Sen. Coburn on whether Congress is making progress on VA deal

Pressure mounting on lawmakers to finalize a deal to help vets


This is a rush transcript from "Your World," July 9, 2014. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: To lots of vets in trouble, pressure mounting on Congress to fix this mess and soon. But are they getting any closer? It doesn't look that way.

But this guy would know better than I.

Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn, he sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Conference Committee.

Senator, what do you think the under and over on first getting hearings started on this VA choice?

SEN. TOM COBURN, R-OKLA.: The conference committee on VA is meeting.

There was a Republican meeting today. And, by the way, I'm not on the Veterans Committee. I just know a whole lot of -- I trained in the VA Health Center, and I also know a little bit about health care.


CAVUTO: But you are on the conference committee.

COBURN: I am on the conference committee.

CAVUTO: OK. I apologize. Sorry.

COBURN: And it's working.

Our problem deals more with the Congressional Budget Office and the lack of realistic score that were getting from them. The score they're giving us is more than we spend entire in a year on the vets that we're serving now. So it's not anywhere close to accurate.

And that's the problem when you have people making decisions that aren't actually knowledgeable in the field. So we're hoping that they will listen to some of the explanations and some of the costs on the data that we do have from the VA on...


CAVUTO: Well, when you say the costs, now, what has been proposed, I'm told, sir, is another $54 billion to the VA...


CAVUTO: ... on top of the $158 billion they get now.


CAVUTO: Is that wrong?

COBURN: Look, that's what -- that's what they're scoring it at.

CAVUTO: I see.

COBURN: And I can tell you, as an accountant and a doctor, that is absolutely ludicrous, and I won't vote for any bill that adds another dollar to the VA that isn't offset with -- somewhere within the government.

So, we...


CAVUTO: And I think you have said in the past that money isn't the issue, that it's the...

COBURN: It's not.

CAVUTO: ... competence of some of the people there.

COBURN: No, it's not.

CAVUTO: So, in the meantime, this happens. It continues to happen. I don't mean to jump on you, Senator, but is there anything that can be done in the interim to go ahead, get McDonald in there, let him go ahead and bang some heads, fire some people, deal with the repercussions later? Because to wade through the labyrinth of what administratively can do could take forever.

COBURN: I agree with you. It -- it -- I'm going to be meeting with him. I look forward to that meeting.

The fact is, is, if you don't give him the authority to handle the accountability and then -- and the responsibility he is going to have, he is not going to be successful. Remember, the White House said there was a corrosive culture in the VA in middle management.

Those people can't be fired. And unless we give him the authority to terminate those people who are associated with that corrosive culture, you are not going to solve anything. And so we can put anybody at the head of VA.

If you don't give him the tools with which to effectively manage the VA, they are not going to solve the problem. So, the VA budget has increased 60 percent over the last four years. The problem is absolutely not money. The problem is accountability, efficiency and hard work.

CAVUTO: You probably are aware, Senator, Sarah Palin and a number of other prominent Republicans have said, enough is enough. It's not so much suing the White House over these type of actions or inactions. Sarah Palin says, impeach him.

Where do you stand on that?

COBURN: Well, I think Sarah Palin is wrong.

I think, look, this isn't the time for us to go into that exercise. What we have to do is concentrate on jobs, fixing health care now that it's been totally screwed up and the costs have been raised for every family by 2,500 bucks a year in this country on average, and look at our foreign policy.

Let's not derail further into a battle over partisan differences. Are there things I'm not happy that the president has done? Yes. Are there things that I think are questionable? Yes. And now is not the time to have that. I think that's ridiculous.

CAVUTO: But you did say some -- to paraphrasing here -- that is he emotionally detached. You personally like him, but that you think that he's somewhat detached.

COBURN: Well...

CAVUTO: Is that still the case?

COBURN: ... I didn't -- I don't think those were my words.

I think what I said was is that he does not deal greatly in terms of building the relationships that are necessary to get people to do things that they -- he would like him to do that will move the country forward.

But, beyond that...

CAVUTO: So, not enough meetings at the White House, not enough of the Reagan-Tip O'Neill type of thing, right?

COBURN: Well, how about -- how about personal relationships...

CAVUTO: All right.

COBURN: ... and building those relationships?

But more importantly is solving the big problems in front of our country. Look, we still haven't touched Medicare. We haven't touched Social Security. They're coming down like a hammer on us. Social Security disability will be out of money next year.


Senator, thank you. Thank you for clarifying all of the above.

COBURN: You bet. See you.

CAVUTO: Senator Tom Coburn.

COBURN: Take care.

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