Sens. DeMint And Coburn Block Women's Museum Because There's Already A "Quilters Hall Of Fame"

September 27, 2010 5:06 pm ET — Kate Conway

In a Friday op-ed, New York Times columnist Gail Collins highlighted a particularly inane example of GOP obstructionism. This time, the culprits are Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), who have inexplicably put holds on a widely-supported bill that would allow a private group to purchase a piece of federal land on which to construct a women's history museum — a bill that wouldn't cost taxpayers anything. Collins writes:

You may be wondering why there is any problem getting Congressional support for a women's history museum. Especially since the bill has already passed the House unanimously and come out of its Senate committee with unanimous approval. And since the bill, which is sponsored in the Senate by Susan Collins of Maine, has 23 co-sponsors from both parties. The Senate itself passed a different version of the plan unanimously a few years ago when the museum people were hoping to lease a government building rather than construct a new one.

The answer — and, people, how many times have you heard this story? — is that two senators, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, have put holds on the bill. A hold is one of those quaint Senate traditions that ensures that each individual member of the chamber will have the power to bring all activity to a screeching and permanent halt.

After explaining that Senator DeMint's office hasn't offered an explanation, Collins continues:

Coburn's office said the senator was concerned that taxpayers might be asked to chip in later and also felt that the museum was unnecessary since "it duplicates more than 100 existing entities that have a similar mission."

The office sent me a list of the entities in question. They include the Quilters Hall of Fame in Indiana, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Texas and the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in Washington. [emphasis added]

If you're flabbergasted that someone could brush off a women's history museum located in the national capital as redundant because there are museums to quilters and cowgirls somewhere else in the country — well, don't be. This isn't the first nor the most nonsensical example of Coburn and DeMint ridiculing or dismissing women and the issues pertinent to their well-being.

In 2009, both Coburn and DeMint were among 30 senators to vote against an amendment that would deny defense contracts to overseas contractors that prohibited their employees from seeking justice in a court system after a sexual assault. The amendment was spurred by a case in which a woman working for a contractor in Iraq was prevented from legal recourse after being raped by her co-workers, imprisoned in a shipping container without food or water, and threatened with the loss of her job if she sought medical treatment outside of Iraq.

If that weren't bad enough, Coburn and DeMint both oppose a woman's right to seek an abortion if she is raped. Moreover, Coburn so vehemently objects to a woman's right to choose that he stated in a 2004 interview with the Associated Press (accessed via Nexis) that he "favor[s] the death penalty for abortionists." He has also, confusingly, blamed "the rationalization for abortion and multiple sexual partners" on a "gay agenda."

Despite all of the above, you might think that Coburn could at least support women's health issues that don't have anything to do with reproductive health. You'd be wrong. After the Senate passed an amendment improving coverage of women's preventive services such as mammograms, Coburn took to the floor of the Senate to whine that the amendment was "political" and that men were being unfairly ignored. 

The question is not why Senators Coburn and DeMint are blocking this no-brainer of a bill, but rather why we would ever expect a person who has scorned issues like mammograms and recourse for rape victims — issues so immediate and vital to the well-being of American women — to think that an institution dedicated to those women would be worthwhile.