Sen. Coburn, AKA "Dr. No," Hypocritically Blasts Senate "Dysfunction And Lethargy"

May 19, 2011 11:40 am ET — Matt Finkelstein

Earlier this week, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) dropped out of the "Gang of Six" negotiations on a bipartisan deficit reduction plan. Coburn, one of the few congressional Republicans to acknowledge that balancing the budget will require increased revenues, reportedly left the talks after clashing with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) over the conservative senator's proposal to make deep cuts to Medicare.

In a Washington Post op-ed today, Coburn expresses frustration with the stalemate, while shifting the blame to the Democratic leadership. After bemoaning the slow pace of legislation, Coburn justifies his abandonment of the negotiations by arguing that it's "not realistic" for six members to end the Senate's "dysfunction and lethargy":

The lack of leadership and initiative in the Senate is appalling. As of this week, the Senate has held just 72 roll call votes this year, about one per legislative day on mostly noncontroversial and inconsequential matters. By this time last year, we had taken more than twice that number of votes (152). By this time in 2009, we had taken 192 votes. [...]

It is not realistic to expect six members to pull the Senate out of its dysfunction and lethargy. Some will ask why we should have more hope in an open, deliberative process, in which all senators are engaged, when a dedicated few did not succeed. The America I know comes together when tough times call for us to do so. It's time for the Senate to earn its reputation as the world's greatest deliberative body and help lead that effort.

That's odd criticism, however, coming from the man whose obstructionist tactics earned him the nickname "Dr. No." The Wall Street Journal once described Coburn as a "one-man gridlock machine" — and that was before he resorted to juvenile stunts to delay the passage of health care reform and singlehandedly held up a bill to provide benefits for 9/11 first responders.

In short, Coburn is often the primary culprit behind the same "dysfunction and lethargy" he now decries. And, of course, he gets plenty of help from the rest of the Senate GOP, which set a new record for filibusters in the last session of Congress. So it's awfully convenient that Coburn wants the chamber to pick up the pace now that Democrats won't agree to his Medicare proposal.

Finally, the slowdown in Senate voting this year is easy to explain: Republicans took over the House in January and immediately began taking symbolic votes on far-reaching plans that had zero chance of becoming law, giving the Senate fewer bills worth considering. Coburn should know this since he personally urged his House colleagues to give up on ideological fantasies and acknowledge political "realities."