Sen. Coburn's Obstructionism Leaves Thousands Out Of Work, Costs Government $1.2 Billion In Revenues

August 02, 2011 12:32 pm ET — Jamison Foser

Sen. Tom Coburn

The House of Representatives adjourned for summer recess last night without resolving a dispute over Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funding, meaning that almost 4,000 FAA employees will remain furloughed for another month and that dozens of construction projects will remain on hold. Furloughing thousands of employees and delaying construction projects can only hurt a sagging economy, and CNN reports that tens of thousands of workers could be affected:

The work stoppage will have a direct impact on about 24,000 construction workers engaged in those projects, indirectly impact 11,000 others and hurt 35,000 support workers, such as food service vendors, said Steve Sandherr of Associated General Contractors of America.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) blasted her party for causing the impasse by insisting on including "extraneous" provisions in the funding bill:

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, breaking with her party, called on Congress to pass a temporary extension that was devoid of any complicating policy issues.

"We're getting ready to leave for a month. We should not shut down the FAA because of a rider put on the extension of the FAA legislation that has not been negotiated," Hutchison said.

"It is not honorable for the House to send an extraneous amendment" on a funding extension, she said.

In addition to the negative economic impact on FAA employees and tens of thousands of others, the dispute could cost the federal government $1.2 billion in lost revenue due to uncollected taxes on airfare. (That lost revenue isn't staying in taxpayers' pockets, by the way: Airlines are raising fares to offset the decrease in taxes, so customers aren't saving any money — they're just paying more to the airlines rather than funding the FAA.)

As is often the case, the Senate failed to pass the necessary legislation in large part due to the obstinacy of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK):

On Monday, Sens. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., chairman of the committee that oversees the FAA, and Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, the senior Republican on the committee, floated a proposal to restore full operating authority to the FAA while cutting air service subsidies $71 million. The plan fell apart when Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said he would use parliamentary procedures to tie up the Senate in an effort to prevent a vote on the measure.

Coburn's refusal to allow a vote, thus costing the government $1.2 billion in revenue, is remarkable for a senator who has made a career of showboating about the budget deficit.  

It's even more remarkable given Coburn's attacks on his fellow senators for the infrequency of Senate votes. In June, Coburn complained

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.

Coburn took aim at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), claiming, "His goal is to do nothing, so they have to take as few as votes as possible. Rome is burning, and the Senate is picking its nose."

Coburn's attacks on his fellow senators have always rung hollow — he is, after all, nicknamed "Dr. No" for his use of parliamentary procedure to block votes. In blocking a vote that would put thousands of people back to work, Coburn once again demonstrates his hypocrisy. And his role needlessly costing the government $1.2 billion is a reminder that he isn't actually serious about fiscal responsibility — he just wants to slash funding for important government programs.