What's really going on here? The senator -- who prefers to be called Dr. Coburn -- has been a thorn in the side of both big-spending Republicans and Democrats. He calls earmarks "the gateway drug" to Washington's spending addiction. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank wrote back in 2006 when the GOP ran the Senate, "Tom Coburn is like an imam at a pig roast: He sees pork everywhere, and he doesn't like it."
Coburn bucked party leaders as he tried to block Stevens' $229 million earmark, largely for a bridge between Anchorage and an island with 50 residents, infamously dubbed the "Bridge to Nowhere."
When Democrats took over the Senate, Coburn challenged their pork-barrel projects as well. In July, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid bundled 35 spending bills into a $10 billion omnibus package, Coburn successfully led the charge to block the measure -- citing next year's projected $482 billion deficit. As Coburn likes to say, the American people elect senators to "make hard choices and live within our means."
After I called Sen. Boxer's office, a committee spokesperson sent me a note that said, "The work of the Ethics Committee is confidential and we cannot comment on matters that may be before it." In July, Boxer told the Washington Post, "He knows what he's supposed to be doing."
The savvy observer has to conclude that because Coburn has challenged Senate pork, the Ethics Committee essentially is willing to stick it to poor pregnant women, who might benefit from a free delivery.
It's a tactical blunder. If the committee continues to push for a public reprimand, Coburn has the right to ask for a full Senate vote. While Boxer may not mind coming across as petty and vindictive, other senators might hesitate before publicly bullying a man for delivering babies for free.
As Coburn spokesman John Hart noted, there have been many stories about lawmakers, their friends and families profiting from earmarks, but "no one has ever chosen to have Dr. Coburn deliver her baby in order to sway his vote." With Democrats in charge, the Senate Select Committee on Ethics is no more ethical than it was under the GOP. In going after Coburn, its mandate is clear: Forget Ethics, It's Payback Time.
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