Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tom Coburn : Dr. Death aims to kill Congress

Is there a Doctor in the House ?
Forget the House of Representatives, the problem is that there is a Doctor in the Senate.

Mark Kennedy tried to sell Minnesota voters that the Senate had too many attorneys and that it needed a Certified Public Accountant. Well, the problem is not the attorneys in the Senate, but instead it is the Accountant turned Doctor that is causing all the problems.

Polls of the approval of the 110th Congress performance are dismal. But who is to blame? I blame the stubborn Republican Senators who are slowing and stopping legislation. Some may argue that it is sound philosophical differences that prompts their actions. That is understandable, but there is probably a portion that is just political theatre.

The Founding Fathers created six year terms for members of the Senate and as such it is considered the more deliberative legislative body. But now, the Republicans are being more obstinate than deliberative.

First, most legislation is not voted upon until a vote in which 60 members agree to end a filibuster. The current Senate is balanced between Democrats (49) and Republicans (49) and two Independents. In the previous Congress, the threat of filibuster involving judicial appointments was resolved when 7 Republicans and 7 Democrats agreed to advance the confirmation vote on judicial nominees (except in "extraordinary circumstances"). Today, the Republicans do not seem to have the same inclination to overcome the filibuster rule. So often, we now see a handful of Republicans breaking with Party Managers on specific votes, but I suspect some (Norm Coleman, Gordan Smith, and John Sununu) are motivated by the 2008 election while others (Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe) were original members of the compromise group. It is reasonable to question whether Coleman / Smith / Sununu votes are really symbolic since they know that the 60 vote threshold will not be met.

But there are other “procedures” that Senators can use. For example, a “hold” can be placed on a piece of legislation. Let’s look at the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Olympia Snowe - a Republican from Maine - initiated this legislation in 2002 and with every session she starts a new bill with hope and optimism. For example, February 17, 2005 the Senate passed the bill 98-0 ... in most instances, that overwhelming support would mean quick passage ... sadly, it went to the Republican-controlled House ... where it never was addressed. Fast forward, to this year , ... now with a Democratic-controlled House ... it was passed with only three dissenting votes ... but when it went to the Senate, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, put a HOLD on it. Now, why did Coburn vote for this bill in 2005 but now does not want it to be passed .... these are the games the Republicans are playing. Coburn has used the Hold procedure over 80 times.

And even when legislation is moving forward, the Republicans move into delay mode. Coburn frequently offers amendments to bills (over 80 times thus far) as they reach final vote. Some may be valid. And the outcome may even be easily forecasted before the vote. So how can that be delayed … simple require a Roll Call vote. For example, Coburn offered an amendment #2773 and required a recorded vote . Senator Leahy scoffed at the need and pleaded to have a voice vote … but the Republicans wanted a Roll Call. So the process is delayed while all the Senators come to the Clerk to announce their vote. The outcome of this vote – 92 in favor … and ONE opposed … the one Senator who voted against Coburn’s amendment was Richard Lugar – a Republican from Indiana. Reviewing the amendments offered by Coburn, if it is not approved by an overwhelming majority, they are rejected. His actions are largely to delay and impede passage.

It’s time for Norm Coleman and other Republican Senators to address Coburn. These antics are not productive and create voter dissatisfaction that Coleman and others will feel next November.

End this political theatre now !

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