Senate Parliamentarian Derails Coburn

Posted January 26, 2010 at 3:38pm

For the second time in as many months, Senate Democrats have prevented Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) from using procedural maneuvers to stall debate, thanks to controversial rulings by the chamber’s Parliamentarian, Alan Frumin.

Frumin, appointed by both parties to his post in 2001, ruled Tuesday that Coburn could not use an obscure procedural tactic known as the “clay pigeon— to divide his pending amendment to the debt limit increase into 17 separate parts — a move that would have essentially turned over control of the debate to Coburn for days.

Frumin argued that his decision was based in precedent that bars lawmakers from using the maneuver on amendments that are part of a unanimous consent agreement limiting the overall number of amendments to a bill. Frumin told Coburn that he had informed both sides of the aisle of that precedent several years ago.

But according to GOP staff, that precedent does not appear to exist in writing, and during a conversation on the floor, Coburn repeatedly pressed the Parliamentarian to provide the basis for his ruling.

“You can’t do that. You can’t do that! Two times in a row you’ve set precedent,— a clearly angry Coburn said.

In December, Frumin came under criticism from Senate Republicans for a ruling that blocked the GOP from forcing the reading of a 767-page amendment to the health care reform bill. That amendment was authored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“I think the Parliamentarian was clearly biased in doing this,— Republican Steering Committee Chairman Jim DeMint (S.C.) said at the time.

That incident prompted Coburn to write a letter to Frumin last week demanding an explanation. Coburn inserted the letter into the Congressional Record, in part to create a record of opposition to the precedent in case future Parliamentarians tried to rely on it, aides said.

Democrats accused Coburn of simply trying to circumvent their previous unanimous consent deal. “We had a [unanimous consent] agreement that gave him one amendment, and he tried to turn it into 17 amendments,— Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.