Sen. Tom Coburn’s recess swing through northeastern Oklahoma caused a media stir this week after the two-term Republican called his colleagues “cowards,” joked about wanting to carry a gun on the Senate floor, and said President Barack Obama’s race may have played a role in his support of government social programs.
Coburn made the remarks Wednesday when talking with constituents about the recent bipartisan deal to increase the debt limit and create a “super committee” to reduce the deficit by as much as $1.5 trillion over 10 years, according to media reports out of Oklahoma.
Coburn called the debt deal to force more than $1 trillion in spending cuts a “scam” because it could be changed by a filibuster-proof 60 votes on the Senate floor. “You don’t think there are 60 cowards who will vote to change that before they have to go home and tell their constituents we cut your Medicare?” Coburn told voters, according to the Muskogee Phoenix. The paper reported that Coburn also expressed doubts that the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction would be able to accomplish its goal.
Citing his frustrations about partisan gridlock in Congress on issues regarding the debt and deficit, the Tulsa World reported that Coburn said, “It’s just a good thing I can’t pack a gun on the Senate floor.”
In an email, Coburn spokesman John Hart wrote, “Dr. Coburn was obviously joking and would be happy to personally apologize to any of his colleagues who were offended. That said, his frustration with a Congress that has inflicted severe economic damage on the country is well-known and well-founded. Fortunately, actions speak louder than words. Few have done more to try to bridge the divide in Congress and come up with a solution than Dr. Coburn.”
Coburn also suggested that Obama received significant benefits from government social programs because he is black.
“As an African-American male, coming through the progress of everything he experienced, he got tremendous benefit through a lot of these programs,” Coburn said, according to a transcript obtained by the Washington Post.
Coburn’s comment came in response to a question from a constituent about whether the president wanted to destroy America, the Tulsa World reported.
But Coburn also defended Obama, according to the transcript.
“His intent isn’t to destroy,” he said. “It’s to create dependency, because it worked so well for him. I don’t say that critically. Look at people for what they are. Don’t assume ulterior motives. I don’t think he doesn’t love our country. I think he does.”
Coburn added Obama’s political philosophy is “goofy and wrong, but that doesn’t make him a bad person.”
Coburn and Obama developed a friendship while the president was in the Senate, and the two co-sponsored government transparency initiatives.
Coburn has been actively involved in searching for a way to reduce the deficit in recent years. He served on the president’s deficit commission last year and voted for the panel’s product, which called for increased revenues and significant cuts and changes to entitlement programs like Medicare. Because of that vote, Coburn has been engaged in a rhetorical battle with some conservatives who say he supported tax increases. Coburn has said revenues must be a part of any bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit.
Coburn was also a member of the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of six,” which unveiled a deficit reduction plan weeks before Congress approved the debt limit measure.
However, Coburn voted against the debt ceiling bill, which was passed just hours before the government was expected to default on its debt obligations.