Tomnibus

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Robert N. Going likes what he sees in Oklahoma's junior senator:

I think I have a new hero, a United States Senator who believes in requiring politicians to justify their spending of your tax dollars, who kept his term limit pledge when he went to Congress, who intends to do the same in the Senate, doesn't ask for or get earmarks, is beholden to no one and votes his conscience, Senator Doctor Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

The man has tied the Senate in knots by following their rules. He's put holds on every questionable bill he can get his hands on. See David Keene's background piece in The Hill.

At the time Keene wrote, he fully expected that the good old boys of both parties would squash Coburn like a bug when the "Coburn Omnibus Bill" (designed to logroll enough pet projects to guarantee 60 votes) came to the floor. Lo and behold, the Republicans stuck together and only 52 Senators voted "Aye".

What Going and other limited-government conservatives love about Dr. Tom are the very qualities that frustrate his colleagues:

Tom Coburn's Senate colleagues don't know quite what to make of the doctor from Oklahoma. Many of them find him personally likable, but they can't understand why he seems to want to change the way the exclusive club to which they all belong has been doing business for so long.

And what's worse, they have no way of controlling the man. Coburn (R) left the House in 2000 after three terms there because he had voluntarily term-limited himself, and he says that he'll retire from the Senate after two terms there to go back to practicing medicine in Oklahoma. What that means, of course, is that he won't be around quite long enough to chair an important committee even if the GOP should retake the Senate at some point -- and that, therefore, he doesn't have to watch his manners lest party leaders squelch his ambitions.

Moreover, since he finds earmarks morally objectionable, his colleagues can't control him by cutting off funds for a library or parking garage back home and instead have to either confront his arguments or find a way around him. That was a lot easier in the House because there isn't all that much a lone congressman can do to derail spending programs there, but the Senate actually empowers folks like Coburn, who are willing to forsake the comity of the club and rely on the body's rules to get their way.

We need more people like Coburn in government, people who aren't bound by ambition or fear or social ties from doing what's right. If District 2 voters have the good sense to elect Sally Bell to the County Commission, we'll be closer to that goal here in Tulsa County.

Watch Sen. Coburn's blog to follow his crusade against indefensible federal spending.

MORE: Via Jill Stanek, The Hill reports that the Senate Ethics committee is pressuring Coburn over continuing to deliver babies pro bono. The pretext is that, now that the formerly public Muskogee Regional Medical Center is a private institution, Coburn delivering babies there constitutes an endorsement of that particular hospital.

Coburn spokesman John Hart agreed to discuss the issue only after The Hill contacted his office several times over the past two weeks. He called the Ethics panel's logic "absurd" and its argument "inane."

"Just as parents don't choose him hoping to sway his vote, parents don't choose to receive his services at a particular hospital because Dr. Coburn has somehow endorsed that hospital because he is a senator," Hart said in a statement e-mailed to The Hill. "The committee has shown us zero empirical evidence to back up its flimsy claim.

"Has Sen. Leahy provided an improper endorsement to Warner Brothers for appearing in Batman?" Hart asked. "Will millions of Americans now see Batman not because it features stars like Christian Bale or the late Heath Ledger, but because Patrick Leahy, a distinguished United States senator, has offered his illustrious endorsement to this motion picture?

"If Sen. Coburn can only deliver babies for free at a public hospital, shouldn't Sen. Leahy only be allowed to donate his notable thespian skills to a public entity like PBS?"...

Hart estimates that Coburn has delivered dozens of babies since last receiving an ultimatum from the Ethics panel in 2005. Coburn has received no compensation for his work and paid "tens of thousands of dollars" out of his own pocket for medical malpractice insurance and other costs related to his medical practice, Hart said.

Other physicians in the Senate, such as former Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon, voluntarily gave up their medical practices when they joined the Senate.

Coburn, however, wants to remain a true citizen-legislator and has long argued that the Senate should allow him to keep serving his patients because he plans to return to the practice when he leaves the Senate in 2016, consistent with his pledge to serve only two terms. He would like to keep up his medical skills if he is going to continue being able to earn a living in his chosen profession.

Frist, by contrast, had no plans to return to his practice when he retired from the Senate. ...

"The parents of babies Dr. Coburn delivers don't choose him hoping to sway his vote, and they never have," Hart said. "In the 10 years Dr. Coburn has provided free healthcare to his neighbors while serving in Congress, the Ethics Committee has never pointed to a single conflict of interest. No lobbyist or any individual has ever attempted to infiltrate his medical office under the guise of an invasive medical exam to discuss Senate business."

Coburn's work as an obstetrician was controversial during his House career, but the House allowed him to continue to practice and make enough money to cover his medical bills. When he joined the Senate, the Ethics Committee issued him a letter prohibiting him from practicing medicine.

Hart also made note of the timing of the press's interest in this story. The Ethics Committee sent a memo to Coburn in May, but it has only become public in the past two weeks during the battle over the Tomnibus bill.

Stanek writes, "Were Tom Coburn aborting babies free instead of delivering them free, there would be no investigation; there would be an awards ceremony. This is ridiculous on so many levels, not the least of which is the Democrats' disregard for the poor, unless they control the dole so as to get the credit."

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3 Comments

Brent Taylor Author Profile Page said:

The only politician I ever had a yard sign for - of which Senator Tom has made me proud.

Ironically, for as backwards as we can be as a state sometimes (lifelong Okie here), we seemed to have elected two pretty good Senators.

Let's hope it stays that way after November.

Mark Author Profile Page said:

Thank goodness for Coburn. He is indeed a great ambassador for the principled, independent values of most Oklahomans.

Unfortunately, Coburn's bright star is not quite bright enough to make up for the decidedly dim wattage of the senior senator. Inhofe is an absolute embarrassment for our State.

Ted D Author Profile Page said:

This bill is exactly why I voted for Tom Coburn. I want more people (can't really call him a politician) like him in office.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on July 31, 2008 7:12 AM.

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