Donaldson Examines the Ways of the Senate's 'Dr. No'

ABC News' Sam Donaldson examines GOP Sen. Coburn's one-man fight against waste.

July 29, 2008 -- The following is a commentary by ABC News' Sam Donaldson. Click here to view a video version of his latest essay.

The late, great Speaker Sam Rayburn used to say, "you've got to go along to get along," but clearly the junior senator from Oklahoma, Dr. Tom Coburn, who when he's not in Congress delivers babies, doesn't believe it. Not only is he not going along with his colleagues in the Senate, he is that most dangerous of individuals. The senator doesn't care that they don't like what he's doing.

What Coburn, a conservative Republican, is doing is preventing the passage of dozens of his colleagues' pet bills for spending money on good causes. We're talking about such things as breast cancer research, funding to curb child pornography, vision care for kids and the torture victims relief re-authorization act.

By putting a personal senatorial "hold" on these bills, he has prevented their passage for months. Why? Well, Coburn says he actually supports the idea behind most of them, but they aren't being paid for, sometimes they duplicate other programs already on the books and often they have not gone through the regular committee hearing process.

And when people ask him what he does when another senator says, "Tom, support me on this pet project of mine or I may not be able to support you on something you want for Oklahoma," he reminds them that when he ran for the U.S. Senate he told the voters he wouldn't lift a finger to bring home the bacon for Oklahoma if he thought it was wasteful.

As I said, a truly dangerous man.

So, yesterday, Democratic leader Harry Reid bundled together 35 of the most popular bills Coburn has been holding up, many of them introduced by his conservative Republican colleagues, and asked the Senate to muster 60 votes to break Coburn's hold. Reid failed by eight votes.

To many of his colleagues, Sen. Tom Coburn is truly insufferable. But consider this: Congress's national approval rating is pegged at 9 percent in a recent poll, whereas Coburn's approval rating in Oklahoma is 60 percent.

Maybe it's possible to get along without going along after all.

Sam Donaldson, a 41-year ABC News veteran, served two appointments as chief White House correspondent for ABC News, from January 1998 to August 1999 and from 1977-1989, covering Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton. Donaldson also co-anchored, with Diane Sawyer, "PrimeTime Live," from August 1989 until it merged with "20/20" in 1999. He co-anchored the ABC News Sunday morning broadcast, "This Week With Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts," from December 1996 to September 2002. Currently, Donaldson appears on ABC News Now, the ABC News digital network, in a daily show, "Politics Live."