Republicans Warming to Coburn Tussle

Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:47pm

Senate Republicans might come to the aid of maverick Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in his one-man fight with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Reid this week is expected to try to break more than 35 holds that Coburn has placed on mostly noncontroversial legislation. Reid wrapped up the bills in one large omnibus that included bills co-sponsored by many Republicans. But now the GOP appears increasingly likely to rally together to block any consideration of legislation that is not connected to growing fuel costs.

Reid has threatened to keep the Senate in session through the weekend to complete work on the package.

Coburn said Tuesday that he was unsure how much support he will have from his colleagues, but at least some GOP leaders will be with him. Like many of his Republican colleagues, he questioned the timing of the fight. “I don’t understand why we’re doing anything but energy prices,” Coburn said.

Reid spokesman Jim Manley said the GOP is trying to avoid attracting attention to their obstructionist ways. “It’s another attempt to distract from their record-setting obstructionism. We have offered them energy-related votes, yet they won’t take yes for an answer,” Manley said.

Coburn did not address his colleagues during their Tuesday luncheon as he did last week. He said most Republicans were not caught off-guard by Reid’s decision to push the issue this week.

“They’ve had plenty of notice. We’ve known for four weeks that we may be here this weekend, and it’s the Majority Leader’s fault,” Coburn said. Coburn, who met with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) Monday afternoon to discuss the bill, also said that some — though not all — of his leadership has committed to supporting him. “Some have indicated they will and some have not,” Coburn said. Asked if McConnell would back him, Coburn said, “He’s with me.”

A McConnell aide confirmed that the Republican leader will back Coburn, for two reasons: McConnell believes that Reid has treated Coburn unfairly and McConnell does not want to move away from energy issues.

Reid introduced the package of some 35 largely bipartisan bills on Monday. Reid’s package is intended to win support by including bills on such issues as runaway children, the disabled and other measures difficult to oppose. Reid also ensured that every other Republican Member was a co-sponsor of a bill in the package, and even included one Republican-sponsored bill that has seen little action in the chamber.

The bill also includes several parochial measures, including a bill dealing with the interstate sale of primates — which Coburn’s office has begun referring to as S-CHIMP — as well as funding for mass transportation projects in the Washington, D.C., area.

Democrats over the past year have become increasingly angry with Coburn for blocking these and other bills that in past Congresses would have likely passed with little debate or controversy.

Frustrated Democrats have dubbed this latest omnibus the Coburn Omnibus, while Republicans have taken to calling it the Reid Vengeance Bill.

Republicans said that while no conference position has been formed on the omnibus, if, as expected, Reid limits amendments to the oil market speculation bill and then attempts to move to the omnibus, he might find stiff Republican resistance.

“Sen. Reid picked the worst possible week to push his vengeance bill. … Quite a few GOP Senators who might otherwise waver in their support of Coburn will oppose any attempt by Reid to move off of energy and onto a hodgepodge omnibus about chimps and other assorted programs,” one Republican said.