WASHINGTON -- Congress has dealt for decades with catchall bills known as omnibus legislation. Now, for the first time, comes the Tomnibus.
A product of Democratic frustration with the tactics of Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican and physician who has become the Dr. No of the Senate, the Tomnibus is a $10 billion collection of Coburn-blocked measures assembled by the Senate leadership in an effort to break his solitary grip on the legislative process.
Engineered by Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, the bill includes 35 of the most irresistible-sounding measures stuck on the docket, with the Mothers Act and the Protect Our Children Act among them.
There are items to commemorate "The Star-Spangled Banner" and to try to curb pornography, cut drug use and help victims of Lou Gehrig's disease. Officially known as the Advancing America's Priorities Act, the catchall legislation includes a measure to try to improve life for victims of paralysis, a provision that Reid calls the "Superman" bill in tribute to the late Christopher Reeve.
The obvious intent is to apply legislative Kryptonite and embarrass Coburn into dropping his procedural objections to the measures while highlighting his willingness to put roadblocks in front of bills that have support from all corners -- a textbook case of what Democrats view as extreme Republican obstructionism.
Well, as they say, good luck with that.
"I am not a go-along, get-along guy if I think it is the wrong way to go," Coburn said, not stating anything his peers did not already know. "I am OK taking the consternation of my colleagues. I take my oath seriously."
Sexually transmitted disease lectures
Coburn, a 60-year-old family practitioner, blazed a career as a thorn in the side of both parties after arriving in the House as part of the Republican revolutionary class of 1994. He was a top anti-abortion crusader who conducted regular workshops for young staff members on sexually transmitted diseases, complete with graphic slide shows. He continued to deliver babies while he was in the House, but after moving to the Senate in 2004, he found himself in a long-running battle with ethics officials over whether he could moonlight. In the Senate, Coburn has continued down his singular path, driving Democrats and some Republicans to distraction with his prolific use of the "hold" -- the ability of a single senator to object to moving ahead on a measure without a debate. At the moment, he has holds on nearly 80 bills, the most of any senator.
Coburn's approach is problematic when it comes to the mechanics of the Senate because most of the chamber's work gets done by what is known as unanimous consent, an agreement among all parties to let a bill pass without a fight since full debate and votes on even the simplest matter can consume days.
Democrats say that by thwarting unanimous consent with his aggressive application of holds, Coburn is practicing a procedural tyranny of one, blocking popular legislation that has bipartisan Senate support, has easily cleared the House and has received committee review. They say it is time for him to ease up.
"Why in the world does the Republican leadership allow itself to be bullied by the rogue far right of its caucus, which has perfected the art of stopping good bills that help good people?" Reid asked. The No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, Richard Durbin of Illinois, said Coburn's approach was well within the rules but far outside the bounds of collegiality. "The Senate really depends on people getting along with one another and agreeing you are not going to abuse the right to stop the train," Durbin said.
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