Updated: 9:08 p.m.
Sen. Tom Coburn retaliated Thursday against Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) for calling him out on the chamber floor, with the Oklahoma Republican saying Reid is wrongly holding him responsible for the fate of a food safety bill.
“As Majority Leader, he sets the schedule. I do not,” Coburn said in a statement Thursday evening. “His claim that I am blocking the Senate from considering the bill is false, and he knows it is false.”
Coburn opposes the bill’s cost, which the Congressional Budget Office estimated at $1.4 billion. Reid “has refused to even discuss ways to pay for the bill by reducing spending on lower priority items,” Coburn’s statement said.
“With our national debt at $13.5 trillion we simply can’t continue to borrow and spend without restraint,” Coburn added. “The American people should question the competence of any member of Congress who can’t find $1.4 billion of waste in a $3.5 trillion budget that could be cut to pay for improved food safety.”
On the Senate floor earlier in the day, Reid accused Coburn of holding up the food safety measure and of making a vote unlikely before the chamber adjourns next month for the midterm elections. He bemoaned the delay on an otherwise bipartisan measure that has gained new relevance following a widespread egg recall last month.
“It is unconscionable that Senator Coburn and his Republican colleagues are putting politics ahead of a common-sense, bipartisan bill to ensure that the food products our families consume everyday are safe,” Reid said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
Unless he can get unanimous consent to move to the bill, Reid would likely have to file a procedural motion and win the support of 60 Members. Given Coburn’s fiery statement Thursday, unanimous consent appears unlikely.
“Finally, I don’t question the Majority Leader’s commitment to safe food even if he does not extend the same courtesy to me. However, as a practicing physician, I am not impressed with public health lectures from career politicians who have little real world experience in any field, much less health-related fields,” Coburn said. “If the Majority Leader wants the bill to advance he should pay for it. If he doesn’t want to pay for it, he should then bring it to the floor and explain to the American people why he can’t cut a penny of wasteful Washington spending to pay for a bill he says is a matter of life and death.”
In response to Coburn’s statement, Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said Thursday evening: “Millions of Americans have gotten sick due to tainted food that they expected to be safe. This legislation will help to ensure that it is.”
She added, “If Sen. Coburn is so concerned with adding to our nation’s deficit, he should look no farther than his own party who continues to support giveaways to the wealthy on the backs of the middle class.”