By Alan K. Ota,
Sen. Tom Coburn spoke on the floor for more than an hour Monday evening to protest the plan by Majority Leader Harry Reid to call up possibly during the weekend a yet-to-be-unveiled package of smaller measures held up by the Oklahoma Republican's opposition.
Reid, D-Nev., advised senators to be prepared to work on the weekend, but it was unclear how he would proceed with the legislation. Senate Democratic and GOP aides said Reid may file this week for cloture on the motion to proceed to the package of bills with the vote possibly set for July 26.
GOP aides said some Republicans may argue against what they call the "Reid vengeance bill" on grounds that it would divert attention from pending energy-related legislation, including a proposal (S 3268) to tighten regulation of energy futures trading.
Even if Reid wins a cloture vote on the motion to proceed to the package, GOP aides said it would set up yet another cloture vote on the bill itself, delaying final passage until the middle of next week.
Coburn charged that Reid was poised to override "the best traditions of the Senate" and was trying to impose more restrictions on floor debate.
"It undermines truth and transparency in this country," he said. "If you stifle debate, what you do is lose the benefit of the 100 senators who are here, who come from a diverse background with vast, different experiences."
Coburn argued that the Senate should continue its tradition of debate with few restrictions. "It is supposed to be hard to pass a law up here," Coburn said.
Cost Is Coburn's Concern
Coburn said he wants to offer amendments that would revise programs and make budget cuts to pay for some of the bills that will appear in the "omnibus grow-the-government-spend-more-money" package.
Reid moved to introduce the bill Monday, but Coburn objected on the grounds that it was not accompanied by a score from the Congressional Budget Office on its financial effect. The draft bill contained more than 400 pages, comprising several dozen bills Coburn and others in the GOP have opposed.
Reid said the package included a number of routine authorizations that have been "blocked mostly by one senator," including funding for programs dealing with homeless youth, crime, health care, energy and other domestic concerns. "You know, one senator can have tremendous power here in the United States Senate," he said.
"We're going to turn to a package of critical bills that have passed the House of Representatives, cleared committees in the Senate and enjoy overwhelming bipartisan support," Reid added.
John Hart, a spokesman for Coburn, said Coburn's objection would delay formal introduction of the bill until later in the week but would not likely impede Reid's efforts to force a cloture vote. "A lot of Republicans are concerned that Sen. Reid is trying to turn the Senate into the House. We would hope they would defend their rights and vote no on cloture," Hart said.