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Coburn: 'The problem is not gridlock' -- it's that the parties 'agree too much'

Morning Joe regular Sen.

Morning Joe regular Sen. Tom Coburn joined the gang Tuesday and made the case that the problem in Washington isn’t that Democrats and Republicans can’t make a deal – it’s that they make too many.

“The problem is not gridlock,” said Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican whose new book, “The Debt Bomb,” sounds the alarm about what he sees as the coming crisis over the deficit. “The problem is that members of both parties agree too much.”

How so?  

“How’d we get to where we’re $16 trillion dollars in debt, we’re running a $1.3 trillion deficit this year?" he asked. "Because people are going to make the short-term politically expedient decision for their career, rather than the best right thing for our country. And when you make the best right thing for our country, there’s a political price to pay.”

But not everyone agrees with Coburn on what the right thing for the country is. He didn’t go into specifics this morning, but based on his record, Coburn would like to address the deficit problem by dramatically cutting spending – including military spending -- and shrinking government. He’s less keen on raising taxes on the rich – once arguing that extending the Bush tax cuts for high earners shouldn’t be counted as a cost to the budget because they were already enacted in the past. Not everyone shares that vision of government. So a basic principled inability to agree on how to cut the deficit may be as significant an obstacle as the moral shortcomings of Coburn’s colleagues in Congress.

“This is the most predictable crisis this country has ever faced, and yet we’ve spent two and a half years really doing nothing about it,” Coburn added. “One in two students can’t get a full-time job now. That’s going to be three in four, or four in five, if we allow this to continue.”

But many economists say something closer to the reverse is true. The deficit problem needs to be addressed in the long-term, they argue, but doing so immediately by radically slashing spending, as Coburn advocates, would cause a major hit to demand, further slowing the halting growth the economy has been showing lately, and worsening the already dire jobs picture. Better, they argue, to get the economy on a more solid footing over the next few years, then get the budget in order over the longer term.

Coburn takes a different view. But again, it’s this difference of opinion, more than any lack of courage, that’s standing in the way of the senator’s agenda being implemented.

Mika Brzezinski asked Coburn whether he agreed that part of the issue was special interests exerting too much sway in Washington. the senator said that’s not a concern for him.

“I don’t think special interests or big corporations are the problem,” he replied. “I think desire to be in power is the problem.”