By Jon Ward, The Huffington Post
"I think I'm probably at the highest level of frustration I've ever been since I've been in Washington," said the two-term senator, who plans to leave Congress in 2016, under a self-imposed term limit.
"Everybody says we can't do anything before the election, we might not get reelected. Well why the heck did we come here if it wasn't to fix problems?" Coburn demanded.
Coburn may be one of the few people in Washington -- in all of American politics -- who refuses to accept the status quo in an election year.
When he points out that "the problems are obvious," he's obviously correct. The national debt is approaching $16 trillion, the government has run four straight trillion-dollar deficits, the economy is stalled again and the tax code has become so unpredictable due to short-term fixes that the expiration of multiple patch-like measures at the end of the year has come to be known as "the fiscal cliff."
"The election's hurting the country," he said. "I'm almost to the point where I think we should have one six-year term of a president so they'd never run for reelection. Because for the last year and a half he's been running for reelection rather than running the country."
The "he" that Coburn referred to, of course, is Obama, the target of much of Coburn's criticism these days. But Obama is also Coburn's personal friend, going back to when both entered the Senate in 2004 as freshman and formed a quick bond.
Coburn regularly sends handwritten notes to Obama. "I wrote one last week," he said.
But his bond with the president is fraying a bit as the national debt -- Coburn's top concern - heads skyward, with no sign of an agreement in sight to slow it down.
Coburn wrote in his recent book, "The Debt Bomb," that Obama's refusal to engage with the Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction commission in 2010, and his rejection of their recommendations, "will be remembered as one of the greatest failures of presidential leadership in American history."
"Look, I love the guy personally. We just -- we're not the same politically," Coburn said.
And in fact, while Coburn has rebuked Obama and Reid, his most bitter foe in Washington is Grover Norquist, the conservative power broker and anti-tax crusader who runs Americans for Tax Reform.
Coburn and Norquist have battled for over a year now, largely fighting over whether closing tax loopholes and eliminating deductions qualifies as a tax increase. In addition, Coburn voted for the Bowles-Simpson plan, even though it included tax increases.
But Coburn, while he would like to see spending and the deficit reduced without taxes going up, believes the country is in too serious a situation to put purity ahead of a compromise solution. He is a bridge between the Republicans and Democrats.