Dr. No is at again, despite the jet fumes in the air.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. — the fiscal hawk of the Senate who has earned the nickname Dr. No. — warned his colleagues that he would object to passing bills by unanimous consent, including money for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system or wildfires, unless they were offset.
“I am putting my colleagues on notice that if you want to pass any bill that’s going to go by unanimous consent, you better find some waste somewhere to offset it or I will object,” Coburn said. “And I don’t mind taking the heat, no matter what the issue. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.” The Senate is expected to pass $225 million for the Israeli anti-rocket system and a $17 billion package designed to reduce wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs this evening before they head home for the August break. Both proposals have a lot of support in the Senate.
But Coburn plans to force the Senate to jump through the procedural hoop of voting to waive budget rules to pass the VA bill. And other bills could get blocked, including a separate Iron Dome bill — even though Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans like John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have urged it pass separately.
The Senate typically becomes more agreeable before a recess, but Coburn doesn’t think it’s a good idea to use the occasion to add to the debt.
“Every time we come to the close of a session for a summer break or for a holiday break, all of the sudden you start hearing all these unanimous consent requests,” Coburn said. “And today is no different.”
“We utilize the end of a session to force people to give on positions that they would never give on otherwise because they don’t want to take the heat for being responsible for stopping something from happening,” he said.
“We’re going to be asked today probably seven or 10 times to pass pieces of legislation that the very cost [of] will fall on the backs of our children and grandchildren,” Coburn said. “Transferring more debt to our children is not acceptable to me.”
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., was incredulous that the Iron Dome funds would be offset given the fighting that has been raging in Israel with Hamas.
“That's going to be hard to come by at this late date, and because it's a life and death situation, I hope that we can deal with it in that context,” Durbin said.
The Iron Dome funds are currently part of a $3.6 billion supplemental spending bill, drafted by Senate Democrats, which also includes funds to address the tens of thousands of children seeking refuge along the Southwest border as well as funds for wildfire suppression.
The Senate is expected to consider the supplemental today, but it isn’t likely to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a Republican filibuster.
“Obviously, we'll try to pass ours,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said coming out of a Democratic lunch Thursday.
And if that fails: “Then we'll try some consents and see what happens,” Reid said, indicating that he may try to pass the Iron Dome funds and wildfire funds on their own.
The GOP is not inclined to support the proposal because they believe they will not be given the opportunity by Reid to offer amendments.
“Sen. Reid has made it pretty clear he is not going to allow any amendments,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, R-Tex., adding that the Senate would likely leave for August without addressing the border crisis.
Cornyn also said he thinks that Iron Dome should be offset.
“That has been a real problem around here, that every thing is an emergency and nothing is paid for. That is why we have a $17 trillion debt,” Cornyn said.
The Senate is also expected to clear a House-passed stopgap bill that would keep funds flowing to transportation projects through the end of May.
If Congress fails to act, funding for highway projects would begin to dry up as soon as next week, affecting 700,000 construction jobs and hurting the economy just ahead of the November election.