Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So Coburn Was For It Before He Was Against It?

Let's take a trip down memory lane.

For years people who have been paying attention to the ALS problem in this country have worked hard to get our government to lend us a boost in finding the cause and cure by retaining some clues. The disease simply needs a roster of cases and pertinent data, and it would seem that the CDC would be an appropriate administrator. As says, "How can we connect the dots if we're not even collecting the dots?" The disease is still as fatal and mysterious as it was in 1939 when Lou Gehrig gave his farewell.

Finally in 2007, things began to happen. In October, the House passed the ALS Registry Act by a vote of 411-3. That's a slam dunk. In November, the Senate HELP (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committee approved the ALS Registry Act with a unanimous bipartisan consent. That's a slam dunk. Let's take a look at that HELP committee membership (as you read through the list, you'll see some very respected names from both parties. Oh, look at the last name. Rub your eyes and read it again.) --

Edward Kennedy (MA) Christopher Dodd (CT) Tom Harkin (IA) Barbara A. Mikulski (MD)Jeff Bingaman (NM)Patty Murray (WA)Jack Reed (RI)Hillary Rodham Clinton(NY)Barack Obama (IL)Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)Sherrod Brown (OH)Michael B. Enzi (WY)Judd Gregg (NH)Lamar Alexander (TN)Richard Burr (NC)Johnny Isakson (GA)Lisa Murkowski (AK)Orrin G. Hatch (UT)Pat Roberts (KS)Wayne Allard (CO)Tom Coburn, M.D. (OK)

We find no record of Tom Coburn, M.D. (OK) speaking up in opposition to the ALS Registry Act that day. We find no evidence of any objections or concerns that could be aired out in person with his colleagues. Perhaps he wasn't paying attention. His committee approved of the ALS Registry Act with a unanimous voice vote. Maybe he's shy about speaking up in committee and decided to go with the pack.

Just before Christmas Coburn made the front page of the Wall Street Journal touting his ability to slap a hold on bills. Sure enough, he had slapped a hold on the ALS Registry Act. We could have had a very quick approval of this bill in the Senate before the end of last year, but instead he stopped it with the Coburn hold tactic. Talk about a quick flip-flop... or perhaps the hold tactic is easier for him than discussing differences in committee.

ALS wasn't the only disease that was stymied by Coburn. There is all kinds of health legislation that he has held under the guise of being a fiscal hawk.

So this weekend Senator Reid has rolled many of those held bills together to try to get them moving in the Senate. This plays right into the fiscal hawk's script. Will Coburn object now because each bill needs to be argued on its individual merits? Were it not for him, we could have done that last November, but perhaps he forgot.

Coburn's office is estimating a staggering $11 billion figure on this omnibus bill that he has caused. Of course, he will object to it vehemently. That's a lot of money, but it's less than 2 percent of the cost of the war in Iraq. That's less than a third of what we have paid in bailouts this year for private financial institutions. Some of us would like for our country to spend some money curing diseases and helping children and protecting our environment. Some of us don't mind $11 billion that will make our country a better, more humane place where lives won't be lost to diseases that should have been cured long ago. Some of us actually see an $11 billion investment that would move our great country in a positive direction. And we must not forget that Coburn is the guy who forced these bills into the Costco-sized package.

You don't speak for every taxpayer, Senator Coburn, and please pay attention at your next committee meeting.

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