Sen. Coburn Misdiagnoses The Senate: "Dr. No" Is The Cause Of Inaction, Not The Solution

June 14, 2011 12:30 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

During a GOP town hall broadcast by CBS, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) complained about the relative scarcity of roll call votes held in the Senate, which he attributed to "careerism" that causes senators to focus on "the next election" rather than "fixing the very real and urgent problems in front of our country." Coburn concluded that this "careerism" leads to senators not wanting to cast votes they might have to defend. But Coburn's diagnosis overlooked a key cause of the infrequency with which Senate votes are held: Tom Coburn's obstructionist tactics.

Here's Coburn, sanctimoniously denouncing his colleagues for lacking the courage to hold roll call votes:

SEN. TOM COBURN: Well, I think-- Bob, I think what you're describing is-- is a system of the careerism that has invaded and perhaps been here a long time. The goal is the next election, not the next generation right now in Washington. ... It-- we're more interested in political careers than we are fixing the very real and urgent problems in front of our country. The Senate has-- this is the lowest level of votes the Senate has had in my seven years and the lowest level of votes in 25 years.

And the reason we're not voting is people don't want to take a vote, because they might have to defend it. So, rather than come up here and do the job and have the courage and the honor to go out and defend your votes, what we do is we just don't vote.

Last month, Coburn wrote an op-ed blaming the Senate's Democratic leadership for the slow pace of legislation. Then, as now, Coburn overlooked his own responsibility:

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.

The Senate's problem isn't that senators don't want to fix urgent problems — it's that Tom Coburn won't let them.