‘Coburn Omnibus’ Defeated

Posted July 28, 2008 at 4:30pm

After an angry partisan exchange over how the Senate does its business, lawmakers failed to cut off debate on a package of bills that has bipartisan support but is being blocked by a single GOP lawmaker.

By a vote of 52-40, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was unable to persuade enough Republicans to consider legislation that many of them support.

But GOP approval would have meant at least temporarily diverting Senate business from the oil speculation bill, which is viewed as the Senate’s last chance to address rising gas prices before Congress recesses for a month later in the week.

A deal on the energy bill was being brokered simultaneously, but Republicans were unwilling to change their stance in time for the vote.

The defeated package of bills was dubbed the “Coburn Omnibus” after Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a fiscal conservative and stickler when it comes to spending the federal government’s money. In an attempt to get around Coburn’s objections, Reid created a single package containing a raft of bills Coburn has held up.

On Monday afternoon, Reid tried to make the case that the bill does not actually spend federal money, but only authorizes funding.

However, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would hear nothing of it. Republicans also objected to a request that would have allowed the Senate to move back to the market speculation bill once they had voted on the Coburn bill.

Republicans complained that the Coburn bill is ill-timed, as reducing gasoline prices should be the main priority in the final week.

“This is not the time to be going off energy,” McConnell said.

The runup to the Coburn vote was full of partisan rancor. Coburn, a master of the chamber’s parliamentary rules, forced a quorum call that is normally bypassed before the actual vote. Reid said Coburn “threw a monkey wrench into proceedings” with his procedural tactics.

Reid and McConnell engaged in a heated dispute over the merits of the “Coburn Omnibus.” Reid had harsh words for Republicans, arguing that they will pay a price come the fall elections for using obstructionist tactics.