WASHINGTON — It is Sen. Tom Coburn’s signature issue. Early in his tenure, he began his crusade to attack government waste by trying to eliminate pork barrel projects. The late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens exploded when Coburn offered an amendment to kill the so-called bridge to nowhere.
So would Oklahoma Republicans nominate a replacement for Coburn this year who didn’t share his strong opposition to earmarks?
Coburn, R-Muskogee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, are deeply divided on the matter. And the race to replace Coburn comes at a time when the debate — mostly dormant since 2010 — has been revived by comments from some Democrats expressing the need for lawmakers to once again exert their spending priorities through earmarks.
Both senators have written newspaper columns in the past few weeks, with Coburn arguing in the Wall Street Journal that “restoring earmarks in today's Congress would be like opening a bar tab for a bunch of recovering alcoholics.”
Inhofe countered in Investor’s Business Daily: “Today nameless, faceless bureaucrats behind the president control how taxpayer money is spent, and no one is able to be held accountable for whether that project is waste or not.”
Coburn, who is retiring after this session of Congress, is circulating a letter among lawmakers seeking their pledges to continue the four-year moratorium on earmarks.
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who is running for Coburn’s seat, was first elected to the House in 2010, when Republicans regained control of the House and instituted the moratorium. So he was never part of the pork barrel system that his predecessors used to get road projects, university research money and even law enforcement equipment for Oklahoma’s 5th District.
Lankford signed the letter Coburn is circulating.
State Rep. T.W. Shannon, the Lawton Republican who also is running for Coburn’s seat, made clear in a statement last week that he’s not planning to stomp on Coburn’s legacy if he wins.
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