"I think we’re very close (to a crisis),” Coburn said. "When you have Moody’s sending a threatening letter … I don’t think you want to get any closer than that.”
Among the commission’s tasks is dealing with entitlement spending, including Social Security; the program is expected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes for the first time this year.
"There are only three things you can do with Social Security,” Coburn said. "You can raise taxes on Social Security, you can allow option-out into private accounts or you can delay retirement age. There’s not much more you can do.
"So there’s going to have to be some combination of those three things to fix Social Security. And Social Security is the easy one. It has the smallest unfunded liabilities. You cannot fix Social Security by saying you’re going to do more of the same. I’m not for raising taxes on Social Security when you fix it other ways.”
Approval of any recommendations will require 14 of the 18 votes on the commission. Coburn said it will take at least a couple of meetings to determine whether the panel has the potential to reach that kind of agreement.
"We’re going to have public hearings, but nothing’s going to be said in public hearings because nobody’s going to go out on a limb in a public hearing until we reach a consensus,” Coburn said.
"So part of it is for show, but the real serious work has to be done in private in a locked room — really trying to negotiate what we can do to solve some of our problems.”