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‘Dr. No’ resolution gets a ‘yes’ from a sharply divided Senate

Dr. No was not just a James Bond villain. To the lefties on Capitol Hill who wanted to trample on the Constitution and break the national treasury, he was an actual living, breathing villain.

His name was Tom Coburn.

Coburn, an Oklahoma obstetrician-turned-politician, served 16 years in Congress after first landing in Washington as part of the Republican wave in 1994 — the first time the GOP took control of both houses of Congress in 40 years.

Coburn served six years in the House, stepping down after the 2000 election to fulfill a pledge to serve just three terms, and returned to the Senate after winning a seat in 2004, where he served another 10 years before retiring early after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Coburn died from cancer in March. He was 72.

Last week the Senate supported a resolution honoring Coburn’s life. It was one of the rare things, besides naming post offices, that lawmakers can agree on today. Introduced by Coburn’s fellow Oklahoman, GOP Sen. James Inhofe, the resolution has 99 co-sponsors.

Coburn was among the most outspoken of conservatives on issues like abortion, gun rights, same-sex marriage and Obamacare.

But mostly he trained his firepower on those who wanted to bust the budget, and needlessly impoverish taxpayers. He railed about earmarks by legislators from both parties. For example, Coburn was the senator who spotlighted the infamous $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska, and ultimately led the charge to defeat it. 

He earned his nickname because he masterfully maneuvered within the Senate’s intricate rules to block spending bills he detested. That was done through “holds,” a process whereby one senator can procedurally stop a bill. 

In 2008, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sought to turn Coburn’s intransigence against him. He slapped together what The New York Times called the “Tomnibus” bill, a $10 billion spending package that included such measures as a commemoration of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as well as efforts to stop the flow of pornography, fight illicit drug use and aid those who suffer from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

As an example of what he found wrong with the package, the Times pointed out Coburn supported the proposed creation of a cold-case unit within the Justice Department to investigate civil rights abuse cases that occurred before 1970, but objected to how it was paid for. Rather than just adding it to the department’s budget, Coburn wanted the agency to pursue those cases by shifting money spent on professional conferences.

“I am not a go-along, get-along guy if I think it is the wrong way to go,” Coburn told the Times at the time. “I am O.K. taking the consternation of my colleagues. I take my oath seriously.

“We ought not be borrowing and expanding the federal government unless we get rid of stuff that is not working,” he said.

After he announced his retirement, a Washington Post article on the battle in Oklahoma to replace Coburn described him as “the godfather of the modern conservative, austerity movement.”

Last week, The Washington Times called attention to some of the fruit of Coburn’s relentless demand for efficiency.

In 2010, Coburn dropped an amendment into a spending bill that required study and, when warranted, eradication of duplicative programs. The Government Accountability Office last week released a report indicating that it had found over the last decade 900 instances in more than 325 programs or policies that required changes because of Coburn’s amendment. Those recommendations have saved $393 billion for taxpayers and would reduce spending by another $36 billion in the near future.  


With Inhofe’s resolution, the Senate expressed its condolences to his family and recognized Coburn’s “uncompromising integrity and passion for public service, a profound commitment to fiscal responsibility and limited government, and a deep, unwavering Christian faith.” If we only had more like him. 

PHOTO: Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

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