Posts tagged ‘Senator Coburn’

Double Secret Probation

Why even bother to filibuster when you can put legislation on secret hold.  While this story is highly ironic, I suppose the Senator involved has to at least be credited with consistency in his/her opposition to transparency for putting a "secret hold" on a bill to increase the public's visibility of the earmark process:

Yet most Senators clearly have no desire to shine a light on their
spending practices, and at least one -- perhaps more -- has placed a
"secret" hold on the legislation. Normally the architects of these
holds are exposed within a few legislative days, but with Congress on
recess the masked spender has so far evaded capture and public scrutiny.

Porkbusters, a grassroots outfit that fights government waste, found
this untransparent move to stymie government transparency a bit rich,
and last week launched a campaign to unveil the blocker's identity. It
has asked its members to call on their Senators to disavow the hold,
and the responses are trickling in. The group, which is tracking the
results on its Web site (www.porkbusters.org), still has the pictures
of 91 Senators under its "Suspect" list. The nine Senators who have
denied placing the hold are now listed as "In the Clear"; they are
Senator Coburn, Barack Obama, Mary Landrieu, David Vitter, John McCain,
Ron Wyden, Richard Shelby, Jim Inhofe and Jeff Sessions.

If Congress insists on spending like there's no tomorrow, at least
the Members could let the voters see what they're spending it on by
passing Senator Coburn's reform. Will the real secret Senator please
stand up?

Challenging Every Earmark

Senator Coburn, now with John McCain in partnership, are going to challenge every single earmark in the Senate:

In short, Senators McCain and Coburn announced their
commitment to challenge each and every earmark on the floor of the
Senate. In addition to challenging each and every pork project,
Senators Coburn and McCain will also oppose the inclusion in conference
reports of any earmarks that did not pass either the House or Senate.

As
stated in the letter, the practice of inserting earmarks into
conference reports at the last minute "stifles debate and empowers
well-heeled lobbyists at the expense of those who cannot afford access
to power. Decisions about how taxpayer dollars are spent should not be
made in the dark, behind closed doors."

Good.  And with McCain's backing, it may work.  I say this because, for a variety of reasons, McCain has somehow become the "instant moral authority" of the Senate, bringing instant legitimacy and media attention to any issue he jumps on.  I am not sure, for example, that the egregious Campaign Finance Reform Act would have passed without his imprimatur.

Apparently, the defense de jour by pork-loving Senators is to make the claim that "well, earmarks are trivial compared to non-discretionary spending so let's focus on those larger buckets of cost." 

A couple of thoughts.  First, if the Senate can't control spending on bridges serving 50 people, they are never going to do it on Social Security.  Second, this is very disingenuous, since Congress has had years to address these other issues, and all they have done is increase (via the disastrous drug benefit) the costs of these programmed expenses rather than reduce them.  They gave up mid-stream, for example, on doing anything with Social Security.  Third, now is the time to strike while public attention is focused on these practices.  In particular, the current lobbying scandals put special focus on earmarking, since discretionary spending is order of magnitudes more susceptible to political corruption than are the programmed expenses.

Senator Coburn Makes Another Run at Fiscal Sanity

Apparently not daunted by the how the Senate embarrassed itself in overturning his first amendment, Coburn is doggedly trying again:

Dr. Coburn, joined by Senators Sam Brownback, Jim DeMint, John
Ensign, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and John Sununu, proposed the
following actions to offset hurricane relief spending:
 
"¢ A freeze on cost-of-living adjustments for federal employees,
including members of Congress, with the exception of law enforcement
and military personnel.
 
"¢ A two-year delay in implementation of the Medicare prescription
drug benefit except for low-income seniors who would receive $1,200 in
assistance with their drug discount cards.
 
"¢ A requirement that those with higher incomes pay higher Medicare
Part B premiums in 2006, rather than in 2007 as currently scheduled.
 
"¢ Eliminate $24 billion in special project spending in the recently passed highway bill. 
 
"¢ A cut of 5% to all federal spending programs except those which
impact national security, with 1% set aside for funding of essential
programs.
 
The package of offsets proposed today could save the American taxpayers nearly $130 billion over two years.          

Arizona is the only state who had both its Senators support the first Coburn amendment, but I am never-the-less writing both to encourage them to hold tough. 

 

The Senate Gets Its Temperature Taken

Last week, the Senate got its temperature taken, with a vote that very effectively checked the health of the putative "World's Greatest Deliberative Body".  This was not a very invasive test, more like using an oral thermometer than having a colonoscopy.  Never-the-less, the results were stark:  The Senate is very sick.

The test was called the Coburn Amendment, and was a test to see how attached the Congress is to pork barrel spending.  The reason that the test was fairly non-invasive was that it it sought to move the spending from only a few of the most egregious pork projects in the highway bill, and shift the money to infrastructure replacement in New Orleans, a use that garners substantial public support.  The bill was voted down resoundingly, 86-13  (though both of our Arizona Senators voted for it, more credit to them).

This post from Mark Tapscott is a pretty good summary.

The charade [is] of endlessly mouthing the cliches of fiscal responsibility
while taking to record levels 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."

Members of Congress call it
"congressional courtesy." Weary taxpayers don't.

Closely related to
log-rolling 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 log-rolling 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.

Patty Murray, of Washington, freaked at the prospect of losing her poetry shelter or whatever it is they proposed cutting from the highway bill, and threatened Senator Coburn with excommunication from the go-along-Senators-club.  Coburn's response to the legendarily dimwitted Murray is here.

Murray (recorded):  You know, as the old saying goes, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, and I tell my colleagues, if we start funding for individual projects, your project may be next.  And so, Mr. President, when members come down to the floor and
vote on this amendment, they need to know if they start stripping out this project, Senator Bond and I are likely to be taking a long, serious look at their projects, to determine whether they should be preserved during our upcoming conference negotiations.
               

             

Jed Babbin: Well, does that bother you,  Senator? I mean, are you worried so much about Oklahoma projects?
             

Tom Coburn: No. I don't ask for any projects.  I ran on a platform of saying the biggest problem we face in our country is financial and economic, and cultural in Washington, that if we don't change that, I promised you I will not earmark
a thing until the budget is in surplus.
             

JB: Wow.
             

TC: So I don't have any earmarks.
So I don't have any...you know, there's no power over me to withhold
earmarks, because I have none.
             

JB: Well, how tough is it going to be, though, to undo this culture of pork? I mean, the porksters are all around you. I mean, we're not naming names, but you're
                outnumbered there pretty solidly, so...
             

TC: Look, when the American people want things to change, they will change. Just as like in 1994, they changed? It's this year's time. Make them change. You know, hold them accountable. There's Democrats and Republicans up here, but we're all Americans, and we ought to be thinking about the
heritage that has come before us, and the legacy that's going 
to follow us. And the legacy that's going to follow us today is  a millstone around the neck of our grandchildren, because we're going to leave them so far in debt, and we haven't even begun
to talk about how do we fix Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid.

 

Ahh, but saving best for last, there is Alaska.  Many months ago, I took some shots at the famous bridge to nowhere, and called Don Young the New Huey Long.  Now, even some Alaska residents are willing to give it up to help New Orleans:

The amendment became a cause celebre on the left and the
right, with watchdog and conservative groups reporting updates on their
Web sites throughout the day. The Club for Growth alerted readers early
yesterday on its Web log, or blog: "As of last night, the opposition is
putting up a big fight. They sense this amendment, if successful, as
establishing a precedent. A precedent where all pork is vulnerable and
no lawmaker is safe."

Later in the day, the Heritage
Foundation circulated a paper, "The Bridge to Nowhere: A National
Embarrassment," and noted, "fiscally responsible members of Congress
should be eager to zero out its funding." Even the Sierra Club backed
the amendment, noting, "We must fix the nation's existing
infrastructure first."

And, there is a curious twist
to the story: Many residents of Alaska appear to support forfeiting the
bridge money for hurricane relief. "This money, a gift from the people
of Alaska, will represent more than just material aid; it will be a
symbol for our beleaguered democracy," reads a typical letter to the
Anchorage Daily News.

Young, who made sure his state
was one of the top recipients in the highway bill, was asked by an
Alaska reporter what he made of the public support for redirecting the
bridge money. "They can kiss my ear! That is the dumbest thing I've
ever heard," he replied.

Anyone want to be that a large portion of Mr. Young's campaign donations come from local construction contractors?