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Democrats fume after Coburn stops spending bill
For years, it’s been the budget secret of Washington — the rules allow Congress to spend money in one year and then take 10 years to refill the government’s coffers, all the while piling up the national debt because the money has to be borrowed.
On Thursday, one senator said he’d finally had enough.
Sen. Tom Coburn, the chamber’s top waste-watcher, put his foot down — and in the process blocked a bill that would extend sanctions on Myanmar and continue funding a preferential trade program for African countries.
Mr. Coburn said the bill spends $200 million over the next three years on the African countries, but it takes a decade’s worth of fees to recoup that money. That’s allowed under the law that governs spending, but the Oklahoma Republican said it adds to the deficit because the money is borrowed in the short term.
“Somebody has got to start saying ‘No,’ ” Mr. Coburn said as he vowed to block the combined bill. “The way we’ve always done it has bankrupted our country and stolen from our grandchildren and children. It’s not acceptable anymore.”
He labeled it the “Wimpy” standard, after the Popeye’s character who famously said, “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.”
His stand irked Democrats, who said they had carefully negotiated a package deal with House Republicans, and who refused to let the sanctions measure pass on its own, saying they feared that without the sanctions attached, the African assistance measure could stall out.
As a result of the standoff, the sanctions on Myanmar, also known as Burma, expired Thursday. With both the House and Senate gone until next week, Democrats and Republicans alike acknowledged they had created a minicrisis in foreign policy.
“We need to move forward on this bill in its entirety as soon as possible,” said Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, which wrote the legislation. “We can’t pick and choose to move forward on component parts while leaving others to linger. There are real consequences for delay.”
For years, that’s exactly how legislating has been done. One side gets something it wants, and has to accept something else it may not have been eager about.
In this case, however, Mr. Coburn said he doesn’t even object to either the Africa or Myanmar bills — he just finally got fed up with the way Capitol Hill has used — and he would argue, abused — budget techniques.
Mr. Coburn’s stand was reminiscent of that taken by then-Sen. Jim Bunning two years back, when he said he would block any action on a bill to extend unemployment benefits until Congress found offsetting spending cuts. Mr. Bunning, Kentucky Republican, lost that initial standoff when fellow Republicans wavered, but he set a precedent that those bills would be paid for in the future.
Republicans have tried to change other traditional spending practices, such as the debt-limit increase. Last year, they succeeded in winning spending cuts they said matched the borrowing increase dollar for dollar.
This year’s fight comes at a time when both parties are sparring over spending — but both also want to deepen the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars with an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts.
The African trade-related measure, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, gives certain countries special access to the U.S. market for products such as textiles.
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