‘A Fly In The Soup’: Coburn’s History Of Obstructing Medical Research

coburn2.JPGOn Monday, the Wonk Room reported on Sen. Tom Coburn’s (R-OK) stubborn insistence that the bipartisan President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief bill (PEPFAR) include a wasteful earmark mandating that “55 percent of the money go to treatment programs.” Speaking on the Senate floor, Coburn suggested that his insistence on restoring the mandate saved the PEPFAR program:

Maybe treatment wouldn’t have been eliminated but it would have taken a back seat… the commitment to treatment would have eroded over time and PEPFAR would have been like any other aid program.

But Coburn is no hero. Far from it. In his three years in the senate, Coburn has earned the reputation of “a fly in the soup,” abusing the senate’s hold privilege — a technique which allows senators to “object to bringing a bill or nomination to the floor for consideration” — to prevent “the Senate leadership” from bringing matters to a vote.

Remarkably, Coburn’s obstructionism has even led “senate aides to now take legislation directly to Coburn’s office” to ensure “he has no objections“:

Senate aides on both sides of the aisle now take legislation directly to Coburn’s office before moving forward to make sure he has no objections — whether he’s on the relevant committee or not. If he does, they often swallow their pride and make the changes he’s asking for.

Currently, “Coburn has holds on about 80 bills” which are “non-controversial, bipartisan bills that he just doesn’t like.” Here is a small sampling:

Caroline Pryce Walker Conquer Childhood Cancer Act (S.911): The bill, named “in memory of Caroline Pryce Walker, daughter of Congresswoman Deborah Pryce (R-OH), who succumbed to neuroblastoma in 1999 at age nine,” authorizes $30 million over five years, “to significantly increase federal investment into childhood cancer research.”

The ALS Registry Act of 2007 (S.1382): Creates a single nationwide patient registry for incidences of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, to improve ALS research, disease management and the development of standards of care.

The Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act (S.1183): The bill coordinates and collaborates paralysis research, prevents research redundancies and hastens the discovery of better treatments and cures.

Stroke Treatment and Ongoing Prevention Act of 2008 (S.999): Amends the Public Health Service Act “to improve stroke prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation.”

Coburn argues that his holds make legislation “better” and claims that he is “not hard to deal with if you talk with us, but if you won’t talk with us, we are hard to deal with.”

This week, Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to “deal with” Coburn’s attention-seeking theatrics. According to the Crypt, Reid will “wrap most if not all of the bills held by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) into one large measure to be voted on by the Senate.”

The “broad popularity of the bills means that there would likely be more than enough support for veto-proof passage.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has often cited Congress’ low approval rating and has suggested that it is failing Americans. Will he vote against Coburn’s obstructionism?

Cross-posted in The Wonk Room.