There are traditions that are inspiring, like laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. There are traditions that are fun, like trimming the Christmas tree or ridiculing American Idol.
And then there are traditions that are just plain stupid, like the one in the US Senate that allows any senator to put a "hold" on legislation for any reason - or no reason.
The Senate's most prominent user, and abuser, of the tradition is Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma. Coburn is a rather odd bird whose positions on issues range all over the ideological map. For example, he was one of only a handful of Republican senators to vote against the Iraq war funding bill in 2007. But he's also a hard-core right-to-lifer who has said he would support the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.
Coburn also is a crusader against drugs - he was the chief sponsor of a proposal to require drug testing of all members of Congress and their staffs - and against unsafe sex. In the latter role, according to a recent Oregonian story, he delivers "lunchtime lectures to new staffers and interns about the danger of sexually transmitted disease. The sessions include pizza and graphic images ... "
Above all, Coburn sees himself as engaged in a one-man war against wasteful federal spending, which, in his mind, apparently includes pretty much all federal spending. He's exercised his "hold" privilege so many times that his Senate colleagues have nicknamed him "Dr. No."
One of the recent victims of Dr. No is a bill to add more than 128,000 acres to the Mt. Hood National Wilderness. The bill was crafted with bipartisan support from Oregon's congressional delegation, including Republican Rep. Greg Walden, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. It was unanimously approved by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and seemed headed for quick passage by unanimous consent on the Senate floor.
And then Dr. No said no.
Coburn doesn't have any problem with the bill per se, he says. It wouldn't negatively affect his home state in any way, which is the usual reason for senators to apply a "hold." It just irks him because it would involve a modest amount of federal spending - about $11 million. "We can't do it. We don't have the money," he said.
Coburn's veto means the Mt. Hood wilderness bill most likely will have to be wrapped into a broader national wilderness bill, where its fate will be subject to the vagaries of congressional politics.
We don't know what makes Tom Coburn do what he does. Maybe he's sincerely concerned. Maybe he's trying to strike a tough-on-spending pose for the benefit of the folks back in Oklahoma. Maybe he's on an ego trip.
Whatever the motive, his pigheaded attitude has potentially endangered a precious natural area that's of incalculable value not just to Oregonians but to the people of the whole nation. For that, we're giving him THE BOOT.