As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) prepared to wrap up work in the Senate late Saturday afternoon, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) quietly came onto the floor, toting an armful of binders, charts and other materials — the sort of things a lawmaker planning a filibuster might need at his side.
Reid, a master floor tactician in his own right, watched closely as Coburn busied himself around the chamber, setting up an easel, stacking his papers on his desk, walking in and out of the GOP cloakroom.
Once a Senate clerk completed the reading of Reid’s 380-page health care compromise, Reid and Coburn quickly huddled on the side of the chamber — and a visibly relieved Reid set in motion his health care endgame, which the two had agreed would happen right after Coburn finished speaking for several hours about the bill.
Most Senators, staff and reporters had long since fled the Capitol, save for a handful of Republicans and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), who was stuck presiding as Coburn attacked Democrats’ latest health care plan — among other things.
Coburn kicked off his speech with a nod to the Senate staff. “I’m going to spend a few minutes talking this afternoon,— he said. “I apologize to the staff in advance, to the staff that’s going to stay here. But this is an issue that is so big, this country’s never faced it before. So the inconvenience for us to be here in the Senate chamber is going to be very well worth it to the American people.—
Coburn then warned his C-SPAN audience that “I’m going to go through what the federal government has been doing for the last three or four years, if you want to stay tuned for a civics lesson about the tremendous amount of incompetency and waste that’s in this federal government.—
And so he did. For an hour Coburn lectured on the Democratic health care bill, earmarks and other topics to Udall, the C-SPAN cameras and a small group of staff left.
“I want to tell you as a practicing physician, this bill isn’t going to save lives, it’s going to cost lives. Because we’re going to allow the federal government to determine what treatment you can get, when you can get treatment and who’s going to give it to you,— Coburn said of Reid’s compromise.
On the federal government’s finances, Coburn’s tone was grimmer still.
“We heard this week that Fannie and Freddie aren’t going to just require $400 billion [in funding] it’s going to require $800 billion, almost a trillion dollars to get us out of that. Social Security, we know it’s going to be broke,— Coburn said. “It is fiscally unsustainable. The U.S. Post Office business model is broke. Cash for clunkers, highway trust fund, it’s broke. We can’t even get the $8 billion we need to continue to run it.—
Coburn then turned to the appropriations process, bringing new meaning to the classic “12 Days of Christmas.— “It’s also interesting in the last 12 days of Christmas, here’s what the Congress will have done. Sunday, Dec. 13, we spent $445 billon on an omnibus package. Saturday, December 19, we spent $626 billion on the fiscal year 2010 [Defense Department bill], plus billions in pork. And December 24, we’re going to create a health care program that’s going to consume $2.5 trillion over a 10-year period, or truly $250 billion per year and run it through the government.—
In the end, Coburn’s civics lesson and health care debate scene-setter weren’t all about doom and gloom. As Coburn wrapped up his remarks, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) came to the floor to engage in a colloquy with Coburn on the benefits of the GOP’s health care plan, which Thune called “a comprehensive solution which is very, in my view, bold and does represent a true reform that moves us away from the system that we have today.—