and no one seems to have a chisel now, or a larger chisel that you can erase some of them with. I remember watching you on the floor of the United States Senate on CSPAN 2 in one of my midmorning prep sessions after the show was over. I remember you were at the lectern. You didn’t have one of those fancy posters but you had some papers in front of you. You were going through a list. Dick Durbin was on the other side. Senator Durbin was on the other side. You were going through a list of properties. You were making the point, I think it was to Durbin, that we don’t even know how many properties we own. Can we at least agree that we should have an, I think you called it an audit, so we can find out how many properties we own? Do you recall that?
Senator Coburn: Yes, I do.
Mike: Durbin actually said to you, “I would like to tell my friend from Oklahoma that I didn’t know.” Are United States senators, people that work inside the government that actually have to vote on appropriations, are they really that knowledgeless, Senator?
Senator Coburn: Yes, yes. Seventy percent of the U.S. Senate has never had a job outside of elected public office. They don’t have any real-world experience like the typical American, like the typical hardworking American. They haven’t busted with sweat and tears and scars and scabs and scuffs their way ahead. Therefore, they’re an isolated, limited view. Great people, wonderful hearts, whether they’re Democrat or Republican. They are great people, wonderful people, but they’re absolutely void of common sense, absolutely void of common sense. They couldn’t tell you what a ¼-20 bolt was. They haven’t ever changed a tire on a car. They don’t know where the dipstick is. They couldn’t tell you how to run a low-voltage wire anywhere. They probably couldn’t tell you how to plug in a TV. The fact is, they’re wonderful people, but they lack common sense and they lack real-world experience with which to apply critical thinking to the problems in front of the country.
Ask yourself why we have 209 separate programs to stimulate and incentivize science, technology, engineering and math in the United States. That’s just in the rest of government. There’s another 100 in the Defense Department. We have over 300 programs in total, with their own bureaucracies, their own federal employees, to do that. We have 120 job teacher training programs. First of all, it’s not even a role for the federal government, but we have them. Why would we have 120 even if it is our role? Why wouldn’t we have one good one? Wouldn’t we measure to see if they’re working? None of them have been measured to see if they’re effective.
We’ve got 47 job training programs, spend $18 billion a year. Not one of them has a metric on it to say is it effective. 44 out of the 47, all are duplicates of one another. Only three of them do something different. Why would we do that? It’s absolutely impossible to get a common sense answer. The reason we do it is because nobody is responsible and everybody wants to look good. The number one goal is to stay in a position of power rather than to fix the problems of the country.
Mike: Senator Tom Coburn is with us. His new book is called The Debt Bomb. Senator Coburn, when you’re in the United States Senate, there is a five-year gap between elections, although they are two years, two years and two years. So every two years, someone is always up for reelection. You would think there would be some level of comfort, “Okay, I can do this this year, Coburn, but don’t ask me two years from now because I’m up for reelection.”
Senator Coburn: Absolute cowards.
Mike: So none of that? You can’t even get that kind of?
Senator Coburn: No. When you have private conversations in the Senate now, every senator will agree we have to reform entitlements, we have to change Medicare, we have to change Social Security, we need to change the tax code to make sure we get increased growth. Everybody knows and agrees we need to flatten the rates, broaden the base. It doesn’t matter, the greatest liberal in the Senate agrees with that, that we need to do those things. When it gets ready to do it, they’re not about to do it because it affects them politically. They know we need to, but they can’t do that. It’ll alienate their base. Well, whatever happened to leadership?
One of the reasons I’ve written this book is I want America to see the real trouble we’re in. This could come in two years. We could think the Depression was a fine time. That’s how severe this could get. What America needs to know is, what are the potential problems? I believe with real leadership, no matter what our problem is, our country will come together if they are talked to like adults and explain what we need to do. Everybody will come together and make the sacrifices we need to make to put our country right. When you have politicians that refuse to be honest with the American people about what our situation is —
I recall just this weekend Tim Geithner poo-pooed some of the things I had in the book. I reminded him in a phone call in the past, and I’m going to again, that you said we weren’t going to get a debt downgrade and I was saying we were. Guess who was right? We got a debt downgrade, and we’re going to get another one. It isn’t going to be long before we’re going to be back with a ten-year bond at six percent, which means one-fifth of everything the federal government does will now be interest, which means we’re going to be cutting a whole lot of programs just on the basis of interest rates rising. Why wouldn’t we cut them now so that interest rates don’t rise and we don’t get downgraded? It’s just lack of courage and lack of vision.
Mike: We see this on a grand scale. Just a final question for Senator Tom Coburn. You can pick his book up at Amazon.com. We’ll link to it today in the transcript of this interview at MikeChurch.com. It’s called The Debt Bomb. Just a final question, just citizen to citizen. Is it possible that even though you hear — and I read in your introduction that you have hope. As my good friend Kevin Gutzman often says, “Hope springs eternal.” When you tour Oklahoma and when you go to other states, you meet grandparents. Grandparents are still invested and grandparents are saying, “It’s not the way it ought to be, leave my grandkids like this.”
What if the grandparents don’t get their way? What if the grandparents are not able to rein the wisdom on their younger generation, “If you don’t do this, calamity is to ensue”? It boggles my mind that with your efforts and with the efforts of others and headline after headline after headline, that the American public isn’t demanding this. The American public, even though they talk a good game, when it comes down to CNN saying, [mocking] “You want to eliminate that program? No, no, it probably helps somebody poor.” Isn’t it true that the politician only does what the people really want him to do, because it’s they that reelect him?
Senator Coburn: Well, my experience is different than that. When I ran for the Senate, I said I’m not going to bring one thing home to Oklahoma. People went, “What?” I said our country is in so much trouble financially, there’s no way Oklahoma can be healthy if the country isn’t healthy. When I make Oklahoma the number one goal, that means I’m not making the nation the number one goal. If the country is healthy, then there is plenty of opportunity for Oklahoma to be healthy. We’ve got it backwards. Parochialism by career politicians kills the country. When you take an oath to be a U.S. senator, it never mentions your state. You’re to represent your state but only in terms of the business of the federal government. Your job isn’t to bring port to your state. It’s to preserve freedom and liberty so your state can prosper. We’ve got it backwards. The career politicians have done that to us.
There’s a great book out there called The Tragedy of American Compassion. It’s an old book. It’s about 20 years old. It outlines how we used to help everybody in America, before the government helped everybody. Of course, the consequences of that were far greater, the cost far lower, and the long-term outcomes, in terms of individual freedom and the taking advantage of one’s potential was far greater. I tell you, we’ve got it wrong. Our founders had it right. I deny conventional wisdom today that the federal government is the answer to people who need help. The answer to people who need help is local community, local churches and state and local governments, not the federal government. We do a poor job of it, it’s highly inefficient, and what we do is we become tyrannical in keeping people dependent.
Mike: Well said, my friend. Best of luck to you, Senator.
Senator Coburn: I appreciate it, King Dude.
Mike: Senator Coburn, thank you very much.
Senator Coburn: God bless you.
Mike: God bless you, too. That’s Senator Tom Coburn.
End Mike Church Show Transcript