Senator Tom Coburn confused at least some of his supporters over the weekend when he seemed to take a shot at Fox News’ coverage of the health-care debate, while at the same time defending Nancy Pelosi. “I’m 180 degrees in opposition to the Speaker,” Coburn told the audience at a hall meeting in Oklahoma. And yet, he said, “she’s a nice lady.” When that comment drew jeers, Coburn dug in: “Come on now, she is nice. How many of you all have met her?”
Has the famously ferocious conservative from Muskogee gone soft? When reached by the Daily Caller on Wednesday, Coburn explained his comments this way: “What I had was a group of very conservative people that only get their information from one source. If we’re gonna win things, we have to look at other side. There was no one more adamant on opposition to the health-care bill than myself, and not many people more conservative than I on fiscal issues. But if we’re going to win debates we have to win on facts and caring attitudes, not demonize people.”
Coburn used the example of an MSNBC anchor to make his point: “Look at Rachel Maddow. She comes at me on the basis of emotion. She demonizes me. I don’t want conservatives to win on the basis of emotion. If we lower ourselves to the level they operate on, we hurt ourselves and our arguments.”
True to his word, Coburn’s latest legislative effort is rooted in math rather than sentiment. Coburn has promised to block any spending bill in the Senate that isn’t expressly paid for by cuts to other programs. Last month, he blocked an extension of unemployment benefits after Democrats rejected a Republican effort to pay for the $10 billion in benefits with unspent money from the $787 billion stimulus bill.
In an interview with the Daily Caller, Coburn explained that for too long legislators have avoided the “hard choice of selecting priorities”, choosing instead to transfer their debt to future generations. “We’re at the point, have to start doing that,” Coburn said. “If we don’t, there’s no way we’re going to get out of hole we’re in. I’m going to use every tactic I can use to raise the issue with the American people that we’re not making choices you sent us up here for.”
Coburn went on to criticize Democrats for failing to comply with the PAYGO principles they recently adopted, which require any spending bill be paid for before passage. Democrats have argued that extensions of unemployment benefits are emergency spending and therefore not subject to PAYGO rules.
“It’s what gives people a lack of confidence in Washington. If you pass a statute called PAYGO then violate it four times in a row, what does that say?” Coburn asked. “It says you want to say something but do something different. I’m saying it’s time for actions to match words.”