Tom Coburn
Tom Coburn
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
ISBN: 0785262202
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
—from the publisher's website

In Breach of Trust, former U.S. Congressman Tom A. Coburn explores how Washington resists critical reform by co-opting the men and women who seek to change the system.

Tom A. Coburn, a congressional maverick who kept his promise to serve three terms and then leave Washington, offers a candid look at the inner workings of Congress—why the system changes politicians instead of vice versa. Breach of Trust shows readers, through shocking behind-the-scenes stories, why Washington resists the reform our country desperately needs and how they can make wise, informed decisions about current and future political issues and candidates. This honest and critical look at “business as usual” in Congress reveals how and why elected representatives are quickly seduced into becoming career politicians who won’t push for change. Along the way, Coburn offers readers realistic ideas for how to make a difference.

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TRANSCRIPT
Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders Into Insiders
Program Air Date: November 23, 2003

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Dr. Tom Coburn, author of "Breach of Trust," six years in Congress -- what did you think of it?
TOM COBURN, AUTHOR, "BREACH OF TRUST": Pretty frustrating. Pretty frustrating.
LAMB: Why?
COBURN: Because what is said versus what is done is two different things. And being a political novice, I had a lot to see that was different than what I thought and I think very much different than what the general American public thinks.
LAMB: When did you leave Congress?
COBURN: January of 2001.
LAMB: Why did you leave Congress?
COBURN: When I ran, I committed to term limits. The people of Oklahoma had overwhelmingly voted that in. I agreed with it, concurred with it and honored that pledge.
LAMB: Where`s your district? Or where was your district?
COBURN: Second district of Oklahoma. It was the northeastern quarter of Oklahoma, with the exception of Tulsa.
LAMB: And what`s your home?
COBURN: My home is Muskogee, Oklahoma. There`s a song about it.
LAMB: And how did you get into Congress in the first place?
COBURN: Just was frustrated at what I saw and felt that people other than people -- long-term, political people ought to be involved in the process and decided to run.
LAMB: What were you doing at the time?
COBURN: Practicing medicine full-time.
LAMB: What kind of medicine?
COBURN: Family practice and obstetrics. Delivered about -- almost 4,000 babies now.
LAMB: Since what year?
COBURN: Started -- actually started delivering babies in 1983, so 20 years.
LAMB: And you grew up in what town?
COBURN: Muskogee, Oklahoma.
LAMB: Where were you born?
COBURN: Casper (ph), Wyoming.
LAMB: How did you get from Casper to Muskogee?
COBURN: My father had worked for a company named American Optical and had left them and opened a wholesale optical laboratory in Casper and then had an invention and decided to move back. He was originally from Oklahoma, and moved back to Oklahoma to build that piece of equipment.
LAMB: But there was a Virginia component in all this.
COBURN: I had a business. I went to work after I graduated from school the first time. I have a business degree and...
LAMB: From where?
COBURN: From Oklahoma State University, and graduated from there in 1970 and went -- and moved to Petersburg, Virginia, and started an ophthalmic lens factory, making glass and plastic ophthalmic lenses.
LAMB: What was the year that you got your cancer?
COBURN: Well, actually, I`ve had two. The first year was 1976 or 1977, I guess. Been a long time.
LAMB: What kind was it?
COBURN: It was melanoma. And had a complete recovery from that.
LAMB: What was that impact on you? How old were you at the time?
COBURN: I think I was 26, 27. It had a big impact on my life. It changed my perspective. I looked at my business and what I wanted to do with my life differently, and actually, eventually led me into going into medicine. I got interested in interocular lenses -- we were the first people to make those in this country -- and got so enthused, I thought I wanted to be an ophthalmologist. And then when I found out you could do everything, I didn`t want to be an ophthalmologist anymore. I wanted to do everything. And so I`m really just an old-time GP, practicing in a wonderful little town of 38,000 people. And I have four partners, and we just -- we have a wonderful time caring for people.
LAMB: When did you get your second cancer?
COBURN: Last spring.
LAMB: What kind?
COBURN: Colon cancer.
LAMB: What did they do about it?
COBURN: Surgery and chemotherapy.
LAMB: And the impact on you this time?
COBURN: Just reaffirmed my values that -- take one day at a time, don`t worry. There`s an intention in every hurdle you face in life, and the outcome will be what it`ll be.
LAMB: Is it harder or easier, in your opinion, for a doctor to deal with this kind of thing?
COBURN: I don`t think either way. I think it all depends on your faith and how you see yourself aligned with eternity and a creator. And I think that has the greatest amount of impact on how you deal with it.
LAMB: One of the things you talk often in the book about is your faith, and a group that used to meet every Tuesday night when you were in the Congress. What was that all about?
COBURN: It was a group of six guys that decided that we would commit ourselves to knocking out one night, every Tuesday night, nothing else took preference over that, except maybe a vote in the House, and that we would get together and eat and we`d study the teachings of Jesus.
LAMB: Who was in the group?
COBURN: Zack Womp (ph), Bart Stupak, John Baldacci, Steve Largent and myself.
LAMB: How many of those folks are still in Congress?
COBURN: And Mike Doyle. Mike Doyle, Bart Stupak and Zack Womp.
LAMB: Why did the rest leave?
COBURN: Well, Steve Largent left because he was term-limited, but he also decided to run for governor. John Baldacci was term-limited, and he ran for governor of Maine and is the governor of Maine. And myself.
LAMB: John Kasich, who used to be the budget chairman, from Ohio, congressman, no longer there -- quote -- this is his quote. You quote him in the book. "Don`t trust what anyone says in Washington because more often than not, a political calculation will undermine their commitment."
COBURN: Yes.
LAMB: Why`d you quote that?
COBURN: Because it`s a truism. Unfortunately, most of the time in Washington, the political decision takes place over the ethical or moral dilemma that is faced.
LAMB: Did you expect it to be something else?
COBURN: Yes, I did. Actually, that was told the first week I got to Congress. I was -- you run around -- when you first get into Congress, you`re asked to try to find out what committee you want to be on, and you go talk to people. And I had admired John, having watched him on C-Span quite a bit. And so I went to him, and that was his advice. And actually, it was some of the best advice I got.
LAMB: How many others that you ran into over time, don`t say it publicly, felt that way privately?
COBURN: Oh, I think most people on the Hill are pretty realistic about that. They realize that a political calculation oftentimes will take precedence.
LAMB: So what happens when you get elected and you come here? What`s the -- what were the first kind of things that you remember happening to you?
COBURN: Well, I think first is education about the system. They do a good job of presenting the system, the rules which you have to operate under, in terms of outlining it. And when I came in in `94, there was this great kind of momentum with the Republicans the first time in power and the fact that we had a list of 10 things that we for sure wanted to do and...
LAMB: That was the "contract."
COBURN: That was the "contract," and the momentum behind that was exhilarating. We did the vast majority of those things, and they happened, and they`re -- good things came about as a result of that. The problem is, is it wasn`t continued.
LAMB: When were you -- can you remember the first time you were disappointed?
COBURN: Yes, when they arranged the term limit votes so that everybody could have a vote for term lilts, but they engineered for sure that it wouldn`t pass.
LAMB: How`d they do that?
COBURN: They did a procedure called "Queen of the Hill," where you have to have a majority of votes for the bill to pass, but you get three options so everybody can vote for one of three options and say they voted for term limits, whether it`s six years, eight years, twelve years, but not one of them has enough votes to pass.
LAMB: Do they know they`re doing that?
COBURN: Oh, sure. Sure.
LAMB: Do they tell you they`re doing that? I mean, I say "they"...
COBURN: Well, they don`t say -- well, the leadership is the one that puts votes on the floor. And you know, I remember having kind of just some trepidation when I heard Dick Armey say that maybe we don`t need term limits, now that Republicans are in control. And so I kind of -- you know, I had a little suspicion something was coming, based on that statement.
LAMB: What did you do about it?
COBURN: Wasn`t much to do about it. We -- you know, then we didn`t have much knowledge. This was very early in our career. We didn`t know much, in terms of parliamentary maneuvers or ways to defeat that. We learned very quickly, though, most of what was soon to become known as "the rebels," the class of 1994, learned how to maneuver the parliamentary procedures to change things.
LAMB: You name names in this book of people that bothered you or irritated you or frustrated you. Did you think long and hard about that, or was that easy for you?
COBURN: Well, the purpose wasn`t to name names so much as to describe a scenario so people could get a feeling for what was going on. You know, I didn`t name near the names that I could name in terms of disappointments or political expediency that I saw that sacrificed long-term benefits for the country. But I named the names not to injure people, because most of the people that I name I actually have a lot of respect for, but also recognize that we`re all human. And in a political calculation, if you add that into the humanness, oftentimes, what happens is not in the best interest of our country.
LAMB: Let me ask it this way. If you weren`t a doctor or in a profession outside of this area that`s independent of this town -- for instance, 165 or so members left the Congress and are now down on K Street, lobbying -- do you think a lobbyist in this town could write this book and still live to be successful?
COBURN: Well, I don`t think a -- I don`t think a lobbyist would write that book and expose what`s going on in Washington and ever hope to be an effective lobbyist.
LAMB: Why?
COBURN: Because they would feel that the trust would not be there to expose themselves. The dependency -- lobbying serves a purpose here. It has both very good qualities but also some very poor qualities. And you can`t blame people for lobbying because the government touches almost every aspect of everybody`s life in this country.
LAMB: Bob Novak, the columnist, wrote the introduction. Why, do you think?
COBURN: Well, I don`t know. I had interviewed Bob a couple of times during my career in Congress. I think he realizes that, most of the time, I did not choose political expediency. I rather chose what I thought was a principled position. And even though it cost me, I took it. And I think that`s a benefit of a citizen-based legislator, somebody that doesn`t have a career designed to go further and somebody that doesn`t have the past career of knowing how to wrangle politically. I don`t think you have to do that to be an effective legislator.
LAMB: Near the end of his foreword, he says, "Maybe Tom Coburn should run for president. It still seems like a good idea," he says. Any chance that that would ever happen?
COBURN: I don`t think that that`s for me. You know, I -- couple of things I think. I think the country really needs courageous, visionary leadership about the issues that I talk about in the book. That`s not to say we don`t have -- with both President Clinton and President Bush, that we`ve had some in their areas. But I make decisions in my life based on what I think I`m supposed to do, not on what I want to do. And there`s a very big difference in that, in terms of feeling settled with yourself and your relationship to your creator. And you know, if I felt that I was supposed to do that, at some time I might consider it. But I`ve been married 35 years. I`d like to stay married, and I think that that would -- that`s a very hard thing on a marriage, to try to even to attempt that. And plus, I`m not sure I`m qualified to do that. I`m a good doctor. I`m not sure that I`d make a good president.
LAMB: You say that you`ve known your wife for over 45 years.
COBURN: Yes, I have. I went to school with her from the 2nd grade, from 7 years of age.
LAMB: And how many children do you have?
COBURN: I have three daughters and three grandchildren and one on the way.
LAMB: How old are the daughters, and where are they?
COBURN: One daughter is in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her husband`s an attorney there. And she has three children, and she`s 35. One daughter is in Memphis, Tennessee, has no children and has gone back to school to become a nurse, working on her nursing degree. And one daughter lives in New York City.
LAMB: And you became a doctor at 35.
COBURN: I became a doctor at 35. That`s right. When I graduated.
LAMB: The woodshed -- you mention the woodshed. What is it? And were you ever taken to it?
COBURN: Sure. The woodshed is the leadership of both parties bringing members in who either are not following the party line or feel that they won`t follow the party line, and putting the pressure on them to get them to do something to accomplish a leadership goal.
LAMB: Give us an example when you were taken to the woodshed.
COBURN: Oh, lots of times.
LAMB: And by who?
COBURN: Dick Armey -- when we voted against the rule to pass increased funding for the committees. You know, we...
LAMB: Explain that.
COBURN: One of the points of the "Contract With America" was that we would trim committee spending.
LAMB: By a third.
COBURN: By a third. We did that. Then all of a sudden, the political calculation came in as, How do we go after Bill Clinton with the Government Oversight Committee? So we got to have more money. And so what they did is, all the committee chairmen said, Well, if you`re going to give him more money, you got to give us more money. So they put a bill on the floor to increase funding. And 13 of us said, No, that`s not what we told the American public. And so that was the -- the ultimate experience was everybody being pulled into a conference and Newt telling us how we let the team down. And then through the book, I tell the story about how he lost that battle, just in terms of principle and argument, as we stood up and told why we wouldn`t vote for it.
LAMB: And under what circumstances? I know our cameras weren`t there, weren`t allowed there. What was the -- what was the...
COBURN: There was a mandatory meeting of the conference to chastise those members who took down a rule of the majority, which would allow a bill to come to the floor to increase the spending, which we knew, if it came to the floor, was going to pass. And so we decided that, first of all, that`s not what we told the American public. If we were wrong about what we told the American public, we need to go tell them that first, before we turn around and increase the spending of running Congress. And so it was a principled position that wasn`t about trying to defeat our leadership. It was about keeping our word and the faith with the American people.
LAMB: So what happened in that room? And how did things change?
COBURN: What happened in that room is, basically, we were chastised. And then the argument was lost by the Speaker as we got up and spoke, and actually, the vast majority of the conference ended up agreeing the people who brought down the rule. And the agreement was, is that they wouldn`t increase committee spending and that they`d work a way to just increase the spending in the one area that they felt they needed oversight.
LAMB: Who were some others that were on your side?
COBURN: Oh, Matt Sammon (ph), Steve Largent.
LAMB: Matt Sammon`s gone.
COBURN: Matt Sammon`s gone. Steve Largent`s gone.
LAMB: Mark Sanford?
COBURN: Mark Sanford.
LAMB: Gone.
COBURN: Gone. Lindsey Graham.
LAMB: Gone.
COBURN: To the Senate.
LAMB: Mark Sanford is governor of South Carolina.
COBURN: He`s governor of South Carolina. Several others. I can`t recall exactly. I think I list them in the book, but I can`t recall at this time.
LAMB: So after -- what year was this?
COBURN: Oh, gosh, maybe `98, `99.
LAMB: And Newt Gingrich is gone and Dick Armey`s gone, so...
COBURN: Well, Newt -- yes, they`re gone. That whole leadership team, with the exception of Tom Delay, is gone.
LAMB: So what happened to you then after this, after you had challenged the leadership, after you challenged Speaker Gingrich?
COBURN: Not much. And the reason not much could happen is because they knew I wasn`t a careerist, knew I wasn`t coming back after my third term. There`s not a whole lot you can do. I mean, what do you do? And that`s one of the benefits of citizen legislators is if you`re not thinking about the next election but you`re thinking about what is right and wrong, then the perspective changes. And so the retribution -- there wasn`t much retribution. You know, that`s one thing I would give them credit for, is, you know, first of all, they recognized there`s not much you can do, but even if there is, they didn`t try to do it.
LAMB: Is there a difference in the way you would think, if you`re a doctor again -- independence -- you can go back and practice any time you want to -- and if you`re a lawyer and your whole world reinvolves around maybe even representing people before the Congress, and you`re term-limited, like you said you were going to be term-limited -- did most people, by the way, that said they were going to only serve for three terms do it, or did some...
COBURN: No, the vast majority did it. I think there was only two that did not. One was a Democrat and one was a Republican, as far as the class of `94 that came in, that I`m aware of. One was George Nethercutt, who ran against the former speaker of the House on that very issue, and the other was, I think, Martin Meehan from Massachusetts.
LAMB: So...
COBURN: And I may be wrong on that. It was somebody from Massachusetts.
LAMB: Did you feel an independence from the beginning, that, say, some of the others hadn`t or didn`t?
COBURN: I think there is. I think there`s two points to that. One is that you`re term-limited. You know you`re not going to achieve a certain status. You`re not going to be a committee chairman. So you make the effort that you can to do what you can, as a position as just a simply voting member. I think the other thing is, is that the fact you have another job means that you`re not dependent on this job. And that`s a part of the key to what I think our Founders` vision was, is I don`t think they ever had an idea that somebody would become dependent on being an elected representative and that their livelihood would depend on that. And we`ve evolved into this careerism-type process, where even if they haven`t been career here, they`ve been career before they got here, whether it be a school board or city councilman or mayor or state representative or state senator or assemblyman or assemblywoman. You know, what we see is a group of people that have, I believe, a very limited perspective, in terms of what else is out there, because they`ve been in this area only and don`t see that. That`s my opinion, but I think if you asked the average voter, if you sat up and said, What do you think they know about this, versus their life experience, I think that`s different.
LAMB: How big did you win by in your district?
COBURN: My district was almost 80 percent Democrat and the first time I won 51 percent.
LAMB: Who did you beat?
COBURN: I beat Virgil Cooper, who was a wonderful man. He had defeated a 16-year incumbent, Mike Siner (ph). And Virgil is -- was -- actually has -- as far as Oklahoma values, is probably more conservative than I am, running as a Democrat.
LAMB: So how`d you beat him?
COBURN: Just -- I think, just simply I delivered a lot of babies, and that helped. You know, I was very well known throughout my district because of all of the families I`d impacted and touched through my ability to be there for women who were giving childbirth.
LAMB: It appears that you wanted to keep delivering babies when you were in Congress, and this ran into some trouble for you.
COBURN: Yes, it did. You can`t be a physician and then quit being a physician and then go back and be a physician after a six-year hiatus. You lose your skills. You lose your ability. You can`t keep up. And I still think the rules in the House are ludicrous, that people should not be prohibited from having another profession while they work in Congress. First of all, it will encourage them to go back into that profession and get out of Congress. It`ll encourage more people to participate in the process. And it also will keep their ear to the ground, in terms of real perspective of what`s really going on.
LAMB: So what happened when you wanted to...
COBURN: Well, the House... (CROSSTALK)
COBURN: Initially, when I came to Congress, I wrote a letter to the House Ethics Committee, told them that I wanted to practice medicine, didn`t have any problem. I had to stay under the income guidelines that the House has, that you can`t make over $20,000 a year in any type way, shape or form. And I did that. Most of the medicine I practiced while I was in Congress was free medicine, or enough to cover my expenses. Never made more than that. And then all of a sudden, when I kind of started rattling the bushes on some of these other issues, the Ethics Committee changed and said that it`s a conflict of interest to deliver babies and practice medicine because you actually have a breach of trust there, that people would come to you as a doctor because you were the congressman, which I found just totally ludicrous.
LAMB: When did the ethics issue pop up?
COBURN: In 1998, I believe, the real problem with it.
LAMB: And you`d been in since `95.
COBURN: Been in since `95.
LAMB: Do you know who did it?
COBURN: No.
LAMB: You have no idea?
COBURN: No.
LAMB: Somebody go to the Ethics Committee and start this process?
COBURN: Well, I -- you know, I don`t know how it happened.
LAMB: How did you get notified that...
COBURN: I was just notified that you`re breaking -- or we`ve decided that the doctor-patient relationship is a fiduciary relationship. You can`t have that if you`re a member of Congress. And I just said, OK, you guys figure it out. I`m either going to practice medicine and be in Congress, or I`m going to practice medicine. And so you know, I basically challenged the Ethics Committee on that. (CROSSTALK)
COBURN: I mean, they even had a rule I couldn`t have my name on a building. I couldn`t have a prescription pad that had my name on it because I was a congressman. I mean, it was just totally -- it`s what you would expect of a bureaucrat that is totally disconnected with any sense of reality. And I challenged it and said, This can`t be right.
LAMB: What`s the difference between that and spending a considerable amount of your time as an incumbent, raising money, traveling all over to fundraisers and all that, I mean, devoting yourself to the constant process -- and they all -- all members say that. We have to devote a third of our time...
COBURN: See, I disagree with that. I don`t agree with that. I think that we are so short on leadership in this country, in terms of the career politicians -- I didn`t spend my time doing that. And I didn`t go to every parade that was there. I did a lot of talking in the evenings, and I did a lot of town hall meetings, tons of town hall meetings on weekends. But I think people want people who are real and aren`t interested in money as much as they`re interested in process and principle. And I think that`s why I got reelected twice in a very Democratic district is -- they didn`t necessarily agree with all my positions, but they knew I would talk straight about them and that I wasn`t interested in a long-term career. And so therefore -- I think by that, you`re more trustworthy, is you don`t -- and the other thing is, even if you do, I think people will vote for you without all the money, if they think that they can trust you. And the whole political thing has so changed. I mean, we`ve gerrymandered all these districts now, to where so many of the incumbents are totally protected, that you really don`t have a choice anymore in a district. If you`re unhappy and you live in an 80 percent gerrymandered, district, you can`t change the incumbent, even if you`re on his party or her party. We`ve totally eliminated this process of choice, and that`s one of the reasons I wrote the book. I quote in there Robert Byrd, who said, If the American public really knew what we were doing, they`d throw us all out. And I -- part of the reason I wrote the book is I want the American public to see what`s actually happening in Congress doesn`t have anything -- they have no clue about. The fact that they write rules and then break their own rules, that they don`t follow what they say on budgets, that they don`t do what they tell the American people that they`re doing, and that`s leadership on down.
LAMB: If you`re out in America, far away from Washington, can you figure out what`s going on here, from your perspective, once you`re...
COBURN: No. It`s hard.
LAMB: Why?
COBURN: Can we? Can... (CROSSTALK)
COBURN: ... or can the American public?
LAMB: In other words, how much interest is there outside of Washington, D.C., and how much is going on that they can`t figure out?
COBURN: I think there`s a lot of interest, and I think there`s a lot they can`t figure out because it`s not coming across. And I`ll give an example. I think every week, there ought to be in every newspaper in every community in this country, Here`s what the congressmen said when they were running, here`s the votes this week, here`s how they match up, all right? Here`s what the votes do. And here`s what the congressman says about the votes, all right? Let them put their spin on it, but at least show, Here`s what they said. Here`s their campaign literature. Here`s what they said, and here`s the quote, and here`s what they`re actually doing, because I think there`s a big disconnect between what they say and what they do. And I was guilty of it some, too. And I allude to that in the book, that I made a lot of mistakes that I regret, in terms of votes that I made.
LAMB: What`s the biggest mistake you made?
COBURN: Voting probably to reopen the government.
LAMB: When?
COBURN: The last time, `95.
LAMB: The government shutdown.
COBURN: The government was shut down. We opened it up for a period of time, shut it back down, and then we opened it again.
LAMB: Why`d you do that?
COBURN: You know, just total frustration because we -- I knew we were going to lose, and I just said, OK, it`s over. But it was the wrong thing to do. I was -- we lost all ability to have any control over spending after that time. And consequently, if you look in the book, it`s just skyrocketed.
LAMB: At the time, why did the speaker, Speaker Gingrich, and others, the leadership, lead you in that direction?
COBURN: Why`d they open it back up?
LAMB: Yes.
COBURN: Because Bob Dole was running for president, and he didn`t want the Congress shut down as he took off on -- so he opened the Senate back up, and it was over. As soon as he collapsed, our leadership collapsed.
LAMB: Why would they do that?
COBURN: Well, I think it`s pure political expediency. Bob Dole was looking at running for president, and that was not good for his campaign. And I think that, you know, he had to be off and campaigning, and it was hurting him.
LAMB: But the House doesn`t always go along with the Senate.
COBURN: No, but we didn`t -- basically, our leadership collapsed behind it. And you know, if you read some of the inside talks from the Clinton administration, we were very close to winning that battle. You know, and that brings things to mind, just in this last cycle, is that Congress has increased spending almost 5.8 percent outside of homeland defense and defense, and yet inflation is under 2 percent. We`re increasing spending three times the rate of which inflation is, and we have a deficit of $380 billion last year, and we`re going to have $500 billion this next year. And what does -- who`s -- where`s that coming from? That`s coming from the standard of living of our grandchildren and our children. That`s where it`s coming from.
LAMB: When you talk to your neighbors now that live in Muskogee, Oklahoma, how much do they pay attention to all of this? How much do they care about this? How much interest do they have in this? How many of them vote?
COBURN: Well, a vast majority of my neighbors vote, I`d say. I`d say the interest is not one of apathy but one of frustration, and they have trouble getting the information because it`s not readily available. I mean...
LAMB: What isn`t available?
COBURN: Well, how many headline stories have seen that government spending is up 5.8 percent this year and inflation is only 2 percent, excluding homeland security and defense? You haven`t seen it. So the question is, is why is the government increasing spending at three times the rate of inflation, when the rest of us are struggling and we have this mounting federal debt that we`re paying 17 percent of every dollar that goes in the federal government for interest, and our children are going to have to pay it back? And they`re facing Social Security and a Medicare system that`s going to totally bankrupt this nation. Hasn`t been fixed, isn`t going to be fixed, actually is being made worse right now by the Medicare drug problem. And the questions ought to be asked, why?
LAMB: Do you still consider yourself a Republican?
COBURN: Yes. But I`m basically a fiscal conservative populist before I`m a Republican.
LAMB: If you had to vote today, would you vote for George Bush?
COBURN: Yes, I would. Yes, I would. There`s a lot of things I disagree with him on, but I think his moral principles that he`s trying to lead from are right.
LAMB: Do you blame him at all for the increase in federal spending?
COBURN: Absolutely. The only thing he has to do is say, I`m not -- It`s going back to you, boys. We`re going to toe the line.
LAMB: But if you say that`s the biggest problem we have, why would you vote to continue with somebody who you say...
COBURN: Because the alternative is far worse.
LAMB: So it`s just a question of alternative.
COBURN: Yes. It`s the same -- we have the same dilemma in the presidential populations that we have in our House races because we don`t get but two choices, and you choose the lesser of the problems. You know, I think George Bush has led. I think he think he has not been as courageous as he should be, in terms of confronting the Congress. If you read his budget messages, they`re courageous, but his veto pen hasn`t come out, and it needs to. He needs to veto -- he needs to veto almost every appropriation that`s coming through Congress right now, except the Defense Department and homeland security, and say, Go back and do it again, and no increase in spending except in those areas. And if you -- if there`s areas that need to be increased in spending, there`s plenty of waste other places where you can cut it, find it. And when you find it, I`ll sign it.
LAMB: But you have a Senate that`s under Republican control. You have a House that`s under Republican control. You have a White House that`s under Republican control. Will it ever get any better than that? And if you can`t do it now, when could you do it?
COBURN: Well, I think to assume that the Senate is under Republican control is really a misnomer because those Senate rules are so out of whack. You got to have 60 votes to do anything in the Senate. So unless you have 60 Republican senators that`ll vote with the leadership, you don`t have Senate control -- Republican control of the Senate. But again, I think the problem is not Republicans or Democrats. I think the problem is people who`ve been here too long, who have a perspective. You know, I`ll never forget, we have a brand new conservatory, botanical gardens here. And that was one of the big fights I tried to control the spending on. When it started, it was going to be a $3 million process. It ended being, like, a $40 million deal, which I knew from the start. You know, they`re going to piecemeal this deal, and it`s not ever going to be efficient. It`s not going to be done in a conservative -- and there`s no concern that we just spent $40 million on something, when we don`t have the money to spend. We`re building a visitors` center for the Capitol, and we have a $380 billion budget. How come we`re spending that right now? Social Security will be totally kaput in 2027. In 2016, we are going to start taking money from the general fund for Social Security to go into the fund that Social Security -- to start paying back the money we`ve been stealing from it. Medicare looks like it`s going to be 2006. When you start taking $150, 200 billion for those programs out of the general fund, they are going to have to find places to cut. And so the question is, if we`re going to have to do it now, why don`t we reform those programs now so that our children aren`t hand strapped. The Social Security trustees report says that the payroll taxes are going to have to approximate 30 percent. Well, if they`re 11 percent now, counting the employer and employee share, that`s 19 percent we`re going to take out of disposable income of Americans? What`s going to happen to our economy? What`s going to happen to our credit rating? What`s going -- you think that generation isn`t going to rebel against that?
LAMB: You think your friends and neighbors have any idea about this?
COBURN: Yeah. Well, that`s one of the reasons for the book.
LAMB: Have you had any of your former colleagues read your book and react to it?
COBURN: Yeah. I think, most -- the ones that have talked to me about it have been positive.
LAMB: Let me go back to the criticism you have, not of the Democrats but of the Republicans. Early on in the book there`s a quote from Trent Lott, who said that when -- I don`t have the quote in front of me, but come talk to me after this 2000 election, then we`ll worry about good government.
COBURN: Yeah, he said basically I have an election coming up in 2000. After that, we can have good government. That was his quote. And that`s not Republican or Democrat. That`s careerism. That`s saying that the next election is more important than what`s good for the health of this country and the long-term health of this country. Congress has become short-term thinkers. And it`s election cycle thinkers. How do I get reelected? And what Congress needs to be thinking is about our grandchildren and our children and how do we not -- how do we make sure that they have the opportunities that we`ve had? How do we make sure that we preserve the freedoms that we`ve had and how do we make sure that the economic opportunities for them are preserved?
LAMB: Can -- can you buy votes?
COBURN: I think so.
LAMB: How does it work?
COBURN: I think the biggest place where you buy votes is probably the appropriations process. How do I get my program funded and how do you make sure the transportation, I guarantee you, that`s one. You know, when you have this whole process of people who don`t have election challenges, raising money for their pack so they can influence other members of Congress and I`ll give money to your reelection cycle if you`ll vote with me on this deal, you know. Yeah, I think the whole way we campaign in this country -- and I have a campaign finance law that I think is constitutional that will work. And that is, only people in the state you live can vote for you and give money. If they don`t live in your state, they can`t give you any money. Because when you`re elected to Congress, you represent your entire state, and that ought to be where your conflict of interest is, with your state, not with anybody else. And I think we ought to eliminate campaign contributions from anybody outside of your state. And if we did that, then at least when there`s a conflict, it will be at the local level, whereas, you know, there can be some benefits out of that. Right now, you can`t chase the money because there`s no instant notification of where the money is coming from.
LAMB: Let me go back to Republicans that you criticize. You quote Bill Thomas, the chairman of Ways and Means Committee as saying, "There`s nothing you can teach me about medicine," and he`s talking to you and a couple of other members who are doctors.
COBURN: Nothing we can teach him about Medicare.
LAMB: I mean, about Medicare, I`m sorry.
COBURN: Right. And that`s just the arrogance of being in power for a long time and being up here.
LAMB: What`s wrong with Medicare? As a doctor, what`s wrong? Give us a couple of examples.
COBURN: Wrong incentives. It`s incentives to over (ph) your loss. Way too many rules, which eliminate efficiency. Abuse and fraud by physicians and providers.
LAMB: Give us an example of abuse.
COBURN: Abuse. You put somebody in the hospital and you have earful of partners consult him while they`re in. One is a neurologist, one is a cardiologist, one is a pulmonologist. You don`t need it, but you do it anyhow so they can combine and save the patient.
LAMB: Have you ever done that with your partners?
COBURN: No, I don`t do that. We`re general practice doctors. But I see it done all the time.
LAMB: Give us another example.
COBURN: Ordering tests that don`t need to be done.
LAMB: On purpose?
COBURN: Well, maybe not on purpose, but because the tort situation is such what it is in this country, we are ordering tests to protect the hindsight rather than what`s best for the patient. And, you know, it may be -- you can maybe understand why, but it`s still not good medicine. As a matter of fact, University of Indiana did a study, probably $30 billion a year right now in health care costs are associated with tests that are not needed.
LAMB: What would you do differently as a doctor if Medicare did not exist? And you take Medicare?
COBURN: Yes, I do, take Medicare.
LAMB: Is that an issue with you?
COBURN: It`s not with me, but it is with my patients, because fewer and fewer doctors are taking Medicare, because of the reimbursement and the hassles. The hassles of Medicare are so great for our hospitals and our physicians that you can even have adequate reimbursement and a lot of physicians wouldn`t take it. Because we`ve so bureaucratized medicine that you`re afraid -- and the threats and warnings are so great that people are trying to side step you. We`re dancing all the time to try to stay away out of trouble with the Medicare rules.
LAMB: I`m not sure this can -- a fair question, but if you, as a doctor, you take a patient, you take a woman who is having a child, how much total money will Medicare end up paying if it`s a normal birth?
COBURN: Well, Medicare doesn`t pay for pregnancy, because it`s...
LAMB: Too young.
COBURN: Too young. And they actually do under people that are disabled and they pay about $1,100 for nine months of care, delivery and everything.
LAMB: $1,100.
COBURN: Yeah. Yeah. I`ve actually taken care of some disabled patients who were Medicare patients.
LAMB: So, what would it cost if you`re -- just coming to you, your practice, what`s the cost?
COBURN: About $2,500.
LAMB: So, it`s less than half.
COBURN: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
LAMB: Is that the same with other kinds of medicine?
COBURN: Yes. Yes. Yes.
LAMB: Another member of Congress, former speaker Gingrich, you say he talked a lot about listening. But...
COBURN: Well, he had a saying on his wall, "Listen, learn, help and lead." And that`s a great -- that`s a great saying. Listen first, learn, help him, and then lead on what you think. And I don`t want to -- he`s one of the most brilliant men I`ve ever met in my life, very great thinker. But, you know, we all have areas that are strengths and areas that are weaknesses, and I think his strength is as a visionary and idea man, but it`s not as a leader of a bunch of people.
LAMB: Didn`t you try to move him out of there?
COBURN: Yes, I did, I sure did. (CROSSTALK)
COBURN: The coup, I attempted it once. We weren`t successful, and then at the next election cycle we were.
LAMB: What year was the first attempt?
COBURN: Let`s see -- he lost his speakership in `98, I believe. In `97 I think it was.
LAMB: So, how did you do it? Give us some sense...
COBURN: Well, there was -- actually, it wasn`t just us. All of the leadership other than him were meeting, figuring out what do they do about leadership. And -- and the rebels were kind of, you know, we`ve had it. This is not where we want to go. We`re not interested in complaining about riding on the back of an airplane. We`re interested in getting back to doing what we came here to do, which was a Contract with America, trimming government, making it more efficient, and actually meeting people`s needs and not having a layer of bureaucracy in between.
LAMB: But did you as rebels meet?
COBURN: Yes, we did.
LAMB: Did you meet on a regular basis?
COBURN: We -- well, not formally, but we did informally. And we had several meetings, and then we had one final meeting, when we were actually planning to do it. And I actually -- the fact that it didn`t come about is because people found out that our choice for the replacement speaker was going to be Bill Paxton (ph) and not Dick Armey.
LAMB: Is that why Bill Paxton (ph) left?
COBURN: Yes. Well, I don`t know what Bill Paxton (ph) left. You would have to ask him, but I think that`s one of the factors in his leaving.
LAMB: So, how were you going to do it?
COBURN: It`s called call of the chair, and there`s a parliamentary maneuver for you have to -- you have enough -- you know, we had a slim majority anyway, and if you -- if you...
LAMB: So what was the difference?
COBURN: The difference I think was seven or eight votes at that time.
LAMB: So you only needed ...
COBURN: ... only needed eight or nine votes to oust him as speaker.
LAMB: Did you threaten to vote for the other side?
COBURN: No, we would not have done that. But if you -- if you don`t vote for him, if he doesn`t get the majority, then he can`t be speaker.
LAMB: Why did you want Speaker Gingrich out?
COBURN: Because we felt the time -- we felt, first of all, betrayed that he didn`t live to the intent that we promised the American public. And it`s probably -- it`s not a fair -- probably not a fair criticism. I think he dealt with some very tough times, but again, we were -- we were fairly new to the process, too, and felt like -- felt like you ought to do what you said you`re going to do, and we kind of felt he wasn`t. And I think the spending issues is when you tell the American public one thing and then turn around and do something different, that -- first of all -- that -- that speaks of not being honest with the American public.
LAMB: So we assume because you have a long dedication page and you name a lot of people, that John Shadegg, Mark Sanford, Mark Sodder, Matt Salmon, Walter Jones, Lindsey Graham, Sue Myrick, Gil Gurknecht, they`re all part of this?
COBURN: Yeah. Most all of them, I think, were, yeah.
LAMB: Was it -- I don`t know what the word is, scary to try to go after the speaker?
COBURN: No. Because, you know, it`s -- and I think that`s the difference is what can happen to us? I mean, not going to be on a committee? I`m only going to be here two more years anyway.
LAMB: But that`s not everybody, though.
COBURN: No, but it`s the vast majority that feel that way. In other words, it`s OK. They`re willing to risk loss personally to do what is right, and that`s one of the things that`s lacking in our present day Senate and House, is it`s got to be about the country and not about the politicians.
LAMB: But do you have any real hope that that will ever happen?
COBURN: Yeah, I do. I think, it`s -- I really believe that the American people really know what`s happening in the Congress today and in the Senate, and they really know all the shenanigans, and they really know the -- the peddling of influence, if they really knew that, I think they`d turn out the incumbents in a moment. The fact is ...
LAMB: How are they going to find out?
COBURN: Well, writing books, doing interviews like this. I`m doing radio shows as much as I can. One of my crusades the rest of my life is to make sure people understand that what you think you know you don`t know about how Congress operates, and that it`s time for it to be a very clear, the Venetian blind needs to be raised, there needs to be sunlight on Congress all the time. You know, you don`t pass a bill that the report language isn`t written on, so that the politicians can manipulate the bill after Congress has passed it. That`s not democracy, all right. That happens all the time up here. And that needs to stop, and people need to know it`s happening, and they need to know that if they`re robbing their children`s future because that`s happening.
LAMB: Go back to the coup. The second time around...
COBURN: The second time around all we did was say, you know, you`re going to be running for speaker and we`re not voting for you.
LAMB: But in the middle of all of this, at one of these two attempts, there was an issue with Dick Armey.
COBURN: Well, the issue with Dick Armey was the fact that he disavowed any knowledge of what was going on.
LAMB: Did he have knowledge?
COBURN: Absolutely.
LAMB: How do you know?
COBURN: Because I had personal meetings with him that I relate to in the book.
LAMB: Was this the first or the second attempt?
COBURN: First time. The second time there wasn`t actually a coup. We just -- Newt decided not to run for speaker because he knew he wouldn`t have the votes. So the first time was -- was we had met with various members of leadership. They knew we were -- we were serious about it. They were serious about it. They were actually meeting outside of him, all of the rest of the leadership were meeting together to figure out how do we change leadership. But they had a certain -- they had a planned succession and we had a different planned succession, and the reason it wasn`t successful is the leadership`s plan for succession was different than ours.
LAMB: Why does Dick Armey have a different version of what happened than you do?
COBURN: Oh, I don`t know. I guess...
LAMB: Have you two talked about this since?
COBURN: No. No.
LAMB: Bad feelings over this thing?
COBURN: I don`t have any bad feelings. I have a lot of admiration for Dick Armey. He is a brilliant guy. And actually, all you have to do is look at his first four years in Congress and his last year in Congress, and he reverted back to what he was the last year, because he knew he was leaving. And that makes my point about citizen legislator term limits. Once the long-term guy gets close to the end and they know they`re leaving, all of the sudden the issues become important again. And Dick Armey is a great man, but he`s human. So am I. We all make mistakes, and I think that`s -- you know, the fact is you cover your tracks. And I think he was covering his tracks.
LAMB: What`s your sense of why Newt Gingrich found himself in the position he was in in the end, after he had used the whole system to get to where he was in the first place?
COBURN: Well, I think a couple of things. One, I think Newt had some pretty tough press that wasn`t real accurate.
LAMB: Unfair?
COBURN: Unbalanced, maybe not -- maybe not unfair but not balanced. You know, when you hit a guy for the same thing 100,000 times, and then the next time there`s something, you hit him again and you hit it disproportionately, I think that`s unfair to him. And I think the second thing is I think the real reason is when we didn`t stand up to the spending, I think those of us who came here to make a difference lost our confidence. When we could see that he wasn`t interested in trimming government spending and reforming the government so that the Americans had an opportunity for a future.
LAMB: How will we know if this system breaks?
COBURN: It`s broken.
LAMB: And I mean, really breaks.
COBURN: Well, you are going to see it in 2006, with the cost of Medicare. Especially if they pass this present Medicare drug benefit, you`re going to see a ...
LAMB: By the time this airs it may have passed.
COBURN: Right. Might have passed. You`re going to see a crunch in dollars for programs outside of Social Security, Medicare and defense.
LAMB: Well, let me stop you there. You said you`d vote for George Bush. George Bush has been pushing expenditure of $400 billion for prescription -- and you`re saying that`s going to break the system, and I go back to the question I asked earlier, why would you still support him?
COBURN: Well, I -- first of all, I think number one is the system is already broken, I think.
LAMB: All right.
COBURN: I think the American people are going to start really feeling it when we start taking general revenue funds to pay back Social Security and pay back Medicare. I think that`s a pure political calculation in terms of running for president, and it makes me sick. I`m sorry they`re doing it. I think it`s a wrong reason to do it. Now, the question that the American public ought to ask is, why are they fixing the wrong problem? The problem is is prescription drugs in this country cost 40 percent more than anywhere else in the world, and American consumers subsidize drugs for everybody else in the world. So, we ought to be fixing that problem, not adding a major new benefit. Because if prescription drugs were 40 percent less here, we wouldn`t have the demand for prescription drug benefit that we have. We have seniors who have to decide between supper and a pill, and that`s because of greed, lack of competition and collusion in the drug industry.
LAMB: Go back to this whole business of former members of Congress lobbying. Did you ever get a call from a former member you knew?
COBURN: Sure.
LAMB: Did you take the call?
COBURN: Sure.
LAMB: Would you always take the call from a former member?
COBURN: We had a policy -- I took a call from all lobbyists. My policy in my office was if you`re going to lobby on one side, I want to know who is on the other side, because if you`re going to tell me this, I will want to hear the other side. And so, if we let somebody in to talk about one side of the issue, we`d let somebody in to talk about the other side of the issue. And that`s all -- on all issues other than what I consider the acute social issues of the day, which I had already told my district here`s where I stand on.
LAMB: What`s the impact of former members being able to come to the gym, come to the dining room?
COBURN: It`s the club.
LAMB: Come to the floor?
COBURN: There`s a club.
LAMB: But then go out and lobby.
COBURN: Yeah. They`re friends. I mean, you know, there really is -- there really are good friendships that develop in Congress that are above and beyond this political fray that we talk about. And I think that`s there. I believe that most members of Congress can tell the difference between doing a favor for somebody and hearing somebody`s point of view on something.
LAMB: Do you ever get a sense that the Congress is over -- looking over their shoulder, that some day they`ll want to go downtown and get a job?
COBURN: Oh, I think there`s a lot of members that are looking that way. You can obviously see that I would never get a job on K Street because I`m not politically correct within the context of how politics are run in Washington. But I think, yeah, a lot of people look at that.
LAMB: Our viewers, and this is -- we`re about 25 years old as a network, and over the 25 years, there is a suspicion on the part of some people that call this network on our call-in shows that there`s a special medical benefit that goes to members of Congress, that they have far better benefits, far better retirement, far better, you know, coverage. Is that true?
COBURN: Their medical coverage is not better. They do have access, as members of Congress, to the Naval hospital here if they have an acute illness.
LAMB: Are drugs free?
COBURN: No. No. The benefits that are -- that are outside what everybody else has is the retirement program and their thrift savings program.
LAMB: How good is the retirement program?
COBURN: It`s better than most people would ever have.
LAMB: But how does it work?
COBURN: It`s based on years of service. You`re eligible after five and a half years of service to take it, then you have a retirement based on the number of years of service and your average income at 60 years or 65 years of age. I didn`t know that, because I refused all benefits when I came to Congress. I took no benefit, no life insurance, no health insurance, no nothing. I took nothing from Congress, because I didn`t want to feel that I had an obligation here or was taking something that my constituency didn`t have. But the health benefits are not excessive.
LAMB: So, on a retirement basis, you don`t even know at this point what you`d be getting?
COBURN: I had to sign a disclaimer when I first came saying I did not want -- and I had to sign that I would never get any benefit from Congress. And I signed that. But I know -- you know, probably at five and a half -- I served six years, and in four years I could probably draw $4,000 a month, which is ludicrous, $48,000 a year for six years of service.
LAMB: You write in the last chapter about "Faith: the Internal Check and Balance," and you bring up some things that happened to you when you were in Congress that you obviously I guess are not very proud of. I don`t know what word to put on it. But tell the story about "Schindler`s List."
COBURN: Well, "Schindler`s List" is probably the one mistake I made practicing medicine at the same time being in Congress, because I didn`t look at a press release. "Schindler`s List" is a wonderful movie everybody ought to see, but it`s not a movie that ought to be run at 7:00 on Sunday night in Oklahoma without parents being able to have their children shield (ph) it. And I felt ABC ran that to break new ground in terms of exposure...
LAMB: You mean NBC?
COBURN: NBC, yeah. In terms of exposure, to break a new ground, and they did, and they knew it. And they knew nobody would challenge it. And so, how I said what I said was wrong. And I didn`t actually read the press release. It was way too harsh and way too tense.
LAMB: What happened?
COBURN: There was an uproar. I mean, totally I was just totally beat up.
LAMB: Why? Who by -- or by whom?
COBURN: Leadership. The Jewish community. Radio show hosts, talk show hosts. You know, just everybody came down on me, except a few Jewish rabies who said I was right. But the problem with it was not what I said, it was how I said it. And you know, I had seen it before, and my wife and I enjoyed it thoroughly and thought it was great, very well done and something that needed to be shared, but didn`t have good judgment in terms of I should have -- I should have read the press release before it was issued.
LAMB: Well, that`s one thing I wanted to ask you about. Did your press-secretary write the press release and you didn`t pay any attention to it?
COBURN: Well, I actually scanned it in between patients, but I didn`t sit down and said now, wait, this is an issue that`s dear to the heart of a lot of people, how do you write this in a way that makes sure you communicates what you`re thinking. And it isn`t going to be said because you`re challenging the movie you`re automatically anti-Semitic.
LAMB: How did you scan it in between patients?
COBURN: I just, you know -- I looked at it and said, well, it looks OK, you know. But didn`t really sit down and think about it and read it.
LAMB: When you practiced medicine while you were a member of Congress, what were the hours, what were the days, how did you do this?
COBURN: I came to Congress either Monday night. We never had votes on Monday, or early Tuesday morning. I`d take the 6:00 flight out. And then we`d go home on Thursday night, because we didn`t have votes usually on Friday. So I`d practice Fridays and Mondays, and then every third weekend I`d be on call. And so I had -- and then when we were on break, you know, Congress is only up here six months a year. So you have all that other time. So I`d devote half -- the mornings that I wasn`t in Congress I`d go to my congressional office, see constituents, take care of the problems there, go in there about 7:00 in the morning, and finish about 10:00 or 11:00, and go to my office and practice medicine, then go to a town hall meeting in the evens.
LAMB: Did it ever cross your mind that this might be a little bit too much for one human being to do?
COBURN: No. No.
LAMB: You never got worn out through this process?
COBURN: You know, it`s -- working with people is a wonderful -- the best benefits in the world is to be able to work with people on the issues that matter in their lives, and being a congressman you get to do that, and being a doctor you get to do that. You know, there is a lot of energy that comes to you from that. And ability to try to make a difference in someone`s life is a wonderful opportunity to have that not a whole lot of people recognize or take in their livelihood.
LAMB: You told us earlier about your two cancers. The melanoma, when you were 26 years old, the colon cancer within the last few months, I guess.
COBURN: Yeah, since June.
LAMB: How long -- since June of this year? How long did it take you to recover?
COBURN: Well, recover from the surgery in about three weeks, I went back to work in about two and a half, probably went a little too soon. But did it anyhow, and I`m still doing chemotherapy.
LAMB: Are those two cancers related?
COBURN: No, not at all.
LAMB: And -- I mean -- I know we patients ask doctors this all the time. Did you get it all?
COBURN: Don`t know. Won`t know for a while.
LAMB: Would this surprise you?
COBURN: No, I`d had had some symptoms. I had a colonoscopy and had been checked and then had some additional symptoms and had another one, and had a tumor -- actually had a cancer of my appendix, which is a very rare, rare cancer, and then had a surgery, had it taken out.
LAMB: And all through this, you keep on delivering babies?
COBURN: Uh-huh.
LAMB: And how did you do the book in the middle of this? How much work did you have ….
COBURN: Well, I spent a lot of time on the book at nights and weekends, putting my thoughts together. Then my former press secretary, who helped me write this book, took my thoughts and my writings and made it readable. I`m not a great author, I admit that, and he did, I think, a wonderful job of at least allowing my thoughts to flow. And so this has been a -- it was about -- I finished the book well over a year ago, and then made a decision whether or not I wanted to publish it, and then...
LAMB: You have in there sprinkled through the book, the first thing Congress does not want you to know about how it does business. The first one, by the way, is "the Appropriations Committee staff knows more about the content of spending bills than elected representatives serving on that committee." You have eight of those. Where did you get the idea to do that?
COBURN: I just -- I thought people ought to know it.
LAMB: The number two thing, the second thing Congress does not want you to know, "Congress routinely uses "one-time" increases, often emergency spending measures to permanently increase spending."
COBURN: Yeah. In other words, whatever goes through a supplemental emergency bill this year is tacked on to next year as the baseline. In other words, it was $100 million, and we had an emergency for $10 million, next year their starting point will be $110 million.
LAMB: Your third thing is, "Members are routinely bribed for votes by being given total control over millions of dollars to be used for their pet projects -- a process commonly referred to as pork barrel politics." Were you bribed?
COBURN: They tried to.
LAMB: How?
COBURN: Highway bill. I got -- you know, several pages on the highway bill.
LAMB: What was your committee?
COBURN: My committee was Commerce. I wasn`t on the Transportation Committee.
LAMB: And if you served on Appropriation, did you get more money than if you...
COBURN: Absolutely. All you got to do is go look at the numbers. Every appropriator gets more money than anybody else in Congress.
LAMB: The fourth thing is "Powerful members of Congress in safe, noncompetitive seats often hold fund-raisers -- thinly veiled shakedowns -- outside of their districts -- to increase their leverage over other members."
COBURN: Right.
LAMB: How does that work?
COBURN: They raise the money -- they have a leadership pact, and they go in and -- give you a good example. Bud Schuster had a fund-raiser in Oklahoma City from highway contractors. He is a chairman of the Transportation Committee Haven`t had an opponent for two cycles. Has several million dollars in his bank account and raises $50,000 or $60,000 in Oklahoma City, for what? So he can use that money to influence other members to give to their PACs for their reelection cycle so he can get them to vote the way he wants them to vote.
LAMB: And Bud Schuster is gone.
COBURN: He`s gone.
LAMB: The fifth thing, "Congress spends more than $100 billion every year on well over 200 programs that are not authorized by law." How can they do that?
COBURN: They just do it. They break their own rules.
LAMB: Why can`t the president challenge it?
COBURN: He can.
LAMB: Why doesn`t he?
COBURN: I don`t know. If I can talk to him, I`d sit down and ask him these questions.
LAMB: What`s an example of something?
COBURN: ….funding, Family Planning clinics, haven`t been authorized in 25 years, $100 million there. National Endowment for the Arts. I guess it was just recently reauthorized, but it hadn`t been for years.
LAMB: The sixth thing here, "Congress routinely raids the Social Security Trust Fund -- taxpayer retirement dollars to cover general revenue shortfalls." Don`t we know that?
COBURN: I don`t think people actually realize that. I mean... (CROSSTALK)
LAMB: Is there a real fund anywhere?
COBURN: No, there isn`t. But the point is, is that what the taxpayers were told when these 120 different funds were created anywhere from the Inland Waterway Transport Fund, is that we`re going to reserve this money for these things. This is what your tax is going for, and we`re going to reserve it. But the problem is how we account for the cash. And that`s this whole thing that we had a supposed surplus. We never had a surplus. And the way the American taxpayer can know whether we have a surplus is the year that our debt goes down. If the debt goes down, we had a surplus. If the debt goes up, we did not have a surplus. That`s how the American taxpayers -- shouldn`t pay attention to anybody in Washington on what the surplus or deficit is. All they have to do is look at the total national debt.
LAMB: We`re about out of time. Are you ever going to run for public office again?
COBURN: Maybe. Don`t -- I have not ruled that out. My decision to run for office was something that kind of came from internal, just urge. And if I have that urge again, I`ll do it.
LAMB: Our guest has been Tom Coburn, he is a doctor, delivers babies, 4,000 up to date. Here`s the cover of the book. He served three terms in Congress. "Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders." We thank you very much.
COBURN: Thank you, Brian.


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