Leading GOP Budget Hawk at Odds with Republican Leaders

Tom Coburn says deficit deal not possible without increasing tax revenues.

ByABC News
May 19, 2011, 8:02 PM

May 20, 2011 -- Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) tells ABC News that the federal debt is now so out of control that the credit rating of the United States is in jeopardy and the only way to deal with it is a bipartisan agreement that increases tax revenues.

"The fact is we're at the lowest tax rate this country's been in a hundred years," Coburn said in an interview on ABC's Subway Series with Jonathan Karl. "And nobody believes that we're going to get a bipartisan agreement without some way to increase revenue for the federal government. We're also at the lowest level in a long time in terms of revenues coming in."

Increasing tax revenues, Coburn said, does not mean increasing tax rates. Higher revenues could be accomplished by closing tax loopholes for individuals and/or corporations.

"Do I want tax rates to rise? Absolutely not. Will I fight that? Yeah," Coburn said. "Would I agree to a plan that would create great economy that would markedly increase revenues to the federal government? You bet. And that's what I want to do."

Earlier this week, Coburn dropped out of the so-called Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of Senators that has been working for months to find an agreement to curtail entitlement spending and reduce the deficit.

For many Republicans, increasing tax revenues is a non-starter. In fact, most Republicans in Congress, including Coburn, have signed a pledge written by Americans for Tax Reform, promising to oppose all tax increases -- including closing tax loopholes -- unless off-set by cuts in tax rates.

Grover Norquist, the President of Americans for Tax Reform, recently accused Coburn of "lying his way into Congress" because of his willingness to consider measures that would increase federal tax revenue.

"I don't care what he says," Coburn said of Norquist. "He's like a fly on the wall. If you're scared of Grover Norquist you have no business being up here."

Coburn says he left the Gang of Six because he reached an impasse with Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) about the need for specific cuts to Medicare and other popular entitled programs and needed "a good cooling off period."

"We had a conversation, very frank and where I needed him to go, he couldn't and where I wanted to go, he couldn't so what you need to do is back off and see if you can do something different," Coburn said.

He still hopes the Gang of Six can eventually reconvene and come to an agreement. In the meantime, Coburn is going to put together his own list of spending cuts totaling a whopping $9 trillion over ten years -- a level of spending cuts that would go far beyond even the $6 trillion in cuts proposed by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

"What I'm going to do, and what my staff is doing now, is really a fun exercise, we're going to show everybody where you can cut 9 trillion dollars over the next 10 years," Coburn said. "I'm just going to say here, American people, if you want to solve the problem, pick from this group of things. Here's a way to do it. And some of it's painful. Everybody's going to have to have a little pain but if we want opportunity and a prosperous future, we have to take a little discomfort now to get there."

The debt situation is already so bad, Coburn says, that the U.S. government does not deserve Standard & Poor's AAA credit rating.

"We have gross debt at 90% of our GDP. What does that mean?" Coburn said. "You can easily make a case that we don't deserve a AAA rating."

S & P has warned that continued deficit spending could jeopardize that AAA rating in the future.

"I would downgrade us in a minute," Coburn said. "I would knowing what I know."