Conference call with Sens. Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint

posted at 11:50 am on July 23, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Senators Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint spoke today in opposition to efforts by Democrats on housing and energy, calling their solutions “short term” and politically expedient rather than cogent and effective.  Coburn says that this is the problem with Harry Reid’s omnibus spending bill, too, which is why Coburn has placed procedural holds on it.  It spends too much money and focuses only on short-term, politically expedient solutions rather than long-term strategies on a range of issues.

Coburn wants a debate on the 39 bills that Reid has aggregated without allowing any amendments.  Coburn wants to use the debate to highlight the upcoming economic crisis that will result from the constant growth of the government, especially at the risk of financing it through sale of notes to foreign governments, especially China.

Jim DeMint says that Reid wants to paint Coburn as “unreasonable” for wanting the ability to offer amendments.  Reid, DeMint said, wants to force bills through the Senate on his say-so.  Only 53 bills so far has gone to a roll-call vote; most of them get approved by acclamation.  Reid is “ruining the institution,” DeMint says.  He wants to pass everything without serious debate and skipping roll-call votes.  It’s an effort to circumvent transparency.


  • Is it time for us to roll back the way we’ve calculated the budget deficit to pre-1964 to get better accuracy? — Coburn says it’s time to report it honestly.  The federal government has borrowed tremendous amounts of money from Social Security which hides the real size of the debt.  It has to start with a mandatory balanced budget, which will force Congress to set priorities.  Congress is doing the same thing Enron did — reporting false numbers to the public.
  •  When does the 60-hour debate begin? — Not until Reid files cloture, and we have to finish the energy debate first.  Republicans will need to keep the focus on energy, so it may take a while.
  • What is the total for this authorization? — Over $11 billion.  The authorization keeps expanding government, and does nothing to address duplications in the bureaucracy.  It also has no metrics for oversight in any of the programs.
  • Me: Do you have the votes to stop this, given that many of these authorizations have Republican co-sponsors?  It’s not a matter of policy at this point, but of principle.  If Reid wins, the minority will have no rights left in the Senate.  However, there are plenty of reasons to oppose the bill on policy, too.  The Christopher Reeve allocation duplicates what the NIH is already doing, and will dilute the overall effort.  The Non-Human Primate bill will keep people with assistance animals from traveling.
  • Me: Did Republicans do this as well?  Only twice during Bill Frist’s entire tenure as majority leader.  Reid has done it 14 times.  Also, Reid files cloture as soon as he introduces bills, which he then claims as “filibusters” from Republicans.
  • Why does Reid want to move away from the energy debate with it being the biggest issue facing the nation?  Because he doesn’t want to have to take the obvious action of increasing domestic supplies.  He’s more concerned with power than what’s best for the country.  Republicans need to keep the debate open on this issue.
  • Do you expect any Democratic support for your position on the authorization?  No.  I think it will be a leadership issue with the Democrats and that they will whip the members hard.  DeMint expects Republican solidarity.
  • What do you think of T. Boone Pickens’ wind farm?  Coburn supports it — but it’s not the only thing we should do, which Pickens also says.  We should be doing it all.

Here’s the background on the omnibus bill:

After weeks of public sniping and behind-the-scenes talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and conservative gadfly Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over Coburn’s use of holds to block legislation, the chamber’s top Democrat appears ready to force a showdown by introducing a package of stalled bills aimed at breaking GOP support for Coburn.

According to Senate leadership aides, Reid today will begin the process of moving the “Coburn Omnibus,” a set of bills that have broad bipartisan support but have been held up because of Coburn’s objections.

Debate on the bill could begin Friday, and Coburn has raised the possibility of using the chamber’s arcane rules to grind the Senate to a halt.

Earlier this year, the two lawmakers’ relationship quickly degenerated over Reid’s decision to use procedural tactics to circumvent a deal he had cut with Coburn on a package of lands bills.

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Ed’s dying to be the focus of another hard hitting HuffPo investigation!

lorien1973 on July 23, 2008 at 11:52 AM

Is the definition of “gadfly”, anyone who opposses Democratic desires?

MarkTheGreat on July 23, 2008 at 12:06 PM

anything that slows the deomcratic giveaway train down is a good thing.

unseen on July 23, 2008 at 12:10 PM

a set of bills that have broad bipartisan support but have been held up because of Coburn’s objections.

Ed, any way to find out who else is on this Bi=Part Bill? I am curious who I need to email and call.

upinak on July 23, 2008 at 12:27 PM

It’s about time Republicans developed a backbone and a reasonable energy policy.

But beware of Pickens!!! T. Boone wants to be pickin’ your pocket!!! His “Big Wind” proposal would have YOU TAXPAYERS subsidizing about 33% of the total cost of constructing a wind farm via the Federal PTC, which is about $21/MWH in 2008: a really HUGE subsidy!!! In addition, Pickens wants to pawn off power line construction, interconnection construction, and interconnection management costs (which may be as large or larger than the total cost of the wind-generated power) on the TAXPAYER!!! By the time you add in additional peak generation facilities made necessary by the unreliable nature of wind generation, you will find that “wind power” really is power fueled by TAXES!!! These projects can NEVER recover their initial cost via monthly energy bills paid by electricity users over their 20 year useful life: the Big Wind advocates try to hide this fact by ignoring all capital, interconnection, and transmission costs.

This is another case where “alternative energy” is really just a Democrat-inspired “Red Herring” designed to distract everyone from the serious business of providing additional usable and economical energy to the USA!!

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Tom Coburn for President! Is it too late to kick McCain out and substitute Coburn?

bopbottle on July 23, 2008 at 12:35 PM


If you are insinuating that Mr. Pickens is in cahoots with the democrats, you are dead wrong. Please back up your accusations.

Vince on July 23, 2008 at 12:37 PM

Oh Mr. landlines! Yoo Hoo!

Vince on July 23, 2008 at 12:57 PM

Vince on July 23, 2008 at 12:37 PM

Pickens is mainly trying to line his own pockets. He is working with anyone (regardless of party) who can help him grab tax money and otherwise confiscate resources from other power generating utilities.

To find out how wind REALLY works, start with this DOE Annual Report on US Wind Power Installation Cost, Performance, and Trends 2007. Skim over the hype (this thing is written by wind advocates), and take notes on the charts containing actual data. Read the references and don’t quit reading and adding up costs until you get the actual numbers on interconnections. In the references, there is some real data from New York and other places: New York even has passed laws to keep Big Wind from pawning off interconnections on existing utilities: Pickens & Co want the Feds to pre-empt such laws.

So is Pickens working with the Democrats? Not really, but he is functioning as a “useful idiot” for them by helping to promote their counterproductive big government, big tax schemes hiding under cover of the “environment” label.

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 1:05 PM

I don’t care about the accusation about being in bed with the DEMS, is it true that his plan has the Taxpayer giving all that money to the energy producers who charge more for wind powered electricty than gas powered? I can’t hardly tell the difference between a big government Republican and a big Government Democrats these days unless we’re talking about Iraq so whats the difference except who is paying the bills.

Buzzy on July 23, 2008 at 1:10 PM


Thanks for the link. I will read this tonight when I have some time. I am a big admirer of Mr. Pickens and therefore biased but I also can change my mind when confronted with the facts. Thanks again!

Vince on July 23, 2008 at 1:22 PM

A few years back when water supply was a big issue in Texas, pickens was out in front buying up water rights from cash-strapped ranchers, hoping to corner the market. Now he has picked up surface rights (with the potential long term income they could generate) to put up windmills. the surface owners seeing no windmills coming anytime soon, and therefore they are willing to take much less money now rather than wait for a long time. Next step: get the windmills coming, and if the taxpayers pick up the tab, all the better.

I’m not suggesting that Pickens is pushing a scam. Rather, he sees an opportunity, and has a big plan to bring it to fruition. And he can be an energy hero in the process, and Boone has no objection to media attention, so all the better.

iurockhead on July 23, 2008 at 1:27 PM

T. Boone wants to be pickin’ your pocket!!!

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Pickens doesn’t need to be “in cahoots” with anyone. He sees a 25% return (his own projection) from his wind business because of the public subsidies and market controls, and he wants to take his place at the public trough.

On the website he argues that switching to natural gas to power our vehicles will save lots of oil.

But what’s that got to do with wind?

His sleight of hand connection is that he claims that wind power will free up more natural gas to be used for autos.

Yet in his praises for the benefits of natural gas (e.g. on his website) he emphasizes that one of the main attractions of natural gas is that we have more than ample supplies of it (e.g. known supply is already “twice the reserves of petroleum”).

The obvious question is that if we have such supplies of natural gas, then why do we need to use wind to free up some of it? Why can’t we transition to natural gas powered vehicles without any convoluted connection to wind power? (And if he’s so big on gas over oil, why isn’t he proposing replacing the oil generated electricity — only 1.5% of total electricity generated from all sources — with gas?)

In a recent interview, Mr. Pickens revealed his real motivation: he expects to make at least 25% profit from his Texas wind power venture3! (From the limited information given out by secretive wind developers, this exceptional return seems to be rather typical in the wind industry, because of the lavish subsidies.) 25%!

petefrt on July 23, 2008 at 1:28 PM

Vince on July 23, 2008 at 1:22 PM

To see what Pickens specifically is advocating, see his own web site (Google it: I didn’t save the link, but it’s easy to find) and the “20% by 2030” propaganda from the DOE. His specific immediate problem is that he wants the government (or utilities acting under government mandates) to build all the power lines and interconnects to his proposed wind farm in Texas: he doesn’t have to pay those costs. He’s also pushing for larger Federal and state subsidies (aka “tax credits”, etc.) on this project.

But in the link I gave you in my previous post, you’ll find an admission (from DOE researchers, no less) that “wind energy” is really “tax energy”: that is, that large wind projects are not economical without a heavy subsidy (PTC and other measures) from Federal and state government (i.e.: YOUR MONEY).

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 1:37 PM

petefrt on July 23, 2008 at 1:28 PM

Thanks for helping me explain this boondoggle.

I think the actual subsidy will turn out to be closer to 33% by the time the automatic inflation adjustment of the PTC kicks in: and that is BEFORE the credits from Texas and the potential gifting (by government/taxpayers/utilities) of free interconnects to this project. If nothing slows this down, the subsidies could well total over 100%!!

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 1:43 PM

Just two questions today, eh, Ed? Good thinking — better lay low for a while until the heat blows over…

Lee on July 23, 2008 at 1:51 PM

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 1:43 PM

Boondoggle is putting it mildly. When the public starts to understand the public support lavished on the wind industry (and the inefficiency and dead-endedness of wind turbine technology), it will be scandalous. If ethanol from corn looks bad now, just wait for wind subsidies to become better understood.

I have an excellent financial analysis of Pickens’ likely risk and return, which I’m trying to upload to Google Docs so I can give you a link to it. But it’s in .pdf format, and converting to .doc garbles the charts and such. When I find time, I’ll edit it into .doc format and upload it if you like to read it.

Meanwhile… this summary from Power Magazine

When it comes to investment risk, … Pickens has a five-card poker hand that can’t be topped.

* The federal production tax credit, which will reduce the tax liability of the Pickens wind farm by $2.45 billion over 10 years.

* Accelerated depreciation, a “generous 5-year, double declining balance accelerated derepciation” for federal tax purposes, worth as much as another $3.5 billion in six years. If the project is 50% debt financed, says Schleede, Pickens would “recover thru depreciation all of his equity investment in less than two years and in just over one year if the project begins operation late in the first tax year.”

* Texas tax franchise breaks. Texas law allows a deduction from state tax laws in two ways, says Schleede. First, the total cost of the system can get reduced from the company’s total taxable capital. Alternatively, he notes, 10% of the cost of the wind system can be deducted from the company’s income.

* The Texas renewable portfolio standard and renewable energy credits flow to the bottom line of wind projects in the Lone Star State. “The higher costs forced on electric distribution companies,” says Schleede, “are passed on to electric customers in their monthly bills – apparently with the blessing of the state’s political leaders and regulators.”

* Pass-through of transmission costs. The cost of moving wind long distances from where it is generated to where consumers can use it, he notes, will be “borne by electric customers in their monthly bills, not by the ‘wind farm’ owners.” In addition to the capital costs of transmission, Schleede notes, customers will pay for the line losses of wind as it moves from the point of generation to the customers. Also, he argues that “wind farms use transmission capacity inefficiently, resulting in high unit cost for the electricity that is eventually received.”

petefrt on July 23, 2008 at 2:08 PM

Screw Reid, anything this clown offers should be immediately sent to the circular file, unless he bows to Republican terms.

Reid is a corrupt and incompetent jackass and should be ignored, since decorum prevents physical assault, which Reid so rightly deserves.

NoDonkey on July 23, 2008 at 2:14 PM

Base load natural-gas fired power plants should be replaced by base-load nuclear power plants which are cost competive and reliably available. Wind is not cost competitive and not reliably available and thus cannot replace capacity. All it would do is turn baseload natural gas plants into natural gas-fired peaker units; not replace them. Annual output is at best about 40% of peak capacity for wind but all the connections and lines have to be built for peak generation. Wind is a niche market source for remote locations.

Pickens push for natural-gas fired automobiles is also dependent on technology and investment that is not clearly the best choice. It may be that ultimately, hydrogen fuel cells or just plug in electrics may be better. Let the market decide. Right now the market will push nuclear power before wind and do so without government subsidy.

KW64 on July 23, 2008 at 2:17 PM

I have an excellent financial analysis of Pickens’ likely risk and return, which I’m trying to upload to Google Docs so I can give you a link to it. But it’s in .pdf format, and converting to .doc garbles the charts and such. When I find time, I’ll edit it into .doc format and upload it if you like to read it.

petefrt on July 23, 2008 at 2:08 PM

I’d really like to see that. If you want to email the *.pdf to me, I’ll post it in an unused portion of one of my web servers so that a link can be established without having to convert it. The servers have a lot of unused capacity, so I think they’ll handle the traffic.

So at the risk of adding to my 600 pieces of SPAM/day, my email is:

landlines on July 23, 2008 at 2:18 PM

Stopping the Reid/McCain Railroad.

There- fixed the tag line.

Valiant on July 23, 2008 at 2:22 PM

Here an analysis of the Pickins project in terms of his projected 25% return and the financial role of federal and state subsidies:

Pickens profits show why PTC should not be extended

petefrt on July 23, 2008 at 2:33 PM

Wind is not cost competitive and not reliably available and thus cannot replace capacity.

KW64 on July 23, 2008 at 2:17 PM

Right you are. While wind in a few areas, such as parts of Texas and North Dakota, can enable wind turbines to operate at 40% capacity, in the East the inefficiency is much higher, and 10-25% capacity (i.e., 75-90% inefficiency) is normal.
Even Pickens acknowledges that wind energy in the East is not a viable alternative. Yet recent federal and state subsidies have created a wind ‘farm’ building boom in the highlands of Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, etc.

With such lavish subsidies, the limit to the wind ‘farm’ building boom is not so much the availability of wind as the availability of land to put them on.

petefrt on July 23, 2008 at 2:47 PM

When T. Boone Pickens looked into the camera and said something so ludicrous as “we can’t drill our way out of this crisis” you knew something was not going to pass the smell test. Granted, we need to explore every avenue to get ourselves back on track. – but, one would think if it was such a great idea the cost should be borne by the investor. I’m sick of schemes that only result in my wallet being picked by somebody.

24K lady on July 23, 2008 at 3:21 PM