Mark Tapscott wrote in Townhall Mr. Smith Has Returned to Washington and His Name is Tom Coburn - That was quite a shock wave rocking the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate Thursday when a freshman senator from Oklahoma stood on the floor of "the world's greatest deliberative body" and challenged his colleagues to end the charade. The charade of endlessly mouthing the cliches of fiscal responsibility, that is, while carrying the shameful practice of log-rolling - "I'll vote for your pet spending project no matter how bad it is if you vote for my pet spending project, no matter how bad it is" – to record levels.Members of Congress call it "congressional courtesy." Weary taxpayers don't.
The Senate is not the place to begin cutting back on pork, but maybe the House is. Embrace the sequester.Closely related to logrolling is the congressional maxim that "to get along, you have to go along," especially if you are a freshman or from a small state. Coburn is both a freshman and from a state with only a handful of electoral votes.
Senators and Representatives have been logrolling since the First Congress, of course, but never before with the intensity of the current GOP-led Congress. Appropriations bills now routinely gain approval with hundreds or thousands of "earmarks," which is Hill-talk for pork barrel projects inserted by individual members to benefit their district or state.
We need a constitutional ammendment giving the President a line-item veto. And maybe it should forbid "earmarks"But then came Hurricane Katrina and Coburn, who previously served time during the Clinton administration in the U.S. House before taking a voluntary term-limit induced sabbatical before returning to win a close election to the Senate in 2004. Frankly, Coburn hadn’t made much of a splash in the Senate until this week.
He stood on the Senate floor Thursday and committed the unpardonable sin of not going along to get along. He offered amendments requiring that previously approved earmarks favored by colleagues be cancelled and the tax dollars instead spent on hurricane recovery. There wasn't much money at stake in the particular projects targeted by Coburn, but it was the principle that mattered.
What Coburn got in response was pure bipartisan outrage. Sen. Patty Murray, the very liberal Washington Democrat, warned that any senator supporting the Coburn amendments would find projects in his or her own state getting the evil eye by annoyed colleagues who don't want to rock the log-rolling boat.
Sounds like a good plan.And Alaska's Ted Stevens, the Old Bull Republican moderate who has been one of the biggest obstacles in Congress to conservative reform since the Reagan administration, stood on the floor and thundered that he would leave the Senate if the Coburn proposal passed.
Would he be willing to leave anyway?Stevens needn't have worried, at least for now. His colleagues, many of whom learned long ago not to cross him, marched in lockstep to soundly defeat Coburn's proposal. In fact, only 15 brave senators said aye when the roll was called. The only surprise was how many familiar conservative names were among the 82 senators opposing Coburn. This speaks volumes about why so little actual conservative reform has been achieved since 1994 despite all those GOP majorities. Too often, they have talked the talk without walking it.
So what's next? No matter what they think, the future doesn't depend on the Ted Stevens or Patty Murrays of the congressional world. Tom Coburn can be in the driver’s seat.. He forced the Senate to decide Thursday which was more important - building a shelter for dogs and cats in RINO Republican Sen. Lincoln Chaffee's home state or helping the good people in Louisiana and Mississippi made homeless by Hurricane Katrina.
Ted Stevens' purple rage and Patty Murray's veiled threats represent the corrupt essence of Establishment Washington politics and Thursday we saw what that establishment truly cares about. It isn't people without roofs over their heads in Louisiana or Mississippi.
The question now is will Coburn remain steadfast? Senate rules still give individual senators significant leverage to force legislative showdowns. If Coburn stands his ground today, odds are the American people will take care of tomorrow just fine. Coburn understands that, which is why he is just the man for the job. He isn't here to stay here; he came back to Washington to do what he can as long as he can to help change America for the better. That's why the shouting and blustering on the Senate floor only confirms for Coburn the rightness of his path.
I hope he continues his efforts to do the right thing. Perhaps his mistake was just going after this one earmark. Maybe he should go after all of them.The timing of all this must be divine; how else to explain a doctor with nothing to lose and a disaster of biblical proportions appearing at exactly the right place at the right time to make possible the right decisions? Go get'em Tom!