An article in the Oregonian today describes the efforts of Senators Wyden and Smith to expand the Mount Hood wilderness area, and how those efforts have been brought to a halt by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK):
When it came to their grand ambition for expanding the Mount Hood wilderness area, Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith understood the importance of finesse and patience.
They held hundreds of meetings with competing voices, including mountain bikers, watershed councils and property owners. They massaged concerns, altered boundaries and split differences into small, acceptable slices. It was slow, but eventually the bill expanding the Mount Hood wilderness by 128,400 acres earned wide support in Oregon. Last year, it sailed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee by unanimous vote, a rarity in the polarized world of public lands.
Victory by the full Senate seemed assured.
Then, Sen. Tom Coburn stood up and the gears seized.
Coburn, the 59-year-old junior senator from Oklahoma, exercised his "hold," the Senate's one-person veto, a cherished tradition that allows a single senator to block a bill's passage until problems -- or egos -- are fixed.
Coburn's block is all about money:
Coburn is a Republican physician with many firm beliefs and almost as many enemies. Chief among his beliefs is that the U.S. government is spending itself into ruin and it's his job to restore fiscal order.
"What I'm trying to do, it doesn't have anything to do with being against what Oregonians want to do with their own land and their own money," Coburn said later, pointing out, "I have an Oregonian on my staff."
Rather, he said, "We can't do it. We don't have the money."
Even more ominous for Wyden and Smith and the Mount Hood wilderness, Coburn is no deal maker.
"I don't have any bill I'm trying to pass," Coburn said. "That's why it's such a rub, because the history up here is that people trade things out. Well, I don't want to trade. I want to fix what's wrong with our country in terms of the fiscal problems we have."
Coburn is infamous in the Senate for blocking bills:
Knowing that a vote could drain three or more days from the Senate's already tight schedule, Wyden and Smith had hoped to pass the bill by unanimous consent, a device commonly used for noncontroversial bills.
But the wilderness expansion would require $11 million in federal spending: tiny by Senate standards, but not offset by other cuts.
And that triggered Coburn.
Coburn is not shy or partisan in stopping bills. Tucked in his pocket are small pieces of paper listing more than 100 holds. The bills he has blocked or is currently blocking cover a wide variety of topics, from money for Washington's subway system to a program to make sure mentally unstable people can't buy guns to money for spinal cord research and traumatic brain injury.
Read the rest. Discuss.