Reid, Coburn in floor spat over shark bill

The feud between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) flared up again Wednesday over Coburn’s objection to a bill protecting sharks.

The shark legislation, which deals with a prohibition on the harvesting of shark fins, was one of several bipartisan bills intended to protect wildlife that drew objections from Coburn on Wednesday.

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Reid called the bills “issues of good moral conscience,” but Coburn objected that they were gifts to special interest groups that would widen the deficit.

The fight began when Reid asked for unanimous consent to approve the Crane Conservation Act, marine mammals rescue assistance legislation, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act, the Shark Conservation Act and the Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act. All of the bills have already passed the House.

“Today we have the opportunity to help a great number of species,” Reid said in an impassioned plea for the bills on Tuesday evening.

Reid noted the Shark Conservation Act would improve federal enforcement of an existing prohibition on the harvesting of shark fins.

“Because of a loophole in the existing law, animals are still caught, their fins are severed and the dismembered shark is thrown back in the ocean to die,” said Reid. “But they don’t die. They suffer a horrible and protracted death. All that cruelty for a bowl of soup.”

Coburn has clashed often with Reid during the 111th Congress, often throwing up objections to business the Democratic leader considers routine and slowing the pace of work.

Their relationship got off to a bad start at the beginning of the 111th when Coburn blocked a routine request by Reid to introduce the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, which was a top priority of the leader. Reid scheduled an unusual Sunday vote to overrule Coburn. 

When Coburn asked Wednesday to be recognized on the Senate floor — a routine request — Reid objected, leaving Coburn momentarily speechless.

Coburn then stood up on the floor an explained his opposition.

Coburn said the Senate should be working on ways to lower the federal deficit.

“The problems that are facing this country are so big and so massive that our attention ought to be focused on those large problems, not on five separate bills that have been proffered for special interest groups.”

Coburn said the bills would add to the federal deficit at a time “when our economy is languishing because we continue to grow the federal government.”