Just about everyone knows U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn is known around Washington as “Senator No,” for the times he single-handedly has blocked what he considers wasteful federal spending and legislation funded by borrowing. In the clubby atmosphere of the Senate it’s an awkward roost — except that Coburn doesn’t care a whit about the institution’s you-scratch-my-back, I’ll-scratch-yours expectations.
Things get a little harrier when there’s an issue that attracts attention beyond the Beltway, such as legislation creating a health care package for 9/11 first responders. Coburn was opposed mostly because the spending wasn’t offset and because it bore the aroma of a new entitlement. Supporters easily morphed that position into attacks that Coburn didn’t care about first responders. Eventually, a compromise was worked out, but not before Coburn was portrayed as a heartless villain.
The issue illustrates one of Coburn’s main points about Washington: You can’t cut anything. Yes, we know the bill’s not paid for, it was said. But the first responders are sooo deserving. Guess what: The same can be said of just about every Washington program. Each has a deserving constituency. No one’s more consistent than Sen. Coburn in their opposition to that way of thinking. If it occasionally lands him in hot water from a PR standpoint, so be it. He doesn’t care much about PR, either.