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Coburn’s spending block rallies Senate GOP

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Senate Republicans rallied around Sen. Tom Coburn's crusade against excessive government spending by blocking a package of bills aimed at a variety of social programs, saying Democratic leaders first must address the country's energy problems before Congress leaves for its summer break.

Republican leaders joined Mr. Coburn, a vocal opponent against pork-barrel spending, to highlight what they see as the Democrat-led Congress' failure to address voters' main pocketbook concern.

"This is not the time to be going off the No. 1 issue in the country," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, referring to record high gasoline prices. "The American people expect us to move forward on this."

But Democratic leaders said Mr. Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and his party colleagues were playing politics with a bundle of about 35 bills that included provisions to fight Lou Gehrig's disease, child pornography and homelessness - many of which had Republican co-sponsors.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he was forced to package the mostly noncontroversial measures into one bill after Mr. Coburn placed "holds" on most of them, essentially blocking each from receiving an individual floor vote.

"My friend from Oklahoma wants to throw a monkey wrench into the proceedings here," Mr. Reid said.

The measure failed on a procedural vote of 52-43, with 60 votes needed to proceed with the bill. No Democrats voted against the measure, while only three Republicans crossed party lines and voted yes.

Mr. Coburn objected to most of the bills because he said they would have irresponsibly increased the federal budget.

The package included such provisions as a commission on "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the War of 1812, $1.5 billion for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and $5 million for a museum in Poland.

"I will continue to use every parliamentary procedure I know to reduce government spending," Mr. Coburn said.

Despite the measure's defeat, some of its components could end up in other legislation later this year.

But Mr. Reid warned that there isn't enough time in the legislative calendar this year to revisit the entire package. He added that Republicans risk raising the ire of constituents back home - and could possibly commit political suicide - by voting against a bill aimed at helping some of society's neediest people.

"Next time you see someone in a wheelchair at home, explain to them about how you voted against moving forward on something that may get them out of that wheelchair," he said.

Mr. Coburn said that, while he supported many of the items in the package on principle, the measures would cost taxpayers $10 billion. He said he would consider voting in favor of many measures if they were paid for.

"Most of the bills in this package could pass today if the majority leader would take the simple step of doing what every American family does every day and agree to live within our means," Mr. Coburn said.

Many Republicans are angry that Mr. Reid - who as majority leader controls the legislative schedule - has brought several bills unrelated to energy to the floor in recent days in lieu of Republican proposals to increase domestic oil drilling, which they say would lead to lower gasoline prices at the pump.

Congress beginning next week is scheduled to be in recess for 5 weeks - too long, Republicans say, for the American public to be without a plan to reduce the price of gasoline.

As a protest, Republicans on Saturday blocked a Democratic aid package aimed at helping low-income residents and seniors pay for heating and cooling costs. And in a similar gesture, Republicans on Friday defeated a Democratic bill designed to curb excessive speculation in the oil futures market.

Mr. Coburn, like Mr. McConnell, also chided Mr. Reid for bringing the package to the floor only days before Congress breaks for its August recess, saying it was "nothing but an attempt by Majority Leader Reid to distract public attention from his obstruction of common-sense energy policies."

"Once we complete work on a common-sense energy package, I look forward to working with my colleagues to help them improve and pass many of the bills the majority leader hoped to pass today," Mr. Coburn said.

But Mr. Reid says Republican accusations that he has refused to allow a vote on drilling ring hollow, saying Republicans could have attached a drilling amendment to the anti-speculation bill.

"When we offered Republicans a vote on the very thing they claim to want more than anything - offshore drilling - they said no," Mr. Reid said.