WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn, one of several Republican senators invited to have dinner with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, said the president was trying to divert attention from across-the-board spending cuts “because he totally overplayed his hand.”
Coburn, R-Muskogee, said Obama was still hoping to reach a “grand bargain” with lawmakers on deficit reduction, “but he still wants to keep his boot on the neck of Republicans.”
In an interview before the scheduled dinner, Coburn also said he would not agree to legislation mandating universal background checks for gun purchases because he didn't want any records kept of the checks.
Coburn has been negotiating with a small bipartisan group of senators on a bill calling for background checks to be extended to gun show purchases. But Coburn said he insisted that there be no requirement that records be kept of background checks and that led to a standoff with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled Thursday to take up Schumer's bill, which would expand the requirements for background checks. No bill requiring records would pass the House and probably wouldn't pass the Senate, Coburn said.
It was not clear Wednesday evening how many Republican senators would attend the dinner at a Washington hotel with the president. According to media reports, Sens. John McCain, of Arizona; Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina; Bob Corker, of Tennessee; and about four others were expected to attend.
The president is also scheduled to attend a Capitol Hill meeting next week with Republican senators.
Coburn sends letters
Coburn has written letters almost daily to the White House budget office or federal agencies noting that, despite the dire warnings about the impacts of the cuts that went into effect last week, spending on conferences and other low-priority activities was still occurring.
He sent a letter to the White House budget office on Wednesday saying that new federal job postings for such positions as “recreation specialists” and painters were made this week while agencies are warning of furloughs.
Coburn said Obama “wants to take attention away from the sequester because he totally overplayed his hand.”
He said the president could still make the cuts “hurt” if he wants to, but that Obama should “separate the politics from the policy.”
Coburn said he has spoken by phone with the president twice in the past week about a deficit-reduction package that includes tax reform and spending cuts.
Coburn said he would be agreeable to tax reform that included some additional revenue, but that the president wasn't yet pursuing real tax reform. Obama, he said, was mostly pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy.
Coburn rejected Obama's repeated assertions that the president has already agreed to about $2 trillion in spending cuts.
“That's a fabrication,” Coburn said, adding that more than half was just a reduction in the rate of spending growth. Only the across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester, which kicked in Friday, represent true cuts, he said.
The sequester cuts will total $1.2 trillion over 10 years.
“In 2014, the actual dollars in the Department of Defense will be more than it was this year,” Coburn said.
Coburn said the president will have to agree to numerous Medicare reforms to keep the program solvent, even at the risk of alienating congressional Democrats.