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Boxer tries to stop Coburn from delivering babies for free

Posted by Richard on August 19, 2008

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) has long been a taxpayer hero and a thorn in the side of the porkmeisters and spendthrifts. Along with Sens. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Richard Burr (R-NC), he received a 100% score on the Club for Growth's 2007 Senate RePORK Card, voting for 15 of 15 anti-pork amendments.

In fact, Coburn introduced many of these amendments. And he's a non-partisan enemy of earmarks, corrupt backscratching, and profligate spending — when Republicans controlled the Senate, he fought against his own party leadership just as hard. It was Coburn who tried to block Sen. Ted Stevens' (R-AK, Indicted) infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," prompting Stevens to threaten to resign if Coburn's amendment passed. Now that he's been indicted, maybe some of the Republicans who helped defeat the amendment wish they'd taken Stevens up on his offer.

So why is Sen. Barbara Boxer's Ethics Committee going after Coburn? Because the senator, an obstetrician who prefers to be called "Dr. Coburn," is supposedly guilty of an ethics violation for delivering the babies of poor and at-risk Oklahoma women — for free. 

Coburn used to charge just enough to cover his costs, something he'd been doing since serving in the House with its Ethics Committee's blessing. That wasn't good enough for the Senate Ethics Committee, which has taken time out from investigating sweetheart loans for senators to go after Coburn. Debra Saunders thinks she knows why:

The Senate Ethics Committee allows big-buck book deals for U.S. senators, but in a May memorandum, it told Coburn, "you are allowed to practice medicine if you provide such services for free." So he started working for nothing.

Even free wasn't good enough. After the Muskogee Regional Medical Center, where he practices, was taken over by a for-profit operation, the committee told Coburn to cease "providing any and all medical services" by June 22, pursuant to Senate Rule 37 on conflicts of interest. Coburn could practice medicine only as a solo practitioner, for a private entity that provides services for free, or for a government or tribal health facility.

What's really going on here? The senator — who prefers to be called Dr. Coburn — has been a thorn in the side of both big-spending Republicans and Democrats. He calls earmarks "the gateway drug" to Washington's spending addiction. …

The savvy observer has to conclude that because Coburn has challenged Senate pork, the Ethics Committee essentially is willing to stick it to poor pregnant women, who might benefit from a free delivery.

It's a tactical blunder. If the committee continues to push for a public reprimand, Coburn has the right to ask for a full Senate vote. While Boxer may not mind coming across as petty and vindictive, other senators might hesitate before publicly bullying a man for delivering babies for free.

As Coburn spokesman John Hart noted, there have been many stories about lawmakers, their friends and families profiting from earmarks, but "no one has ever chosen to have Dr. Coburn deliver her baby in order to sway his vote."

Regardless of what you think of his politics (and I love his fiscal conservatism, but am put off by his social conservatism), Sen. Coburn is clearly one of the cleanest members of Congress. For the Senate Ethics Committee to divert its attention from the many members larding up bills with earmarks, doing favors for campaign contributers, getting below-market loans, etc., etc., in order to go after Dr. Coburn for delivering babies for free — well, it's an outrage. 

If you're represented by a member of the Senate Ethics Committee, please let them know what you think of this clearly vindictive and outrageous harrassment of Sen. (Dr.) Coburn. The committee members are Sens. Boxer (D-CA), Pryor (D-AK), Salazar (D-CO), Cornyn (R-TX), Roberts (R-KS), and Isakson (R-GA).

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