January 30, 2007
TOM COBURN profiled in GQ:
The dynamic had begun almost the day he arrived in the Senate, in January 2005. While fellow newcomers like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama observed the customary â€œfreshman silence,â€ Coburnâ€™s first major move as a senator was to pick a fight with one of his partyâ€™s most venerated leaders, Ted Stevens of Alaska, a forty-year veteran of Congress who also happened to be the Senateâ€™s president pro tempore.
The fight was over pork. As the 2006 transportation budget passed through the Senate process, Coburn noticed something odd: $200 million to pay for a bridge in Stevensâ€™s home stateâ€”a bridge almost as long as the Golden Gate and taller than the Brooklyn Bridge, connecting an island of fifty people to the coast. In the Senate, these kinds of giveaways are not unusual; members, and especially those in a position of influence, are frequently given millions of dollars for personal spending projects back home, items that bypass the normal review process and are quietly ushered in by their peers (whose own projects get the same deal). But to Coburn, who hadnâ€™t spent forty years in the Senate and didnâ€™t have any of his own special projects and didnâ€™t particularly care about keeping pacts with his new colleagues, $200 million seemed like a lot to spend on a bridge for fifty people. So he tried to take the earmark out. And thatâ€™s when Tom Coburn discovered what his life in the Senate would be like. . . .
So now thereâ€™s all this hullabaloo about the Democrats taking overâ€”Tom Coburn is supposed to care? Heâ€™s supposed to get excited now that the peanut butter is on top and the jelly is on the bottom instead of the other way around? This is a revolution? Itâ€™s a revolution that Ted Stevens has been pushed aside as chairman of the defense-appropriations subcommittee and that in his place the Democrats have installedâ€¦Daniel Inouye of Hawaii? A man who inserted $900 million of his own personal projects into the budget last yearâ€”and who happens to be one of Ted Stevensâ€™s best friends in the Senate? Itâ€™s a revolution that the Democrats have cleaned out the subcommittee behind the Bridge to Nowhere and replaced the chairman withâ€¦Patty Murray of Washington? A woman who personally led a campaign for the bridge and who threatened revenge against any Democrat who opposed it? Itâ€™s a revolution that Thad Cochran has been deposed as the most powerful budgetary overlord in the Senate and is being replaced withâ€¦Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia? A man who has single-handedly converted his state into a federally funded monument to himself, with no less than thirty projects named in his own honor, including the Robert C. Byrd Expressway and the Robert C. Byrd National Technology Transfer and the two Robert C. Byrd federal buildings and the Robert C. Byrd Center for Hospitality and Tourismâ€”not to mention the actual statue of Robert C. Byrd that stands in the rotunda of the state capitol?
Robert C. Byrd is going to clean up the government? This is a revolution?
Coburn smiled at the suggestion. â€œWeâ€™ll see how the Democrats vote on the first big earmark boondoggle that comes up,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m gonna try to reserve judgment.â€
Read the whole thing.