OTR Interviews

Can the 'Gang of Six' Be a Gang on Uniters on the Debt Debate?

Sen. Tom Coburn discusses the 'Gang of Six' reunion and his plan in the debt ceiling debate


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 19, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you hear the other big news today? Republican Senator Tom Coburn is back. He just re-upped with the "Gang of Six" senators. Now, he ditched them in May, but now he is back with the "Gang." And hours ago, the "Gang" announced a new debt plan. But here's the hitch. Yesterday, Senator Coburn unveiled his own plan. And then there's Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's plan. So which one of these plans is a sure fix? We asked Republican senator Tom Coburn.


VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, nice to see you, sir.

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: Good to see you.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Senator, yesterday, the headlines were you had a $9 trillion plan. Today you've joined -- rejoined, I should say, the "Gang of Six," which is something less than $3.7 trillion. Can you tell me the difference between the two plans?

COBURN: Yes, about $5.3 trillion.

VAN SUSTEREN: I actually figured that...

COBURN: That's a...

VAN SUSTEREN: I knew as soon as I asked you, I was in trouble. But I mean, what...

COBURN: One fixes our complete problem. One actually gets us out of trouble as a country. The other moves us in the direction there. If you want us to be able to truly borrow money at the best rates of anybody in the world and you want to put our economy back where it needs to be, with a vibrant job-creating economy, then you would do this $9 trillion. That gets us out of the risk of default, gets us back growing, solves the problems, takes away the shackles we've put on our kids and grandkids.

But realistically, I wasn't going to get but maybe 10 or 12 votes for that. So what is that we could do that starts us down the process, that sends the signal to the international financial community that we understand we have a serious problem, we're trying to start fixing it?

VAN SUSTEREN: Here's the problem with the fix, the $3.7 trillion that you think can pass, as opposed to your $9 trillion plan that you say could fix the problem, is that let's say that it passed now. A year from now, couldn't Congress get together and the president and change things?

COBURN: Yes, but very difficult because the plan requires 67 votes to do that. I mean, with 67 votes, you always can change anything. You can change the Constitution, you can do anything with 67 votes. But 67 votes would be required to change it to spend more money, top change the cap. You could always change things. That's why, you know, my ideal thing would be "cut, cap and balance." We have a balanced budget amendment, now we're locked in forever. We have to live within the same confines that every other American and every other state, with the exception of one, has to live.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why isn't there an appetite to fix it once and for all? Because the American people are struggling. We realize even the -- the financial community is uncertain. Everybody's uncertain. The "cut, cap and balance" is one way to fix it permanently. We had the debt commission, the president's debt commission, the Bowles-Simpson. That was supposedly to fix it. Your $9 trillion is supposed to fix it. And now we're back to $3.7 trillion, and the "Gang of Six," which is just to sort of keep things going.

COBURN: Well, I think there's a deficit of courage and this dual-mindedness that people want to do what's best for the country as long as they can continue to do what's best for their political career. But when you put those two at opposition, and what happens is careers tend to win out. I mean, I can't say it any more frankly than that, and that's human nature. I understand it. But it's a shame.

And that's why republics die. You know, my whole goal would be that we would cheat history, that we would not go the way of every other republic in the world, which is get out of control on your fiscal matters and lose it. And that's why we need to get back to the $9 trillion.

But the fact is, is we have a significant thing coming up August 2nd. And we need to be about seeing -- about fixing that, or at least limiting the pain that the country going to have right now so that we can actually fix it later.

VAN SUSTEREN: How is it different, though, from, for instance, Senator McConnell one that got criticism from within his party -- he wanted to do a three-stage process, which was sort of kicking the can down the road is the phrase that's been used -- I mean, the "Gang of Six" is not a fix, it just sort of postpones...

COBURN: Oh, yes, but it's totally different than what Senator McConnell wants to do. Senator McConnell wants to -- no -- you know, wants to give the spending increases and allow the president, with a third of each body, to control that. And that is an answer. If that's what we have to get to, that's what we'll have to get to, if that's the only option we have, because we really can't let the country default.

I don't think we would default, particularly. But the politics around that are big. But this is significant. This -- $3.7 trillion is well over 40 percent of the way you have to get there to solve our problems. And the fact that you can do that in a bipartisan way shows the American people there is some common sense up here, there is some ability to give and take, and it starts us down the road.

The other side of your question is, is what would keep us from not changing that? We're going to have to change it because this is just 40 percent of the way. We're going to have to get the other 60 percent. So we're -- we're not going to be able to go back because the pressure's going to be us, like you see the pressure on Greece. It's not going to lighten up, it's going to get heavier.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you say that with the "Gang of Six" proposal, the $3.7 trillion, that the reason why we don't do the permanent fix is because of the lack of political courage. That's very disheartening, I think, to most of the American people to think that the people we sent to Washington lack the political courage to make the decisions that we really need to face at this time.

COBURN: Well, I think -- think about what I put in the $9 trillion dollars. You know, it's significant changes in the Pentagon, significant changes in terms of military -- retired military health care, significant changes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. Social Security money stays over on the other side, but it actually fixes it. You know, how many people up here are going to embrace what I think we need to do? Not many. That's the problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it just your opposing political party, or is it people within your own party?

COBURN: No, no. This -- it's a bipartisan problem. You know, look, one of the reasons I'm a term-limited member of Senate, self-imposed term limits, is because it gives me the ability to do what's right, not what is politically expedient. I'm -- you know, I'm not running for election again. I'm going to do what's best for the country, not what's best for Tom Coburn, not what's best for the Republican Party. I'm going to do what I think is best for the country.

And I think you have a lot of people who want to do that and at times do do that. But there's also a lot of times when we don't stand up and do what we need to because we're thinking about that next election and the interest groups that support us.

And the other interesting thing is, is the "Gang of Six" deal can be defeated if you let all the special interests that don't want anything to happen, happen. So what we have to have is we need people to stand up and say, We're going to fix it. The "gang of six" is better than nothing.

I'd rather have a $9 trillion solution. We can do that. That has a trillion dollars worth of new revenues to the federal government that come from eliminating tax expenditures and tax credits. So you know, I've looked at all areas of that, and I say, Here -- as a doctor, here's my prescription for fixing what's wrong with our country today, and it would. It'd actually lower our debt in 2021 to where it'd be about $12 trillion.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it going to pass?

COBURN: The "Gang of Six" or mine?

VAN SUSTEREN: "Gang of Six."

COBURN: I think it has -- the only thing I know that has real potential right now. So my hope would be yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, thank you, sir.

COBURN: You're welcome. Good to talk with you.