A mover and shaker comes to the Senate: "Dr. Tom Coburn may be the most unswerving conservative in the new Senate that convenes on Jan. 3."
"When one thinks of Coburn, a fiscal hawk and an outspoken abortion foe, and his effect on the Senate, the expectation might be: 'buckle your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, turbulence ahead.'
"Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., wants to curb the Senate tradition of the filibuster when Democrats use it to block judicial nominees, but Coburn said Monday when it comes to pork-barrel spending, he considers the filibuster a legitimate way to stop it.
"'The history of the Senate shows that on economic issues, the filibuster can at least prolong the debate,' he noted.
"He added that it was 'premature right now to say whether that ought to be utilized' and implied that a filibuster on spending measures won't be needed if the Senate leadership does its job in writing sensible appropriations bills."
"Mastering the rules
"At the press conference where Coburn and other newly-elected GOP senators spoke, they were introduced by Sen. George Allen of Virginia, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, who said, 'This is the advice I would give to you all: the Senate worships processremember the common sense that you heard from people in South Carolina, North Carolina
. Oklahomareal people in the real world think that if a nominee gets over 50 percent of the vote, that nominee is confirmed.'
"But Coburn knows that the Senate's 'process'mastery of its rulesmay be the key to his hopes of restraining spending and passing conservative social legislation.
"'My goal is to learn the rules as well as Robert Byrd,' he said, referring to the 45-year veteran West Virginia Democrat who has been steeped in the Senate's traditions and procedural minutiae longer than anyone.
"'I promise you I will be sleeping every night with that book,' Coburn said, referring to former parliamentarian Floyd Riddick’s compilation of Senate precedents. 'And I'm reading the history of the Senate to see how the rules are used, because I'm going to use the rules. That's how you get things done, and whoever knows the rules gets the most done.'
"Coburn did make some conciliatory sounding statements Monday: 'I have a reputation that precedes me that's not necessarily reflective,' he said. 'I don't want to enhance that (reputation) and I don't want to alienate anybody that I might have to work with.'
"Some Senate observers had thought Coburn might be kept in restraint by a veteran chief of staff, but Coburn has chosen Michael Schwartz, a social conservative who recently served as vice president for government relations of the advocacy group Concerned Women for America."
"Perhaps one reason Coburn is not afraid to take risks is that he is a two-time cancer survivor, having melanoma in 1975 and colon cancer last year.
"'I didn't do this (run for the Senate) because I necessarily wanted to come back up here, I did this because I thought I was supposed to,' he explained Monday, attributing his decision to 'an impression in my spiritual life that that was something I should do.'"