Tom Coburn

Last updated

It's disappointing the Senate spent a week debating a bill that duplicates existing law and fails to address the real problems facing the country. The only way we can restore confidence in Congress is to make hard choices and solve real problems by doing things like reforming our tax code, repairing our safety net and reducing our crushing debt burden. Doing anything less will further alienate the American people and rightfully so. [93]

Committee assignments

Coburn was a member of the following committees:

Political positions

Abortion

Coburn opposed abortion, with the exception of abortions necessary to save the life of the mother. In 2000, he sponsored a bill to prevent the Food and Drug Administration from developing, testing, or approving the abortifacient RU-486. On July 13, the bill failed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 182 to 187. [94] On the issue, Coburn sparked controversy with his remark, "I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life." [8] [95] He noted that his great-grandmother was raped by a sheriff. [96]

Coburn was one of the original authors of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act upheld by the United States Supreme Court in Gonzales v. Carhart . [97] The act relied on an expansive view of the Constitution's Commerce Clause, as it applies to "any physician who, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, knowingly performs a partial-birth abortion." [97] The Act's reliance on such a broad reading of the Commerce Clause was criticized by Independence Institute scholar David Kopel and University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds, who noted that "[u]nless a physician is operating a mobile abortion clinic on the Metroliner, it is not really possible to perform an abortion 'in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce.'" [98] When Coburn later called Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan "ignorant" due to her "very expansive view" of the Commerce Clause, his support for the Act was used by Kagan supporters who charged him with hypocrisy on the issue. [97]

On September 14, 2005, during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, Coburn began his opening statement with a critique of Beltway partisan politics while, according to news reports, "choking back a sob." [99] Coburn had earlier been completing a crossword puzzle during the hearings, [99] and this fact was highlighted by The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to ridicule Coburn's pathos. [100] Coburn then began his questioning by discussing the various legal terms mentioned during the previous day's hearings. Proceeding to questions regarding both abortion and end-of-life issues, Coburn, who noted that during his tenure as an obstetrician he had delivered some 4,000 babies, asked Roberts whether the judge agreed with the proposition that "the opposite of being dead is being alive."

You know I'm going somewhere. One of the problems I have is coming up with just the common sense and logic that if brain wave and heartbeat signifies life, the absence of them signifies death, then the presence of them certainly signifies life. And to say it otherwise, logically is schizophrenic. And that's how I view a lot of the decisions that have come from the Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. [101]

Fiscal conservatism

Senators Coburn and Barack Obama discuss S. 2590 in 2006 Coburn and Obama discuss S. 2590.jpg
Senators Coburn and Barack Obama discuss S. 2590 in 2006
Senators Coburn and Obama and Congressman Jeb Hensarling greet President George W. Bush at the signing ceremony of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 Coburn and Obama greet Bush.jpg
Senators Coburn and Obama and Congressman Jeb Hensarling greet President George W. Bush at the signing ceremony of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006

The best-known of Coburn's amendments was an amendment to the fiscal 2006 appropriations bill that funds transportation projects. [102] Coburn's amendment would have transferred funding from the Bridge to Nowhere in Alaska to rebuild Louisiana's "Twin Spans" bridge, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The amendment was defeated in the Senate, 82–14, after Ted Stevens, the senior senator from Alaska, threatened to resign his office if the amendment were passed. Coburn's actions did result in getting the funds made into a more politically feasible block grant to the State of Alaska, which could use the funds for the bridge or other projects. The renovations for the Elizabethtown Amtrak Station were cited by Coburn as an example of pork barrel spending in the stimulus bill. [103]

Coburn was also a member of the Fiscal Watch Team, a group of seven senators led by John McCain, whose stated goal was to combat "wasteful government spending." [104] [105]

On April 6, 2006, Coburn and Senators Barack Obama, Thomas Carper and John McCain introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. [106] The bill requires the full disclosure of all entities and organizations receiving federal funds beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2007 on a website maintained by the Office of Management and Budget. The bill was signed into law on September 26, 2006. [107]

Coburn and McCain noted that the practice of members of Congress adding earmarks had risen dramatically over the years, from 121 earmarks in 1987 to 15,268 earmarks in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service. [108]

In July 2007, Coburn criticized pork-barrel spending that Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson had inserted into the 2007 defense spending bill. Coburn said that the earmarks would benefit Nelson's son Patrick's employer with millions in federal dollars and that the situation violated terms of the Transparency Act, which was passed by the Senate but had not yet been voted on in the House. Nelson's spokesperson said the Senator did nothing wrong. [109] At that time, newspapers in Nebraska and Oklahoma noted that Coburn failed to criticize very similar earmarks that had benefited Oklahoma. [110]

In 1997, Coburn introduced a bill called the HIV Prevention Act of 1997, which would have amended the Social Security Act. The bill would have required confidential notification of HIV exposure to the sexual partners of those diagnosed with HIV, along with counseling and testing. [111]

In 2010, Coburn called for a freeze on defense spending. [112] The following year, along with Democratic Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, he introduced a bill to "get rid of the most venerable big ethanol subsidy: the blenders tax credit." [113] Coburn served on the Simpson-Bowles debt reduction commission in 2010 and was one of the only Republicans in Congress open to tax increases as a means of balancing the budget. [114]

In 2011 Coburn broke with Americans for Tax Reform with an ethanol amendment that gathered 70 votes in the Senate. He said that anti-tax activist Grover Norquist's influence was overstated, and that revenue increases were needed in order to "fix the country." [115] [116]

In 2012, Coburn identified less than $7 billion a year in possible defense savings and over half of these savings were to be through the elimination of military personnel involved in supply, transportation, and communications services. [117]

In May 2013, after tornadoes ripped through his state, Coburn said that any new funding allocated for disaster relief needed to be offset by cuts to other federal spending. [118]

Coburn was a fierce critic of the plan to attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act by shutting down the federal government, saying that the strategy was "doomed to fail" and that Ted Cruz and others who supported the plan had a "short-term goal with lousy tactics". [7]

Gun rights

In regards to the Second Amendment, Coburn believed that it "recognizes the right of individual, law-abiding citizens to own and use firearms," and he opposed "any and all efforts to mandate gun control on law-abiding citizens." [119] On the Credit CARD Act of 2009, which aimed "to establish fair and transparent practices relating to the extension of credit under an open-end consumer credit plan and for other purposes," [120] Coburn sponsored an amendment that would allow concealed carry of firearms in national parks. The Senate passed the amendment 67–29. [121]

Coburn placed a hold on final Senate consideration of a measure passed by the House in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings to improve state performance in checking the federal watch list of gun buyers. [122] However, after the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012, Coburn (who had already announced he would not run for re-election) reversed himself and came out in support of universal background checks. [123] Coburn partnered with Democratic members of the Senate such as Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin (to whose re-election campaign Coburn donated money [124] ) to determine what a universal background check measure should look like. However, these talks ultimately broke down, and in April 2013, Coburn was one of 46 senators to vote against the amendment in its final form, defeating its passage. [125] [126]

Health care reform

Senator Coburn at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland U.S. Senator Tom Coburn speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland.jpg
Senator Coburn at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland

Coburn voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in December 2009, [127] and against the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. [128]

Coburn co-authored the Patients Choice Act of 2009 [129] (S. 1099), a Republican plan for health care reform in the United States, [130] which in part 1) Requires the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to convene an interagency coordinating committee to develop a national strategic plan for prevention. The act provided for health promotion and disease prevention activities consistent with such a plan. Secondly it set forth provisions governing the establishment and operation of state-based health care exchanges to facilitate the individual purchase of private health insurance and the creation of a market where private health plans compete for enrollees based on price and quality. Thirdly it intended to amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow a refundable tax credit for qualified health care insurance coverage. Fourth it sets forth programs to prevent Medicare fraud and abuse, including ending the use of social security numbers to identify Medicare beneficiaries. Fifth it sought to terminate the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. [131]

Presidential nominations to the Judicial and Executive branches of government

During the administration of President George W. Bush, Coburn spoke out against the threat by some Democrats to filibuster nominations to judicial and Executive Branch positions. He took the position that no presidential nomination should ever be filibustered, in light of the wording of the U.S. Constitution. Coburn said, "There is a defined charge to the president and the Senate on advice and consent." [132]

In May 2009, Coburn was the only Senator to vote against the confirmation of Gil Kerlikowske as the Director of the National Drug Control Policy. [133]

Same-sex marriage

Coburn opposed same-sex marriage. In 2006, he voted in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban it. [134]

War in Iraq

On May 24, 2007, the U.S. Senate voted 80–14 to fund the war in Iraq, which included U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans' Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007. Coburn voted nay. [135] On October 1, 2007, the Senate voted 92–3 to fund the war in Iraq. Coburn voted nay. [136] In February 2008, Coburn said, "I will tell you personally that I think it was probably a mistake going to Iraq." [137]

On December 15, 2014, Coburn stalled the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act aimed at stemming veteran suicides. The bill would require a report on successful veteran suicide prevention programs and allow the United States Veterans Administration to pay incentives to hire psychiatrists. Paul Rieckhoff, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said that despite his reputation as a budget hawk, Coburn should have recognized that the $22 million cost of the bill is worth the lives it would have saved. "It's a shame that after two decades of service in Washington, Sen. Coburn will always be remembered for this final, misguided attack on veterans nationwide," he said. "If it takes 90 days for the new Congress to re-pass this bill, the statistics tell us another 1,980 vets will have died by suicide. That should be a heavy burden on the conscience of Sen. Coburn and this Congress." Speaking out against the legislation, Coburn said "I object, not because I don't want to save suicides, but because I don't think this bill will do the first thing to change what's happening," arguing that the bill" "throws money and doesn't solve the real problem" [138]

Post-Senate career

After resigning from the U.S. Senate, Coburn joined Citizens for Self-Governance as a senior advisor to the group's Convention of States project, which seeks to convene a convention to propose amendments to the United States Constitution. [139] [140] In 2017, he authored a book on the subject titled Smashing the DC Monopoly: Using Article V to Restore Freedom and Stop Runaway Government. [141]

Coburn was affiliated with the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, consulting on the institute's Project FDA, an effort to promote faster drug approval processes. [13] He also sat on the board of the Benjamin Rush Institute, a conservative association of medical students across 20 medical schools. [142] In 2016, he became a Manhattan Institute senior fellow. [14]

Awards

In 2013, Coburn received the U.S. Senator John Heinz Award for Greatest Public Service by an Elected or Appointed Official, an award given out annually by the Jefferson Awards. [143]

Personal life

Despite their stark ideological differences, Coburn was a close friend of President Barack Obama. Their friendship began in 2005 when they both arrived in the Senate at the same time. [144] They worked together on political ethics reform legislation, [145] to set up an online federal spending database and to crack down on no-bid contracting at the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In April 2011, Coburn spoke to Bloomberg TV about Obama, saying, "I love the man. I think he's a neat man. I don't want him to be president, but I still love him. He is our President. He's my President. And I disagree with him adamantly on 95% of the issues, but that doesn't mean I can't have a great relationship. And that's a model people ought to follow." [146]

Before the 2009 BCS game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Florida Gators, Coburn made a bet over the outcome of the game with Florida Senator Bill Nelson—the loser had to serenade the winner with a song. The Gators defeated the Sooners and Coburn sang Elton John's "Rocket Man" to Nelson, who had once flown into space. [147]

Illness and death

In November 2013, Coburn made public that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. In 2011, he had prostate cancer surgery while also surviving colon cancer and melanoma. The results caused Coburn to resign from the senate in 2014. [148] [149] [150]

Coburn died at his home in Tulsa on March 28, 2020, exactly two weeks after his 72nd birthday. [37] [151] A memorial service to honor his life was held a year later on May 1, 2021, at South Tulsa Baptist Church. [152]

Electoral history

Tom Coburn
Tom Coburn official portrait 112th Congress.jpg
United States Senator
from Oklahoma
In office
January 3, 2005 January 3, 2015
Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district : Results 1994–1998 [153]
YearDemocraticVotesPctRepublicanVotesPct3rd PartyPartyVotesPct
1994 Virgil R. Cooper75,94348%Tom A. Coburn82,47952%
1996 Glen D. Johnson90,12045%Tom A. Coburn112,27355%
1998 Kent Pharaoh59,04240%Tom A. Coburn85,58158%Albert Jones Independent 3,6412%
Oklahoma Senator (Class III) results: 2004–2010 [153]
YearDemocraticVotesPctRepublicanVotesPct3rd PartyPartyVotesPct3rd PartyPartyVotesPct
2004 Brad Carson 596,75041%Tom A. Coburn763,43353% Sheila Bilyeu Independent 86,6636%
2010 Jim Rogers265,51926%Tom A. Coburn716,34771%Stephen Wallace Independent 25,0482%Ronald Dwyer Independent 7,8071%

Books

External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Presentation by Coburn on Breach of Trust, October 2, 2003, C-SPAN
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Presentation by Coburn on Breach of Trust, December 15, 2005, C-SPAN
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Presentation by Coburn on The Debt Bomb, June 30, 2012, C-SPAN
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Interview with Coburn on Smashing the DC Monopoly, May 23, 2017, C-SPAN

See also

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References

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U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district

1995–2001
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for U.S. Senator from Oklahoma
(Class 3)

2004, 2010
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 3) from Oklahoma
2005–2015
Served alongside: Jim Inhofe
Succeeded by