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Tom Coburn Says He’ll Fight Common Way to Pay for Legislation

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Tom Coburn said he has grown tired of budgetary gimmicks that allow legislation to be paid for with increased taxes or fees almost a decade in the future.

Sen. Tom Coburn announced today that he would not allow easy passage through the Senate of bills that don’t pay for themselves in the same year the money gets spent.

The move could hamper Senate efforts to quickly pass popular legislation and allow sanctions against Myanmar to lapse.

During an exchange with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the Oklahoma Republican said he has grown tired of budgetary gimmicks that allow legislation to be paid for with increased taxes or fees almost a decade in the future. It has become common practice to pay for short-term extensions with changes in fee schedules more than nine years in the future.

The dispute came to a head today when Coburn tried to call up his own version of a trade package on the Senate floor that includes an extension of trade sanctions against Myanmar and trade incentives for African countries. Baucus pointed out that the sanctions against Myanmar actually expire today.

Myanmar has taken steps toward democracy after being ruled by a repressive military junta. The Senate’s leaders on the issue — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) — say that while the country has shown signs of progress, the sanctions authorization should be renewed for another year to ensure the United States has the tools to keep pushing the new government in the direction of increased freedom.

McConnell traveled to the country in January, where the Kentucky Republican met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Coburn said he will not support efforts to expedite the legislation without changing the offset to one that actually pays for the measure as the spending happens.

“I’m not going to be a part of kicking the can down the road again. I am not going to be a part of playing gimmicks where we ask corporations to overpay their taxes so we can get around the 1974 Budget Act and PAYGO,” Coburn said. Baucus responded that the provision has been used repeatedly.

“This is not the first time we’ve used the corporate timing shift,” Baucus said. “I nonetheless understand that Sen. Coburn now has concerns about the offset. I am willing to work with him to find [alternative] offsets in future trade bills. We need to move forward on this bill in its entirety as soon as possible.”

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