Obstreperous Obstetricians' Obstructionism


The New York Times reports that the Democrats have a plan to roll over Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who continues to annoy his colleagues by placing "holds" on bills he doesn't like:

A product of Democratic frustration with the tactics of Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and physician who has become the Dr. No of the Senate, the Tomnibus is a $10 billion collection of Coburn-blocked measures assembled by the Senate leadership in an effort to break his solitary grip on the legislative process.

Engineered by Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, the bill includes 35 of the most irresistible-sounding measures stuck on the docket, including the Mothers Act and the Protect Our Children Act.

There are items to commemorate "The Star-Spangled Banner" and to try to curb pornography, cut drug use and help victims of Lou Gehrig's disease.

Officially known as the Advancing America's Priorities Act, the catchall legislation includes a measure to improve life for victims of paralysis, which Mr. Reid calls the Superman bill in tribute to the late Christopher Reeve.

What, no subsidies for apple pie? Unlike Ron Paul (R-Texas), the House's Dr. No (who is also, weirdly, an obstetrician), Coburn objects mainly to unfunded spending, as opposed to the lack of constitutional authority for most of what Congress does. But even unprincipled obstructionism would be better than no obstructionism at all. A so-called hold is simply a refusal to proceed by unanimous consent—that is, an insistence that the Senate, the World's Greatest Deliberative Body, deliberate. Since this might mean senators would have to read the legislation they pass, which would cut down on the quantity of their output, they naturally resent Coburn's intransigence:

Mr. Coburn's approach is problematic when it comes to the mechanics of the Senate because most of the chamber's work gets done by what is known as unanimous consent, an agreement among all parties to let a bill pass without a fight since full debate and votes on even the simplest matter can consume days.

Democrats say that by thwarting unanimous consent with his aggressive application of holds, Mr. Coburn is practicing a procedural tyranny of one, blocking popular legislation that has bipartisan Senate support, has easily cleared the House and has received committee review. They say it is time for him to ease up.

So far he shows no sign of doing so:

I am not a go-along, get-along guy if I think it is the wrong way to go….I am OK taking the consternation of my colleagues. I take my oath seriously….It is easy to vote on something that sounds good. It is hard to stand against it and say there is a bigger principle.

Dave Weigel profiled Coburn in reason last year. In a 2005 column, I praised another tool of Senate obstructionists, the filibuster.