Shep Smith to Tom Coburn: I can't believe you're blocking this 9/11 health care bill

Via Mediaite, I’m paraphrasing — but only a little. Shep’s emphatically in scold mode here, not only devoting a chunk of airtime to sympathetic video of 9/11 responders complaining about the delay but taking care to put Coburn’s photo onscreen at the end of the clip as a sort of lame shame ritual. Cloture on the bill failed last week, but Schumer and Gillibrand said over the weekend that they expect tomorrow’s second attempt to succeed. Quick passage assured, then? Not so fast:

The Oklahoma Republican just posted a seven-page document on his website outlining why he opposes it…

Coburn said the bill “creates an expansive new health care entitlement program, despite multiple existing federally-supported health care programs for 9/11 first responders and victims” and “re-opens the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF), despite the fund’s original intent to be temporary in nature and a recent $815 million settlement that addressed gaps in compensation funding.”…

Coburn is prepared to insist on a full debate before passing the bill – a debate that could require the Senate to stay in session continuously until early next week, according to a Coburn aide. And the House would then have to reconvene after Christmas to pass the version that ultimately emerges from the Senate.

Here’s the PDF of Coburn’s argument against passing the bill as is. What he’s doing here, I think, is making a grand point about fiscal responsibility by demanding cuts to wasteful spending even within the most sympathetic bill imaginable. I respect him for standing on principle. But given the scrutiny he and the GOP are getting for blocking it, at what point do they bleed enough political capital that they end up doing more harm to their agenda than good? New York Republicans like Giuliani and George Pataki have already turned up on Fox urging the GOP to pass it; Bloomberg gave a presser the other day to stress the point too. Shep’s been on the story both days this week with more to come tomorrow, and Jon Stewart’s been focusing on it so heavily that Gibbs actually gave him a pat on the back during today’s press briefing. (Stewart even got Huckabee to call for passage a few days ago when he was a guest.) My hunch is that for every true blue fiscal conservative who admires Coburn insistence on this, there’ll be a centrist who isn’t paying close attention and can’t figure out why the hell the GOP would be blocking the bill and an independent who is paying attention and is mostly sympathetic to fiscal conservatism but can’t believe we can’t make an exception to pass this quickly. Does blocking this, even temporarily, make those two voters more or less likely to support the GOP in budget showdowns with Obama next year? Especially since the cost of the bill over the first 10 years is a few billion dollars less than the $8.3 billion in earmarks requested as part of that now-dead omnibus spending atrocity. This seems like a strange hill to die on.

Update: A commenter counters that there’ll be “human shields” used by the left to prevent cost-cutting of any government program. True enough, but making this a starting point to enforce budget discipline is like kicking off the big push to reform entitlements by trimming veterans’ health care. That should be last on the list for cutting, not first. This isn’t a case, as Social Security is, where we’ve all got skin in the game; it’s a unique class that’s suffered a unique injury while serving their country. And the thing is, this bill will pass in roughly the same shape that it’s in now. Coburn could draw it out and get a few token cuts, perhaps, but as I say, that’ll cost the GOP something in political capital. Are minor cost cuts to this particular bill worth the hit in popularity? Especially since the new GOP House will be able to offset this expenditure with cuts to other, less popular programs soon enough?

I think the best argument for Coburn’s position, actually, is the one I just made — that this is certainly going to pass next month under the new Congress, so ultimately all we’re talking about is a few weeks of bad press. Where you come down depends on how damaging you think that press is vis-a-vis the savings to be obtained by holding out.