This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 4, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Senator Tom Coburn blasting the Defense Department over wasteful spending. He insists there are plenty of expenses to cut from the defense budget without hurting the military. For instance, $1 million to send a spaceship to another galaxy, $1.5 million to cook up a new type of beef jerky, and why spend any amount of money on a 46-minute video production called "Grill It Safe" featuring grill sergeants showing off their own recipes.
Now, we spoke with Senator Coburn a short time ago.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Coburn, nice to see you, sir.
SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: Good to see you.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK, President Obama says that the spending cuts, the automatic spending cuts, is going to be budget pain for every American. Your thought?
COBURN: Well, I think, first of all, given where we are and the situation we're in, every American's going to have to experience some pain. That's true. Now, whether this will or not, it all depends on how it's administered and whether or not we give the president the flexibility to make it as painless as possible.
VAN SUSTEREN: Is there -- I know you and I have discussed this a million times, waste in the government. Do you have any, like, choice examples tonight?
COBURN: Oh, well, look, there's so many to choose from.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, let me give you a hint. How do you like this one? I got this information from you guys -- is that we have -- that the government a 46-minute video called "Grill It Safe" featuring grill sergeants showing off their own recipes.
COBURN: Well, I'm sure somebody thought that was a good idea. You know, people don't do stupid things intentionally. They're just not unaware of one, common sense, number two, the situation we find ourselves in. I mean, we've been running trillion-dollar deficits for four years. You would think people who are making the contracts for some of these grant programs at the Defense Department or Homeland Security or Agriculture Department or many of the other departments would use a little bit of common sense on what is appropriate and what's not. But we haven't found that.
I mean, each year, we put out the -- you know, the waste book and we continue to find things that are just unbelievable, whether it's in the scientific arena or in the Defense Department or in just general government where we do things. I mean, it took last week before they finally said, We're not going to continue to add employees in the federal government. We had to send a letter to say, Well, here's what you're advertising for, you know, an adviser in the Department of Agriculture making $168,000 a year. Do you think we really need to continue to do that if we're actually hurting? Are there ways to make the pain less? And the answer is absolutely yes.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, how come nothing happens? Because you and I have had this conversations a number of times. You wrote a book about it. I've talked with other U.S. senators. Everyone says it's just terrible, the amount of waste, it's just horrible, and duplicate programs and everything, but nothing ever gets done. We have the same conversation over and over.
COBURN: Well, it's because -- well, I think it's two reasons. One is we have career politicians that are interested in getting reelected, rather than the best interests of the country. They don't mean to be that way, but that's the default position, and which implies they're not going to do anything that will put them at risk from a parochial basis or from a constituent basis.
So all these programs, even though they're wasteful, have people that are making money off of them or employed by them or they benefit somebody. So the typical career politician is wary, to say the least, to offend somebody by taking away something that's absolutely stupid, wasteful and not a priority for the federal government.
VAN SUSTEREN: That's immoral, or close to it. If that's -- if it's just to satisfy constituents and it's bad for the country...
COBURN: Well, I would just tell you that's part of the problem with our government today. I mean, that and the total, total ignoring of the enumerated powers of the Constitution, which says, Here are the defined things the federal government is supposed to do, everything under the 10th Amendment, everything else is reserved to the people in the states.
And yet it's totally ignored. You know, we -- we offer amendments when we can. It's very hard under the present leadership of the Senate, but they rarely pass.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, I -- it's not immoral to -- I don't mean to take care of your constituents. I don't mean that. But when everyone knows it's unbelievable waste -- we recently did a story where $5 billion of inappropriate unemployment benefits were paid over a year, people in jails were getting unemployment benefits while they're in jail. It's, like, nobody -- no one in Washington here seems to have, you know, a mission or a desire or a personal conviction that we ought to get our finances in order.
COBURN: Well, I think I do.
VAN SUSTEREN: You do. I concede that. But you're leaving.
COBURN: Well, it's four years, so I can create a lot of trouble between now and then. But you know, it's not just the $5 billion you mentioned. The child tax credit, where there's at least $13 billion a year, inappropriately paid out for people that either don't have children or aren't legal citizens, or you know, there's 13 -- I mean, the way you get rid of trillion-dollar deficits, Greta, is a billion dollars at a time.
We spend a billion dollars a year on advertising, promoting the federal government. That ought to stop tomorrow. There ought to be no advertising contracts, and every advertising contract we have ought to be canceled other than ad cancel. You know, things that promote health and benefits that are done through free mechanisms -- I mean, that's the way you do it.
And here's the real problem. The average American's income now, family income, is about where it was in 1989. That's where we find ourselves after five years or seven years of this terrible recession we've been in. And yet the federal government acts like we haven't been there at all because we're 89 percent bigger than what we were in 2001.
So we continue to grow, and every American family out there is making tough choices. Even the ones making pretty good incomes are now having to start making some tough choices. And this is just the beginning if we don't change things in Washington.
So the question is, is -- the problem is, is who's here. And we have career politicians. They mean well. They're great people. They have compassionate hearts. But they lack courage.
VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.
COBURN: You're welcome.