Thursday, February 16, 2006

Coburn, the tunnel under spending

"The Senate, which fancies itself the world's most exclusive club, has its Sir John Hawkins. He was the 18th-century musicologist whom Samuel Johnson called 'a very unclubbable man.' The very unclubbable senator is Oklahoma's Tom Coburn, 57, a freshman Republican whose motto could be: 'Niceness is overrated.' Coburn is the most dangerous creature that can come to the Senate, someone simply uninterested in being popular.

When Speaker Dennis Hastert defends earmarks—spending dictated by individual legislators for specific projects—by saying that a member of Congress knows best where a stoplight ought to be placed, Coburn responds: Members of Congress are the least qualified to make such judgments."

"Civilization depends on the ability to make even majorities blush, so it is momentous news that shame may be making a comeback, even on Capitol Hill, as a means of social control. Embarrassment is supposed to motivate improved education in grades K through 12 under No Child Left Behind: That law provides for identifying failing schools, the presumption being that communities will blush, then reform. And embarrassment is Coburn's planned cure for Congress' earmark culture.

"'Quite time-consuming,' was Coburn and John McCain's laconic description, in a letter to colleagues, of their threat to bring the Senate to a virtual standstill with challenges to earmarks. In 1999, while in the House, Coburn offered 115 anti-pork amendments to an agriculture bill—effectively, a filibuster in a chamber that does not allow filibusters."

"'I'm not liked very well,' he says serenely, 'but I'm like the gopher that's going to keep on digging until someone spears me or traps me. I'm going to keep on digging the tunnel under spending.' Because, he says, large deficits reverse the American tradition of making sacrifices for the benefit of rising generations: 'I'm an American long before I'm a Republican, and I'm a granddad before I'm either one of them. If I don't get re-elected? Great. The republic will live on.' Meanwhile, his mission is the soul of simplicity: 'stopping bad things.'" ...

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