There’s a barbarian inside the Senate’s gates – and he’s wearing a stethoscope.
Man, oh man, did Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) stir up the proverbial hornet’s nest last week. Soooo-weeee! The obstetrician-turned-senator attempted to perform a little legislative surgery on some sacred cows to remove a little federal pork, and outraged colleagues from both sides of the aisle squealed like stuck pigs.
The long and short of it is that Dr. Coburn proposed a series of amendments on the Senate floor which would have re-directed certain earmarks–that’s “pork” to you and me–to higher national priorities. For example, Coburn suggested taking money for Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere” and using it to rebuild the hurricane-damaged bridge over Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. In response, Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) had a veritable conniption.
“I come to warn the Senate, if you want a wounded bull on the floor of the Senate, pass this amendment,” a red-faced Stevens snorted. “I stood here and watched Senator [James Browning] Allen teach the Senate lesson after lesson after something was done to Alabama that he didn’t like. I don’t threaten people; I promise people.”
Yikes. Sure sounded like a threat to me. Coburn staffers shouldn’t be surprised if they find a fish wrapped in newspaper delivered to the office this week. I’d sure hate to be the guy who has to start the doctor’s car in the morning.
Stevens ended his floor rant by exclaiming: “Praise God I have the energy to do what I may have to do, to prove to the senator from Oklahoma I mean what I say. This amendment is not going to pass. The Senate is warned. The amendment may pass, but if it does the bill will never be passed. If it does, I will be taken out of here on a stretcher.”
Good grief. As a famous comedian once said, Joan of Arc did less whining at the stake.
Coburn also proposed cutting funds set aside for a “sculpture park” in Washington state, which caused Sen. Patty Murray (D.-Wash.) to blow a gasket. “If the senator from Oklahoma wants to look for a culprit for the fiscal situation in this country, he should look into the billions and billions of dollars in tax cuts that have been granted to multimillionaires in this country, and he should look at additional tax cuts his party wants to implement in future years if he wants to find incredible savings,” Murray screeched from the floor.
Ah, those “tax cuts for the rich.” How original.
Murray added that she and her colleagues were “not going to watch the senator pick out one project and make it into a whipping boy,” before tossing out her own Stevens-like threat: “What is good for the goose is good for the gander. And I tell my colleagues, if we start cutting funding for individual projects, your project may be next.”
Oh, if only that were so.
It was then time for Sen. Ben Nelson (D.-Neb.) to get riled up and melt down in defense of a parking lot earmarked for a Nebraska art museum. “I object to singling out one or two or three of these projects as though there is something inappropriate about their priority,” thundered Nelson. “There is nothing inappropriate about their priority.”
Nah. Nothing at all. Of course, a museum parking lot in Nebraska rates right up there with rebuilding the levees in New Orleans. What in the world was Coburn thinking?
Well, he was thinking about another project in Rhode Island, “where we are spending $200,000 for the construction of an animal shelter when we cannot even shelter the people properly in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.” That $200,000 is earmarked “toward a $2.2 million facility to house 120 cats and 45 dogs, with a dog obedience school and classroom settings for youth.” Your tax dollars at work.
This kind of insane spending of the taxpayers’ dollars has been going on for quite a long time now. But never has one of the Senate’s own so thoroughly and effectively exposed such spending while at the same time embarrassing those who continue to vote for it. After the dust settled and the smelling salts revived Stevens, only 15 senators voted for Coburn’s amendments to set national spending priorities. But this “loss” opened a whole new war on pork-barrel politics. The status quo is now on notice, if not on the run.
Finally, fiscal conservatives have in Coburn a U.S. senator who isn’t afraid to step on toes and call a porker a porker. The powers-that-be won’t let this apostasy stand. The long knives will now be out for this pork-slicing heretic. So Americans of all political stripes who are tired of Congress spending their kids’ and grandkids’ inheritance need to rush to his defense.
Coburn the Barbarian must be saved!