Tom Coburn Attempts To Give Boehner Cover On Fiscal Stalemate

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After House Speaker John Boehner made his first counter offer to President Obama during this stalemate over the so-called "fiscal cliff," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) did his best to give Boehner and his disingenuous offer some cover.

As host Soledad O'Brien pointed out, the math doesn't add up and she pushed back at Coburn's assertion that John Boehner was citing a "plan" from Erskine Bowles. As John already told us here, even Bowles himself called Speaker Boehner out for that one.

That didn't stop the Senator from attempting to paint their proposal as some sort of reasonable compromise, which it's not. Coburn also used this as an opportunity to push his yearly exercise and his latest report, titled "Subsidies of the Rich and Famous."

As Marie Burns explained after The New York Times editors praised Coburn's report, Coburn’s plan is anything but populist:

The editors do note, as an aside, that “the senator remains opposed to raising tax rates on the rich,” but they drop that factoid without further remark. That aside, it turns out, is more important than the editors let on. Perhaps they would have found Coburn’s populism less convincing had they read Charles Pierce’s take on Coburn’s motives. In his Esquire blog, Pierce writes:

The problem, of course, is that, even if you believe Coburn is sincere, and not using this as a dodge to avoid putting the top rate back where it belongs, every one of these loopholes can be recreated in a heartbeat when the ‘millionaires and billionaires’ and their tax lawyers get a hold of whatever ‘reform’ passes to close them.

Oh, and another thing. The New York Times editors don’t even mention this nugget from the last paragraph of Coburn’s cover letter:

we expect everyone to contribute and to demonstrate personal responsibility. Government policies intended to mainstream wealth redistribution are undermining these principles.

Coburn expects “everyone to contribute”? What does that mean? Here’s a translation: Flat Tax. Tom Coburn is a member of the Congressional Flat Tax Caucus. This summer, in response to a Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial writer’s question, a spokesperson for Coburn replied, “The senator ” would prefer to get rid of all subsidies and move toward a flat tax .”

Loopholes or no, we have a progressive federal income tax. The wealthy pay at a higher rate than do lower income taxpayers. The rate is not progressive enough, and surely the loopholes Coburn highlights mitigate the income tax’s progressive aspect. But to move from a progressive tax, which is what the income tax was intended to be and always has been, to a flat tax, would change the very purpose and concept of the federal income tax. It would also work an immediate hardship on poor and middle class Americans. [...]

So yes, it’s pretty easy to agree with Tom Coburn’s zeal for cutting tax loopholes for the rich. But the editors of the New York Times misled their readers by suggesting that Coburn had the “less fortunate” in mind when he compiled his report. The editors had a duty to tell us that Coburn’s agenda doesn’t stop with closing loopholes, loopholes that can be reopened at the whim of Congress or the ingenuity of a tax lawyer. The premise that underlies Coburn’s plan is anything but populist. It is not born out of a concern for “the less fortunate.”

This is nothing new for Coburn. Here's more from Jon Perr on his appearance on Charlie Rose's show last year: Coburn Turns to Myth-Making on the Debt:

At a time when the federal tax burden is at its lowest since 1950, Coburn like his GOP colleagues refused to countenance raising new tax revenue. And when fellow Gangsta Dick Durbin balked at Coburn’s demand to slash another $150 billion from Medicare on top of the $400 billion pledged by President Obama, Coburn stormed out.

Now, Coburn is back, pushing his plan co-authored by Joe Lieberman to drain $600 billion from Medicare over the next decade. Those savings come from raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67, means-testing wealthier beneficiaries, adding new co-pays and a $550 deductible, and instituting a new $7,500 maximum for “out of pocket” expenses.

Go read the rest of both posts, but it's just more of the same from the Koch brothers backed Coburn and his cohorts in the GOP. They know who they're looking out for and it sure isn't the working class in America.

The one thing I was grateful for with this interview is that it was Soledad O'Brien, who was filling in for Erin Burnett on CNN. At least Coburn got some push back on a number of his assertions, but sadly it didn't stop him from being allowed to tell a ton of lies that weren't challenged before he got off the air.

Full transcript below the fold.

O'BRIEN: Our second story OUTFRONT, a decent proposal? After laughing off the president's proposal last week to avoid the fiscal cliff, House Speaker John Boehner today put out his own terms for a deal which he says adds up to $2.2 trillion in savings. Boehner's deal includes $800 billion in savings from tax reform, from closing special interest loopholes and deductions. $600 billion in so-called health savings, which includes changes to Medicare, $300 billion other mandatory savings. $300 billion in further discretionary savings.

The White House swiftly shut it down with a statement, saying this, "Until the Republicans in Congress are willing to get serious about asking the wealthiest to pay slightly higher tax rates, we won't be able to achieve a significant balanced approach to reduce our deficit."

OUTFRONT tonight, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a man who's been called one of the keys to reaching a real deal.

It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time this evening. We appreciate it.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: I'm glad to be with you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Let's begin with this letter that comes -- is addressed to the president and comes from the majority leader, Boehner. And in this letter, he sort of lays out part of his plan. What do you think of his plan as we've laid out so far and in the specific this letter?

COBURN: Well, I think the first thing that I heard you say is the White House is already reacted negatively to it, which is really concerning to me.

Look, what he offered was what Erskine Bowles offered to the select committee as a compromise between the Democrats and the Republicans. I'm certain that if this is not good enough for the White House, we will go over the fiscal cliff.

O'BRIEN: So --

COBURN: Because this is a compromise on taxes. This is a compromise on mandatory spending and it's a compromise on discretionary spending over what the select committee had debated.

O'BRIEN: OK, let's get to some of the details, if we can.

COBURN: And it's very much in the middle.

O'BRIEN: And I should mention that Erskine Bowles has put out a statement himself, and he's says this. "While I'm flattered the speaker would call something 'the Bowles plan,' the approach outline in the letter that Speaker Boehner sent to the president does not represent the Bowles-Simpson plan, nor is it the Bowles plan. In my testimony before the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, I simply took the midpoint of the public offers put forward during the negotiations to demonstrate where I thought a deal could be reached at the time."

He's very much backing away from Speaker Boehner's letter, but the question I wanted to ask you, sir, is some of the details, and as you know, it's all in --

COBURN: Can we spend one more point on that?

O'BRIEN: Of course.

COBURN: What did he say? That was the midpoint of a compromise from the two. So here's Speaker Boehner who is taking a midpoint on the compromise between the two sides and offered it and it's already flatly rejected?

O'BRIEN: Well, I think what he might be rejecting, sir, if I may --

COBURN: No, I'm not talking about Simpson -- Erskine Bowles. I'm talking about the White House's response to it.

O'BRIEN: Well, let's get to that, too.

COBURN: Erskine Bowles --

O'BRIEN: I think what Erskine Bowles is saying in his statement, that this letter from Speaker Boehner is -- does not represent his theory, number one, but I think the line that the White House is having problems with -- and I believe I found it in page two of the speaker's letter, I'll read it to you if I can.

He says this. "Notably, the new revenue in the Bowles plan," what he's calling the Bowles plan, "would not be achieved through higher taxes, which we continue to oppose and will not agree to in order to protect small businesses and our economy.

Instead, new revenue would be generated through pro-growth tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and deductions while lowering rates."

So I'm going to guess that that is the very line, in fact, that the White House is going to say no deal to, right?

COBURN: So let me understand. If in fact we want $800 billion in new revenues and we could do that through closing loopholes, limiting deductions for the very wealthy in this country and we're going to not have a deal because it's not a rate increase, but rather taking a same amount of money from the same people and we're going to say no to that?

O'BRIEN: Well, there are people who said the math doesn't work out. That closing the loopholes --

(CROSSTALK)

COBURN: Well, I -- but --

O'BRIEN: Doesn't actually get you enough money so --

COBURN: Soledad, I've been studying this for seven years. That's baloney. There's -- it's easy to get $800 billion out of the wealthy in this country by limiting deductions and taking away options that are specifically benefit only the well-off in this country.

O'BRIEN: OK, but --

COBURN: Now all you -- all you have to do is, for example, people making more than $250,000 a year, should we give them a mortgage deduction on their vacation home? Should we? In other words, they won't even consider any of that because it offends too many constituencies. And --

O'BRIEN: Well, you have said, sir, and I'll read you your own words, if I may. You said, "I'm all for the -- the very wealthy paying more taxes."

COBURN: I am.

O'BRIEN: So I'm curious, since you've said that, why the reluctance to just raise the tax rate on the wealthy.

COBURN: Because it destroys growth of the very people who are going to create additional revenues in the future.

O'BRIEN: Then why say you would be all for it?

COBURN: I didn't -- never said, not one time, did I say I was for raising tax rates on the wealthy. I said I was for increasing the taxes that the wealthy pay. How you do it will have a major impact on economic fortunes of this country. And if you take the vast majority of small businessmen who will be hit with an increased tax rate, you're going to markedly decrease the job creation and the capital formation in this country.

O'BRIEN: So let me ask you another question. Because one of the things we've talked about really on both sides, I think it's fair to say, is a lack of details and Secretary Geithner was out trying to defend some of the details in his plan over the weekend. This letter also has very few details.

I'm curious to know exactly what loopholes, what loopholes, what deductions would you kill? I think for a lot of people who worry about the childcare credit or the mortgage deduction would like to know specifically what's on the line and at what rate.

COBURN: Whoa, I put out a report called "Subsidies for the Rich and Famous" about a year ago that listed $30 billion a year we could take from the very wealthy on things that only they get a significant advantage from. So, it's not that we can't do it. It was we can.

What I -- you know, all this jockeying in public, we need real leadership right now. There shouldn't be anything offered in public. What it should be is a president and Speaker Boehner in a room and nobody come out until of the room until this is solved.

Because the long-term were playing gotcha politics and that has nothing to do with the long-term best interest of this country. And what we ought to be is, I'm OK to compromise, even on some of my issues, if in fact we'll solve the problem, but what we have is a game being played for political, for the extreme right wing and the extreme left wing in this country rather than coming together and leading and solving the problem.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, sir. We appreciate your time.

COBURN: You're welcome. Good to see you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. Likewise.

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