WASHINGTON — Sen. Tom Coburn has a hard and fast rule about any legislation that creates new programs and isn’t "paid for” — he’ll block it. That’s even if one of the main supporters of the bill is fellow Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, and even if the legislation has more than 50 co-sponsors from both parties. Inhofe, R-Tulsa, is pushing for action on a bill aimed at helping capture the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, providing aid to victims of that group’s reign of terror and stabilizing local governments in the area where the LRA operates. Backed by liberals and conservatives, the bill also is being pushed by an outside group called Resolve Uganda, whose Web site is encouraging people to call or e-mail Coburn to release his hold. But Coburn, R-Muskogee, has been the target of such campaigns in the past when he single-handedly blocked legislation from coming up for a vote. In November, he drew national attention for blocking consideration of a bill that would provide aid to people who care for disabled veterans.
Agrees with goalCoburn said last week that he agrees with the goal of the Uganda bill but that he wasn’t going to back off his position that the $40 million authorized in the bill should have an "offset,” that is, spending cuts somewhere else in the budget to pay for the Ugandan bill. "Even when it’s something I adamantly agree with, like on the veterans’ bill, we’re going to pay for it. We’re going to offset,” Coburn said. "And so if (Inhofe) doesn’t want to offset it, that’s fine; it won’t happen. "Doing good things — you can do them one or two ways: You can do something good and hurt our children (by adding to the deficit), or you can do something good and help our kids.” Coburn called his approach to blocking new spending "a firm rule.” If supporters of the bill want to overcome his procedural hurdle, he said, they can get 60 votes "and go around it and not pay for it.” But, Coburn said, "In this climate in America, the American people are going to understand. You shouldn’t be spending more money creating a new program unless you’re willing to get rid of some spending somewhere else.”
Spending categoryMoney could be taken from existing foreign aid, Coburn said. "All we’re saying is that the authorization shouldn’t create a new spending category,” he said. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., who introduced the bill last year, agreed that an offset to the money was necessary, and he included a cut in the budget of the Air Force of $40 million. Feingold said government auditors had found the Air Force was spending billions of dollars on spare parts that weren’t needed. Inhofe and other senators objected to that offset, and it was removed before the bill was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Inhofe said the money for the Uganda bill should come from existing U.S. State Department funds. "We do not know that yet, but we do know this (bill) is going to come to the (Senate) floor,” he said. "We want it to come to the floor. There is a hold on it now. In fact, the hold is by my junior senator. I hope we are able to get this bill.” Jared Young, Inhofe’s spokesman, said Inhofe’s position is that the cost of the legislation could be offset once the bill is approved and goes into the spending process. "The senator is committed to funding offsets once it goes to appropriations,” Young said.
BACKGROUNDInhofe speaks out about group Sen. Jim Inhofe said Joseph Kony, the head of the Lord’s Resistance Army, is "deranged” and recruits children in the areas where the group is active — Uganda, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. He said the bill would demonstrate that the problem, largely ignored, is now a U.S. priority. The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants in 2005 for Kony and some other LRA leaders. The legislation directs the administration to develop a regional strategy to eliminate the threat to civilians and regional stability posed by the LRA, to enforce the rule of law and to ensure full humanitarian access in areas affected by the LRA.