Jonathan Chait

The Mysterious Dr. Coburn

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Sen. Tom Coburn is known for his "unpredictable style," as Politico has delicately put it. The right-wing Senator spent months painstakingly crafting a deficit bargain with the bipartisan Gang of Six. Then, as it neared agreement, he suddenly jacked up his demands and then bolted the negotiations. On Tuesday, he suddenly returned, endorsing the Gang of Six plan.

The best way to understand Coburn is a kind of one-man banana republic, with various violently-opposed factions vying for control. Yesterday, the right-wing absolutist Coburn faction took power and announced that the easiest path to a lower deficit lay in adopting a Constitutional Amendment permanently locking in spending levels far lower than the Paul Ryan levels Obama had previously denounced as morally unacceptable:

"This is the only viable plan, right now, that will do that," said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) "And I will bet you a porterhouse steak that, if it lands on his desk, he'll sign that puppy."

But wait! This morning the bipartisan wise man Coburn faction has risen up, seized control of the radio station and announced a new policy:

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Friday said it's "stupid and naive" to think that a grand bargain on reducing the federal deficit can be reached without tax increases.

"I think it's terrible that we would have to raise more taxes," Coburn said on C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." "But if we're going to get an agreement in Washington to fix our problems, when those of us that don't want to raise taxes control the House of Representatives, don't control the Senate, don't control the White House I think it's pretty stupid and naive to think you're going to win that battle."

For those confused citizens, that "stupid and naive" plan was the failed program under Generalissimo Coburn, who has been driven into exile, but is rumored to be gathering loyal insurgents in the countryside. I am just waiting to see if perhaps some Maoist faction rises up to steer Coburn to denounce Obama as an imperialist stooge and perhaps try to whip up Senate support for a program of forced collectivized agriculture. Coburn could even start a new Gang.

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