Coburn (R-Okla.) prevailed in blocking a massive package of generally non-controversial bills that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid brought to the floor, angering Democrats and some Republicans while raising Coburn's status as a cult hero to fiscal conservatives. The vote was 52-40 on a procedural motion that required 60 votes.
The package of about three dozen bills includes research money for paralysis victims, a civil rights bill named after Emmitt Till and a crackdown on child pornography. Yet the package also has dozens of other measures that would authorize billions in programs for the environment, foreign relations and health care.
Coburn is notorious in the Senate for blocking all manner of routine bills that he says include wasteful spending, and has earned the nickname "Dr. No" for his holds on Senate bills.
Republicans stuck together in blocking this bill not because they oppose all of the programs, but because they have decided to block everything small and large this week until they get votes on stalled energy legislation.
The vote sent Reid into one of his trademark tirades on the Senate floor, as he basically accused Republicans of voting against people with strokes, people in wheelchairs and those suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease.
"You go home and explain to your folks [voters] about stroke legislation," Reid said. "You go home and tell people ... in a wheelchair you voted against moving forward on something that could get them out of their wheelchair."
"You're going to have to go home and explain to the poor, the disabled and the elderly," Reid continued.
McConnell held his ground, saying the Republicans were launching blockade of everything not related to oil prices. The two sides are actually negotiating on energy amendments, but there was no breakthrough yet.
"We know the American people are interested in seeing the Congress work together on the number one issue in the country, and that's the price at the pump," McConnell said.
Coburn stood in the well of the Senate during the vote, chatting with his GOP colleagues and enjoying the moment. In his statement, Coburn said he actually wanted to pass some of these bills, but wanted more debate and negotiation.
" I look forward to working with my colleagues to help them improve and pass many of the bills the majority leader hoped to pass today," Coburn said. "I have insisted on debating and improving many of these bills because this body has a moral obligation to future generations to live within our means."
The Senate has now turned to a quorum call, which is basically like a rain delay, until Reid decides what to turn to next.