Tom Coburn

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Tom Coburn (1948-) is a United States Senator (R-Oklahoma}, who was elected in 2004 after retiring from the House of Representatives. He sees himself as a citizen-legislator, and has set term limits for himself; a physician, he continues to see patients. He retired from the House in keeping with a personal term limit promise, came to the House from the practice of medicine, and came to medicine from accounting and manufacturing.

He is a member of the Senate Committees on the Judiciary, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Intelligence, Indian Affairs and on U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

His legislative priorities in both houses have focused on spending and health. He is a social conservative, representing what he sees as traditional Oklahoma values. Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, called Coburn "the single best leader I ever worked with on the critical moral and family issues that have been at the heart of my own work."[1]

Legislative style

Sometimes called "Dr. No", he is not infrequently in rules battle, consistent with his self-identification as a citizen-legislator, as seen in his term limits. In 2008, he was warned by the U.S. Senate Committee on Ethics not to accept fees for performing deliveries in Oklahoma. [2]

Coburn can be intense in his rhetoric in public speeches, as when he suggested, in 2004, that he supported the death penalty for "abortionists and other people who take life." His staff clarified he was raising an issue rather than proposing legislation. [3] Nevertheless, he and Barack Obama have a close personal friendship. Criticized for hugging Obama after a joint session of Congress, he said
You need to separate the difference in political philosophy versus friendship. How better to influence somebody than love them? We’re very good friends. We’re totally different, but we respect each other immensely, and we have a personal relationship that’s outside our politics. Who else does he have on my (Republican) side that he has a relationship with?"[4]
More recently, at a town meeting, he responded to a question that people could be put in jail for not buying health insurance with “The intention is not to put any one in jail. That makes for good TV news on FOX but that isn’t the intention.” At the same meeting, he criticized Nancy Pelosi for causing an impasse on unemployment compensation, but defended her personally:
Come on now. She is nice – how many of you all have met her? She’s a nice person
Just because somebody disagrees with you dodn’t (sic) mean they’re not a good person I’ve been in the senate for five years and I’ve taken a lot of that, because I’ve been on the small side –- both in the Republican Party and the Democrat Party.
Returning to concern about Fox News, he said
What we have to have is make sure we have a debate in this country so that you can see what’s going on and make a determination yourself. So don’t catch yourself being biased by FOX News that somebody is no good. The people in Washington are good. They just don’t know what they don’t know.[5]

On Fox, Glenn Beck responded, "I'm thinking maybe that we speak a different language. It sounded to me can you translate? It sounded to me that the Republican that I'm supposed to defend because he's so unlike Nancy Pelosi was defending Nancy Pelosi. " [6]

Jim Inhofe (R), the other Oklahoma senator, disagreed with his colleague, saying "There's nothing nice about Nancy. She disagrees with everything we believe."[7]


Coburn has been emphatic about avoiding deficit spending, introducing legislation to block a continuation of unemployment benefits unless other spending were cut to pay for it. He said it was largely symbolic since the Democrats had the votes to override it. [8] “The speaker’s words back (to the Senate) is 'they don’t want to set a precedent that they have to pay for new spending,'” he saod a laughing crowd. “That’s the truth. That’s the words. So I want to set that precedent.”[5]

In 2006, he teamed up with then-Senator Barack Obama to create, an online database of all federal spending.

He did vote for the financial industry bailout, but put it in a medical context: “I voted for the rescue package because I believed it was more important to prevent a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke than to teach the patient a lesson…I believe this was a necessary step,” blaming the situation not on "capitalism run wild," in either party or any administration
but political greed and incompetence among members of Congress in both parties. Politicians wanted short-term political credit for providing "affordable" home ownership even if that meant putting our entire economy at risk by encouraging people to buy homes they couldn't afford. When a few members sounded warnings about dangerous lending practices at Fannie Mae and Freddie Maci, politicians chose to ignore the problem and distract themselves with their parochial pursuits and pork-barrel projects. [9]

Medicine and health

In the current health care funding debate, he introduced an amendment that required Seators forgo their current health coverage and enroll in any government plan they pass to compete with private insurers. "Let's demonstrate leadership and confidence in the system," Coburn said before his amendment squeaked through the Senate Health Committee. A similar measure was defeated in the House.[10] He has voted against many increases in government benefits coverage, although he did vote for legislation granting childrens' benefits to fetuses.

Many people opposed to his pro-life position do agree he has the courage of his convictions. He takes a broad view of life, being opposed to abortion and continuing to deliver babies. He voted against HR 2260, the Pain Relief Promotion Act of 1999, would ban the use of drugs for physician-assisted suicide. The bill would not allow doctors to give lethal prescriptions to terminally ill patients, and but encourages hospice and palliative medicine.

Health legislation on which he worked in the House include laws to expand seniors' health care options, to protect access to home health care in rural areas and to allow Americans to access cheaper medications from Canada and other nations. Dr. Coburn also wrote a law intended to prevent baby AIDS. The Wall Street Journal said about the law, "In 10 long years of AIDS politics and funding, this is actually the first legislation to pass in this country that will rescue babies." He also wrote a law to renew and reform federal AIDS care programs. In 2002, President George W. Bush chose Dr. Coburn to serve as co-chair of the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA).

Early education and career

He was president of his class at the University of Oklahoma Medical School where he graduated in 1983. He then did his internship in general surgery at St. Anthony's Hospital in Oklahoma City and family practice residency at the University of Arkansas, Fort Smith. He is also a two-time cancer survivor.

From 1970 to 1978, Dr. Coburn served as manufacturing manager at the Ophthalmic Division of Coburn Optical Industries in Colonial Heights, Virginia. Under his leadership, the Virginia division of Coburn Optical grew from 13 employees to more than 350 and captured 35 percent of the U.S. market.

In 1970, Dr. Coburn graduated with an accounting degree from Oklahoma State University. One of the Top Ten seniors in the School of Business, Dr. Coburn served as president of the College of Business Student Council.


  1. "Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)", WhoRunsGov, a Washington Post company
  2. Martin Kady (12 August 2008), "Coburn's violation: Working as a doc", Politico
  3. Lois Romano (17 July 2004), "GOP Senate Race Intensifies in Okla.", Washington Post
  4. Katie Connolly (6 May 2009), "Coburn at the White House", Newsweek
  5. 5.0 5.1 Matt Laslo (6 April 2010), "A Top GOP Conservative Defends Pelosi, Slams Fox", Capitol News Connection
  6. Glenn Beck: Coburn - Pelosi rox, Fox does not, Glenn Beck Program, 7 April 2010
  7. Michael O'Brien (9 April 2010), "Inhofe: 'There's nothing nice' about Pelosi", The Hill
  8. J. Taylor Rushing (12 April 2010), "Coburn predicts likely defeat of his unemployment objection", The Hill
  9. Tom Coburn (22 October 2008), "Why I Voted For The Bailout", Forbes
  10. Mark Z. Barabak and Faye Fiore (2 August 2009), "Congress' own healthcare benefits: membership has its privileges", Los Angeles Times