The Convention of States: Reining in Government Spending - part 1 (Transcript)

Announcer: Today on Family Talk.

Dr. Dobson: Well, hello everyone, I'm James Dobson and this is Family Talk, which is a division of James Dobson Family Institute. We have a very distinguished guest with us today. In fact, he's been my friend for many years, more than 20. And I love this man and God loves this man and he has been so influential in the culture.

Dr. Dobson: He is a former member of the House of Representatives in Congress and in the U.S. Senate, I guess all together, more than 15 years. His name is Senator Tom Coburn and he's a physician that's been in private practice, although he's not now. Earned his doctorate in medicine from the University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Dobson: Tom, it is such a blessing to have you here again. I have incredible respect for you. That respect was earned during the time that we worked together in the Congress and the Senate. And you never wavered, I never saw you waver one bit on what you knew God was telling you to do, and in what was best for this country.

Dr. Dobson: And you have now retired, but not retired. And we're here to talk about what's on your heart today. And it's become very important to me as well. But thank you for being with us.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Well, thank you for allowing me the privilege to see you again and be with you and to share with your listeners what I think is one of the most important issues of our day.

Dr. Dobson: Well, it deals with the same subject that we talked about the first time you and I were on the air, you came to Focus on the Family, what? 18, 20 years ago? And we talked about waste in government and what that was going to do to us as we built up a debt that we would never be able to pay. I asked you, the last time we were together, if you remembered what the national debt was at that time. You were warning about it then and you said you thought it was $3 trillion, national debt. It's now $21 trillion.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Actually, $22.

Dr. Dobson: $22 trillion. And rising faster than we could even realize. And you foresaw that, you knew that was coming. Why? How did you know that Congress was going to continue to outspend its income in a way that would actually threaten us as a nation?

Hon. Tom Coburn: Well, it's the nature of man. You and I have talked about that a lot of times. How do you position yourself to make the best decisions every time and separate your personal gain from it? And that requires real strength of character. And unfortunately, our politics in our country no longer are tied to character. They're no longer tied to virtue. They're no longer tied to efforts of being personally responsible.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And so, what I've seen as a declination in our country's leadership, and this is both parties, to me it's both of them, saying one thing and then when it gets down to doing it, doing something different.

Dr. Dobson: Senator, don't people come to Washington to make a difference? Do they come there with a sense of character in doing what's best for this country? Or, do they just get corrupted after they get there?

Hon. Tom Coburn: I would not doubt the motivation of anybody that comes there. But remember who mostly come there, are people who have already been in the political arena for years. 10, 15, 20 years, through local political process all the way through their state government.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So, here's the question, why would anyone want to go to Washington today? If you just look at it, if you just sit back and-

Dr. Dobson: Power and influence, I would guess.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Well, power and influence, but they're not influencing anybody. Everybody's disgusted with them. If you look at a poll, about 5%, 6% of America thinks Congress is doing okay. Well, what cave are they living in? That means 90% of the people say there's something wrong. And there is.

Hon. Tom Coburn: It's the nature of man, the conflict of interest, especially conflicts of interest that would benefit you, end up influencing your decision. That doesn't make you a bad person, but it makes you less than the kind of leaders we need today. Every other republic, Dr. Dobson, has failed. Every other one has failed.

Dr. Dobson: All of them.

Hon. Tom Coburn: All. So, what did they fail over? They failed over the same things that we're failing over, lack of fiscal responsibility and a decline in moral virtue. And it doesn't matter, you can go look at the Greeks, you can look at the Romans, you can look at every other country that ever attempted a republic and they all failed.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And so, my response to that is, is America can cheat history, we don't have to fail. But we ought to start talking about how we fix the real problems, and that doesn't include Congress, because they refuse to fix the republic.

Hon. Tom Coburn: As a physician, I was trained to treat disease. If I treat symptoms, I don't help anybody get well. But if I use those symptoms to direct me to what the real disease is and I treat the disease, the symptoms go away. And Washington is about treating symptoms today. Looking good.

Dr. Dobson: Is that really what drives the system?

Hon. Tom Coburn: I think it is. I think people want, you know, it's how do I have a pat on the back that I'm doing what I told the people I would do. The problem is, is they're not honest about what they're doing.

Hon. Tom Coburn: I mean, just a very recent vote, Rand Paul offered in the Senate two penny bill. Just says, from now on, we're going to cut two pennies, starting today for the next ten years, two pennies out of the hundred pennies of the federal budget.

Dr. Dobson: 2%, in other words.

Hon. Tom Coburn: 2%. He got 22 votes. What that means is 78 senators don't have the courage to make hard choices to actually secure the future for our kids. They don't have the courage to do that. Or, they're that ignorant. I don't believe they're that ignorant. I believe that they're conflicted.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And, so the basic premise of my argument to you is, what we've got today isn't going to fix the real disease that faces America. But our founders gave us a way to fix it.

Dr. Dobson: And that's what we're here to talk about today. But before we leave this subject, you left the Senate. Tell me why.

Hon. Tom Coburn: I left the Senate because I spent 10 years in the Senate, creating transparency, objecting to spending, profligate spending, waste and duplication to the tune of $500 billion a year. A half a trillion a year we can document in waste right now. Not duplication, just waste. Half a trillion dollars can be documented.

Dr. Dobson: Were you disgusted by what you saw?

Hon. Tom Coburn: Well, I just said ... Sure, I'm disgusted, because when I see a billion dollars worth of waste or $100,000.00, that's going to impact some young person's life. Because ultimately it'll result in a decreased standard of living for our progeny.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And whether it's the millennials' children, which I believe it's who's going to face this, the millennial and their children. And unless they're upper, upper, upper middle income, they're going to have to scramble just to survive. And we know this through economic history. 500 years of economic history, nobody has gotten out of where we are. Nobody.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And so, it's called repression, economic repression, financial repression.

Dr. Dobson: It looks good right now, the economy is booming and everybody is happy about that. And the unemployment rate is the lowest it's been. Is there a reckoning coming?

Hon. Tom Coburn: Well, sure there's a reckoning coming, because we still have $3.9 trillion of printed money that the Federal Reserve printed in 2009 and '10 that's still out there. So we created out of nothing $4 trillion in our economy. Ultimately, that will cause inflation. And if anybody knows anything about history, just think Weimar Republic.

Dr. Dobson: Germany.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Germany after World War I. What happened? The mark wasn't worth, you couldn't use it for toilet paper, toilet paper was worth more than a mark.

Dr. Dobson: Wheelbarrow full of money to buy a loaf of bread.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Right. And you come out of the store and the wheelbarrow is gone, but the money is still there because the wheelbarrow is worth something.

Dr. Dobson: And you believe that's coming our way as well? Well, obviously. I mean, common sense would tell you you can't go on spending like this. $22 trillion, Senator, somebody's got to pay for that.

Hon. Tom Coburn: It's not just that, I mean, we could work our way out of that. The fact is, they're still increasing the spending as you and I sit here and talk, in an economy that supposedly, you just said, was pretty active. Why? Why is there need for more government spending? Unemployment's at its lowest level, we're not paying more out in unemployment checks. Disability's has markedly declined since we did the oversight, or my staff did the oversight on fraud and disability. That's gone down about $700 million a year, just from an oversight report.

Hon. Tom Coburn: You know, all these government programs are actually declining, so why? Because the government is highly inefficient, because it has multitudes of hundreds of billions of dollars of duplication. Just give you an example, I raised a stink on job training programs. There were 46 of them. I went around the country, we looked at them. What we found and the government accountability office found is job training programs don't work run by the federal government. What they do do is employ people in job training, but nobody gets any long life term benefits out of it.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So, the House comes up with a reform package. Guess what? They eliminated two of the programs. So, ask yourself, why do we need 45 job training programs in America? First of all, that should be a state function. It shouldn't be a federal function. Which brings us all the way back to why we need to do what we're going to talk about, is if you read the Constitution, you will read the enumerated powers. That's what our founders gave as the role for the federal government. And what they said is everything else is reserved for the people in the states. And we're not anywhere close to what our founders intended to be.

Dr. Dobson: For our listeners who would like to know more about what we're talking about here having to do with the federal budget and the waste and the foolishness going on there, Senator Coburn has written a book called, The Debt Bomb, B-O-M-B, Debt Bomb. Because eventually it's going to explode, I guess that's the meaning?

Hon. Tom Coburn: You bet.

Dr. Dobson: And this book was written some time ago, but it's even more true today than it was then.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Yeah, it was written 14 years ago. And of course, everything we predicted in that book is happening and nobody wanted to listen. And so, nobody wants to listen now, you know, times are good. It's the roaring '20s, right? Nothing bad can happen. And the fact is, I'm not worried about bad things happening, I'm worried about the consequences to people's lives when bad things happen. And the lack of integrity of telling the truth coming from Washington.

Hon. Tom Coburn: You know, what I found is OMB lies to the American people, Office of Management and Budget. The Government Accountability Office, GAO, is not necessarily straight forward. The Congressional Budget Office does not put out real numbers. I'm an accountant by training, before I was ever a doctor I ran a business for ten years and then went to med school. I was known as grandpa in med school. You can't cheat with me on numbers, I know them.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And so, the fact is, how do we fix the real problems that are facing our country? And our founders gave us a wonderful, wonderful tool to do that.

Dr. Dobson: That's the theme for this program. And I can't wait to have you tell it.

Dr. Dobson: The founding fathers perceived that there would come a time when the House and Senate, all of federal government would overwhelm the states and begin this profligate spending. They saw this coming and gave a remedy for what to do when it did. And that is never taught. I never heard it until it came up in this context.

Hon. Tom Coburn: They not only thought about profligate spending, they thought about the protection of liberty. And remember, the Constitution of the United States was put together by the states to form the federal government. The federal government didn't put together the states. And in our Constitution, we have the ability to limit.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Here's the story that I think is most important for your listeners. Colonel George Mason, who was a Revolutionary War hero, there's a university named after him. Two days before the Constitutional Convention was over, he stood up and he said, "We've made a grievous error." And everybody looks at him, they're all worn out, they're tired, they've been doing this for five weeks. "Oh, come on, George." He says, "Are we so naïve to think that a government that could become a tyranny would limit its own tyranny?" And everybody went, "No."

Hon. Tom Coburn: So they put in the second section of Article 5, which says if two-thirds of the states want to call a convection to modify the Constitution, they can do that. But they have to be very specific about what they want to talk about.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So, that passed unanimously. Matter of fact-

Dr. Dobson: Let me see if I understood what you said. Congress has all this power, it is now so overbearing that it overrides the states and takes away liberties that were given to them in the Constitution. But that the founding fathers saw when that occurs, let's put another article that says what to do.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Right.

Dr. Dobson: That's Article 5.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Right, right. Here's a little tid bit, the average state, of the money they raise in their own state, 60% of that money is controlled by bureaucratic fiat from Washington, by people who are never elected to do anything.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So, for example, if Colorado or Oklahoma, we actually did this study in Oklahoma, wants to build a highway with their own money, it actually costs about a third less to build it if you're not using any federal money. If you're using federal money, they tell you all these things you have to do. You're building exactly the same highway, but they add all these costs and all these rules and all these regulations on top, the end product is exactly the same, except that one of them cost 33% more. Multiply that, Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Water, Environment, Education, all these other branches where the states are supposed to be in control, but they're not. Because we're outside the bounds of the enumerated powers of the Constitution.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And so, what can you do? Can you send 70 senators up there that are actually going to believe in the Constitution and restore it? And reestablish the balance of power between the states and the federal government?

Dr. Dobson: Never happen.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And reestablish the balance of power between the courts, the Congress, and the Executive Branch? And, oh, by the way, we now have a fourth branch, it's called the Administrative Branch, that's where all the rules and laws come from. The Constitution now weighs 12 pounds. It's not that little pocket book everybody think about, because all these rulings from the court and all these administrative laws that come by people who are career government employees, nothing against them, but they don't have the right to tell Coloradan's or Oklahoman's what to do. The greatest government is the one closest to you, the one you can actually influence.

Hon. Tom Coburn: I represented four million people from Oklahoma. I traveled that state, I did a 100 town halls a year, I tried to meet with anybody that came to Washington. I didn't see squat as far as a percentage of the people. But if most of those decisions were made in Oklahoma City, I'll guarantee you that people could get there and have an influence on those state legislators.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And that's where we've lost it. We've moved decision making away from the states, to Washington. And there is not accountability and no capability of influence unless you have a big corporation or a big organization where you got lots of money to hire big and powerful lobbyists.

Dr. Dobson: Well, let's go back to Article 5 then, what is in there to make a difference? What power do we have that we haven't been using?

Hon. Tom Coburn: It's never been used. There's been all sorts of Article 5 conventions, but not for the Constitution. For example, the Colorado River Compact was an Article 5 convention where 16 states decided what to do with the water, right?

Dr. Dobson: Right.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Well, that's the same thing. So, we know all the law and how all this works and can, but we've never had two-thirds of the states say, "We need to fix things." And what I'm saying personally, from what I observed in 16 years in Congress, the last 10 in the U.S. Senate, leaving two years early because I could see that we weren't going to fix it there, is it's time for our country to take back its power. And that power is supposed to reside in the people, not in the bureaucrats, not in the elected officials. The power is supposed to be aligned with us.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And the way to do that is an Article 5 convention of states that restores the key parameters that our founders had originally in our Constitution that have now been destroyed by either court movements, or over zealous bureaucratic state.

Dr. Dobson: Put that in layman's terms. How would that function?

Hon. Tom Coburn: Here's how it functions. We want to do three things, we think that the federal government ought to be fiscally responsible. We don't think they ought to spend money they don't have and then charge it to our grand babies. And most Americans agree with that, about 89, 90% agree with that. The first one is to restore some fiscal sanity.

Hon. Tom Coburn: The second one be to restore the commerce clause, the necessary and proper clause, and the general welfare clause, to what they were intended by our founders. You see, the reason the federal government can tell Colorado and Oklahoma and every other state how they'll run education is because of a one 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court that said a farmer by the name of Filburn, because he didn't buy wheat, impacted interstate commerce. And had he bought wheat, then he wouldn't have, and so therefore they wouldn't have any business. But because he didn't, and he used it himself, therefore interstate commerce now is anything but interstate commerce. It's also intrastate commerce by that one decision.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So what has that done for the bureaucracy? That allows the bureaucracy to tell your schools how they'll run. That allows the bureaucracy to tell in every other thing you can imagine, since the commerce clause, they have, under that definition of the commerce clause as expanded by the Supreme Court, the federal government control everything to do with commerce. Intrastate and interstate.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So, what we've done is we've lost one of the great protections for the states to be laboratories of democracies because we now have bureaucrats that tell us how we'll run our education. You know, if you think about the number of teachers in the department of education versus the teachers you know teaching your kids, which ones do you think really care about your kids more?

Dr. Dobson: The ones that you know, the ones that are local.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Sure. But they don't get to make decisions. A federal government is making those decisions. So, if you think about the declining aptitude of kids coming out of public schools in our country, and what has happened, I think you can directly relate it to government involvement. And that doesn't mean we shouldn't protect kids that have disability, I'm not saying any of that. I'm just saying, how about some common sense of people in Colorado Springs running their own school system. Do you think they care more than the bureaucrats in Washington? Of course, they do.

Dr. Dobson: Let me bring this down to everyday life. What you're talking about is that for the first time since the founding fathers, this Article 5 gives us a mechanism to open the Constitution and amend it without going through the legislative process. The people could make changes in the Constitution. Now, that scares everybody to death, because they're afraid religious liberty and the rest of the Bill of Rights and all of that, there are people who choke on that notion of amending the Constitution. What are the limits to this?

Hon. Tom Coburn: The limits are tremendous. First of all, if you're sitting there worried that this is the wrong way to go, ask yourself why there isn't a balanced budget amendment coming out of the U.S. Congress now that we're $23 trillion in debt?

Dr. Dobson: Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Hon. Tom Coburn: So, our founders say, "Well, if the Congress won't do it, then the states can do it." So, what we're saying is, let's make them make the hard choices on budget. You can't do anything other than what you applied for. Here's the law on Article 5, you can make an application for an Article 5. They all have to agree. In other words, to get to the two-thirds number, if one state says, "No, we're going to do it a little different, it doesn't match, so therefore it doesn't qualify for calling an amendment's convention.

Hon. Tom Coburn: There's only three things that are possible under what we're doing. One is fiscal responsibility on the pat of the federal government. Number two, limiting the scope and jurisdiction of the federal government back to what it was intended to be by our founders. In other words, the enumerated powers.

Dr. Dobson: Yes.

Hon. Tom Coburn: Third, limit the terms of both appointed and elected officials. That would include judges and other appointed officials.

Dr. Dobson: Would that include the Supreme Court?

Hon. Tom Coburn: Absolutely.

Dr. Dobson: Boy, that would be a miracle.

Hon. Tom Coburn: What's wrong with that? Well, the point is ... you know, what people don't realize is the head of the FBI has a term limit, the President has a term limit, what's wrong with term limits? Term limits isn't the end all to be all. But what it would do is, maybe it would set a signal that says maybe people with some knowledge other than politics.

Hon. Tom Coburn: You know, one of my favorite things in being in the Senate was to have new members come who actually hadn't been in politics, because they were some of the best members because they actually knew things. They didn't have a political answer for everything, they actually had life experiences. And they shared those life experiences and that influenced their decision making in the Senate. That's what our Senate was supposed to be like. It wasn't supposed to be that a school board member became a city councilman, who then became a state representative, who then became a state senator, who then became a congressman, who then became a senator, and was there for 30 years and didn't have any real life experience other than politics.

Hon. Tom Coburn: And I think that's the disaster that we see in our country today. We need men and women of courage, experience, and life to come and run our country. Who aren't about to be bought off through expediency. Not what's best for your politics, what's best for your country.

Roger Marsh: This is Roger Marsh and you've been listening to Dr. Dobson's interview with former Senator, Tom Coburn. Visit today's broadcast page at for more information about the Convention of States Project. That's and then click on to the broadcast page.

Roger Marsh: Be sure to join us again tomorrow for the conclusion of Dr. Dobson's conversation with former U.S. Senator, Tom Coburn. They'll be discussing the need for a convention of states and the threatening increase of the socialist agenda. That's next time right here on Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.

Roger Marsh: I'm Roger Marsh, have a blessed day.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.

Roger Marsh: Thanks to generous listeners like you, Family Talk can reach more and more listeners with practical help and encouragement. To support Family Talk with your best gift, go online to, or call 877-732-6825.
Group Created with Sketch.