February 18, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Editorial Drop Your Hold, Senator Coburn

February 21, 2008
February 18, 2008 - Bend Bulletin Editorial Drop Your Hold, Senator Coburn

Drop your hold, Senator Coburn
Published: February 18, 2008

Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden both support a bill that would enable a six-mile canal piping project from Tumalo Creek to Tumalo Reservoir to qualify for federal funding. But the two of them have so far been beaten by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Coburn’s use of Senate procedure.

Coburn put a hold on the bill. It’s a procedural step that any senator can take to allow more time to review a bill, change it or strand it dead in the water. Coburn thrives on a reputation for being careful with federal spending. He sent a letter out to his Senate colleagues a year ago letting them know that he would block any new spending if Congress didn’t offset the spending with other spending cuts.

When a group of natural resource bills, including the Tumalo piping project, came out of the Energy Committee, Coburn slapped a hold on the lot.

The Tumalo project is a joint effort between the Tumalo Irrigation District and the Deschutes River Conservancy. The project will save about 150 gallons of water per second in Tumalo Creek and the Deschutes River, according to the irrigation district. It would cost $14 million with $4 million requested from the federal government. As we said, though, the bill in the Senate would not fund the project. It would just permit the project to compete with other projects for federal money.

What have Smith, a Republican, and Wyden, a Democrat, done to get the block removed?

They asked Coburn if he would remove his hold. No dice.

The Senate leadership offered to let Coburn submit amendments to the legislation. Coburn came back with a list of amendments but no spending offsets. It makes you wonder if he is sincere about the reason for his spending holds. And there’s more reason to wonder. Smith found offsets himself and got them approved by the Energy Committee.

Coburn rejected the offer.

Smith tried adding the Tumalo bill and other Oregon bills to the Farm Bill. That effort was blocked by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

All is not lost. The Senate can break Coburn’s lock on the package of bills by invoking cloture. It would take 60 votes.

Josh Kardon, Wyden’s chief of staff, said he doesn’t believe Coburn has anything close to 40 votes to stop the effort. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he “is going to complete this legislation one way or the other.”

So it looks like Coburn’s block is doomed. Still, why don’t you call Coburn and tell him what you think of his hold. There’s a difference between being true to your principles and just plain obstructionist. Coburn’s office can be reached at 202-224-5754.

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