"Apocalyptic pain" from an out-of-control debt could cause 18 percent unemployment and a massive contraction in the economy that would destroy the middle class, a leading Republican deficit hawk said in an interview that aired Sunday.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who recently issued a report on government waste, warned that the U.S. only has about three or four years to get its fiscal house in order or it could find itself facing austerity measures seen in Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and earlier in Japan.
"The problem that faces our country today, the last 30 years we have lived off the future, and the bill is coming due," he added.
The senator, who was recently elected to a second -- and he pledges -- final term in Congress, said he's not trying to scare anyone, but eliminating waste in the federal government's ledgers is imperative not just to prevent default but a massive implosion that he defined in catastrophic terms.
Coburn said he can come up with $350 billion off the top of his head in inefficiency and waste that could be eliminated without impacting anyone in a practical sense. He noted $50 billion in programs that are duplicative and $100 billion in Medicare and Medicaid fraud that was not addressed in the health care law.
"We have 267 job training programs across 39 different agencies. Why do we have 267 of them? We have 105 programs to encourage people to go into science and technology, engineering and math. That's 105 sets of bureaucrats. None of them have metrics on it," he said.
"The Pentagon can't even audit its own books. It doesn't even know where its money is going. And we refuse to have the tough forces go on the Pentagon so that at least they are efficient with the money they're spending," Coburn added.
In one of his last acts in the lame-duck session that ended last week, Coburn, an obstetrician who earned the nickname "Dr. No" for his refusal to spend taxpayer dollars, was a critical factor in getting a health care program for Sept. 11 responders reduced in scope and cost. The $7.2 billion program was cut to $4.3 billion and was paid for through additional fees and reductions in other spending.