Coburn: Senate leaders impeding deficit talks

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) accused Democratic and Republican Senate leaders of standing in the way of a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal.

"The Senate's not nearly as dysfunctional as it's made out to be, because there's great relationships in the Senate," said Coburn, who is at the center of deficit talks. "Our problem in the Senate is the leadership in the Senate, not the members in the Senate."

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He said President Obama, who has tried to circumvent Republican leaders by reaching out to rank-and-file members in recent days, has a good chance at striking a grand bargain despite widespread skepticism.

Coburn, who spoke with Obama several times in the past ten days and had dinner with him at The Jefferson hotel on Wednesday, applauded his outreach to Republican lawmakers.

“I think the president is tremendously sincere. I don’t think this is just a political change in tactic. I think he actually would like to solve the problems of the country,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press”.

“I think he’s got a great chance to accomplish a big deal,” Coburn said, describing Obama as a “friend.”

Coburn said many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are eager to forge a compromise and blamed the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress for impeding their efforts.

He said he came away from last week’s meeting hopeful that Obama would begin talking to the public about the need to reform entitlement programs, the biggest drivers of the federal deficit.

Coburn said a deal would need to be struck before the start of the 2014 campaign season and indicated his willingness to reduce the deficit by raising new revenues through tax reform in exchange for entitlement reform, a concession Obama has demanded.

Coburn also said Congress should give the administration flexibility to manage $85 billion in automatic spending cuts scheduled for fiscal year 2013 and disputed Democratic claims that the sequester would disrupt vital government services.

“We need to give the president and his administration some flexibility with the sequester,” he said.

“We waste easily $200 billion a year in totally ineffective or duplicative programs,” he added. “I’ve got an ammo drawer full of things to complain about when they’re going to say we’re not going have enough people in the FAA towers,” he said.

This story was updated at 1:15 p.m.