A frustrated Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says the stubborn U.S. Senate should be replaced with a new slate of leaders who put the wellbeing of the country before their own politics. The conservative senator is part of a Steve Kroft report on the dysfunctional Senate that also includes the first joint interview with the Senate majority and minority leaders. His report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Nov. 4 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.
The U.S. Senate has been called broken by many because it has failed to act on a number of critical issues because both sides of the aisle refuse to compromise. Those issues include taxes, the deficit and the allocation of huge budgets. Several senators have quit over the intransigence; Coburn says the country would be better off if all of them left. "The best thing that could happen is all of us lose and send some people up here who care more about the country than they do their political party or their position in politics," says Coburn.
Senators of the past have been known to compromise in order to get the needed votes to pass legislation. That's not so these days says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We've run into a situation here where compromise is not part of what we do around here anymore," he tells Kroft. "Now on your program, 60 Minutes, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner said, 'I reject the word compromise.' That's exactly what he said." Reid also points out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said that his party's single biggest goal is to make President Obama a one-term president.
McConnell responds, "Compromise is sometimes very difficult. My 47 members of the Senate have very different views from Harry and his colleagues about how much government we ought to have, how much taxation we ought to have, how much regulation we ought to have," he says. "It is not easy to reach agreement when you have very different views, Steve, of the direction the country ought to take."
The problem with compromise, once considered admirable, is it can get a politician in trouble nowadays, says the former Senator Evan Bayh. "Well, you buck the party line, there's a price to be paid," says the former Indiana Democrat who retired last year out of frustration with the new order. "What used to be seen as an act of statesmanship, trying to forge consensus across their aisle to move the country forward, is now viewed by many as a betrayal of your party," Bayh says. He tells Kroft that even politicians who vote with their party over 95 percent of the time get into trouble with party leaders.
The situation has made Coburn fed up, particularly on the Senate's failure to allocate funds to the military, because the law makers have a different agenda. "It's pure leadership," he tells Kroft. "When the goal is always to win the next election, rather than to put the country on the right course, whether it's a Republican leading it or... a Democrat leading it, the Senate is not going to work."