Today both the The Washington Post and The New York Times have front-page stories on Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-Okla.) use of legislative “holds” to bring debate on spending priorities back to the U.S. Senate. A “hold” prevents the majority party in the Senate from moving forward on a bill until it has been debated. But in this Congress, the liberal majority does not want to debate issues or allow amendments.

Of the 890 bills that have been passed in the 110th Congress, only 50 of them have been debated. For simply insisting that the Senate debate a bill before it is passed, Coburn has been labeled “Dr. No” by both the Post and Times. If Coburn is Dr. No, then he is a Dr. No our country desperately needs.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tells the Post, “For those of you who may not know this, you cannot negotiate with Coburn. It’s just something that you learn over the years … its a waste of time.” But the Times disagrees, reporting:

Even some Democrats have a grudging admiration for Mr. Coburn’s determination. They point out that Mr. Coburn has shown an occasional willingness to make concessions, as he did after long months of effort with Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, on a genetic nondiscrimination law. And he has worked with Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, a fact that the Democratic presidential candidate has proudly referred to when talking about his ability to reach across the aisle.

Frustrated with Coburn’s insistence on debate, Reid has bundled 35 separate bills, each with at least one Republican co-sponsor, into one omnibus bill. Reid hopes Coburn’s GOP colleagues will force him to relent. So far Coburn is holding firm: “I am OK taking the consternation of my colleagues. I take my oath seriously.” Coburn is quick to point out he doesn’t even oppose much of the spending in the bills. He just wants to see other federal spending reduced so that our already record deficit does not get worse.

Coburn, for example, supports a bill that spends money creating a new Justice Department cold-case unit that would investigate unsolved civil rights cases. But Coburn believes we should pay for that new unit by cutting back on Justice Department spending on conferences. The department has spent $312 million on conferences this decade. Reid will not allow Coburn to offer this amendment.

When Reid isn’t claiming that Coburn refuses to negotiate, he falls back on the claim that the bills in question only authorize money, and that no money is actually spent until an appropriations bill is passed. Coburn ably exposes the blatantly dishonest game senators play when they deploy this argument:

Now, you will hear the argument over the next 10 days to 2 weeks, as we debate this bill, that these are just authorizations, that it is not money that is actually spent until it is appropriated. But if you go to the Web site of all of the Senators who are supporting these bills, they have already sent out press releases bragging about what they have done. They intend to spend the money. So one of three things comes about from that. One is they plan on authorizing it and spending the money; two is they are just gaming their constituency, they are planning on passing the bill but never spending the money, which is highly unlikely, or three is they just want on the bill so they can get a positive parochial benefit and do not really care whether the money gets spent.

In 2006, Coburn introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which requires the full disclosure of all entities or organizations receiving federal funds. Obama and Sen. John McCain both co-sponsored the bill so that Americans could better hold government accountable for wasteful spending. But that database will be useless unless our elected leaders also have the opportunity to debate and vote to end that wasteful spending. Let’s hope Dr. No wins the fight to have those debates.

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