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reason: What was the role of the Republican Party under George Bush and with a Republican Congress in pulling apart expenditures from revenue?
Coburn: Both parties have equally participated in abandoning the limited role of the federal government. You lay on top of that the careerism of politicians who want to do things so they can get reelected and what you have is a catalyst, which makes that even go faster.
Our problems today are two-fold: We spent money we didn’t have on things we don’t absolutely need, which refers back to the enumerated powers listed in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution.
reason: Talk a little bit about that.
Coburn: Well, we’ve spent $2 trillion on education at the federal level, with no improvement. There’s no parameter you can find where we’re better off. Job training programs, we spent $18 billion to almost $19 billion a year. [The Government Accountability Office] says they all of them do exactly the same thing except three. Why do we have 90-some teacher training programs? Where in the world do we get the authority to have teacher training programs run by the federal government? We spend several billion dollars a year on those. And you can just go through the list.
reason: Do you think when people see these long lists of programs and how much we’re spending on them and how generally useless or even unknown they are, are people going to respond “We gotta get rid of these” or are they going to say “I gotta get in on that gravy train”?
Coburn: I believe the vast majority of Americans have common sense. It’s only Washington that doesn’t have common sense. The reason things don’t change is that you keep sending the same people here. And the same people are good people but they’re politicians.
reason: Do you think legally prescribed term limits are a way to go for that?
Coburn: No, I think the way to do it is for individuals to say, “I will not vote for you unless you put a certified statement out saying ‘I’m limiting my term.’ ”
reason: You showed up in D.C. as part of the Republican Revolution in 1994, but you term-limited yourself out of the House of Representatives in 2000. You came back as a senator and you’ve term-limited yourself again.
Coburn: Yes, and I’ll be gone in four years, thank goodness.
reason: A Republican budget passed by the House projects that in 10 years we’ll take spending from about $3.8 trillion to $4.9 trillion. The Democratic budget, or at least Barack Obama’s, would take that to about $5.9 trillion. Do you feel like Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are really addressing serious questions?
Coburn: I think there’s a political calculation for all of them. I was dead serious when I said we can take $9 trillion out over the next 10 years.
reason: Now you’ve taken a huge amount of heat from the right side of the political spectrum for putting revenue increases on the table in terms of discussing how we fix the debt problem.
Coburn: I don’t have any problem taking on this issue. Our historical average in terms of revenues has been around 18 percent. Doesn’t matter what the tax rate is, you’re not going to get much higher than that, maybe 19, 19.1. If you have a 70 percent tax rate or a 20 percent tax rate, you’re not going get it because people are going to avoid taxes. They’re not going to evade them, they’re going to avoid them.