I’ve liked this Senator since the moment I read about him running and regular readers will remember my support for his election campaign. It’s almost enough to make me want to move to Oklahoma, but not quite. He’s Senator Tom Coburn, and he’s one of the reasons that the “Bridge to Nowhere” is no more. John Fund highlights some of the fighting he’s done in the Senate in order to keep his “day job”.
Dr. Coburn, who delivered about 65 babies a year while he served in the House during the 1990s, wanted to continue serving his patients after he won a Senate seat last year. He noted that the House Ethics Committee had allowed him to earn just enough money as a physician to cover his medical malpractice premiums and other expenses. But the Senate had a different idea, Even before he was sworn in, Dr. Coburn was handed a letter from the Senate Ethics Committee chairman informing him that he cold not “receive compensation for practicing a profession which involves a fiduciary relationship.” The fact that Dr. Coburn wouldn’t have made any financial gain from delivering babies was immaterial. Ethics member Craig Thomas, a Wyoming Republican, summed up the committee’s stance: “When you go into Congress, that’s your job. When you come here, this is your commitment.”
Sen. Coburn soon found he did have allies, including Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart surgeon, and Rules Committee chairman Trent Lott.
It goes on to say that they tried a procudure to allow him to continue his practice, but it only got 51 of the necessary 60 votes for it to have effect. One could imagine that Coburn would be disheartened–
Sen. Coburn says the way Congress is structured discourages people with real-world experience in fields other than law from giving up their career and serving. “It is absurd to think that I have a conflict of interest the way a lawyer being compensated by a client of expenses would,” he told me. “None of my patients come to see me and ask them to deliver their baby in order to influence my vote in Congress. Let’s get real.”
Despite the rebuff by his Senate colleagues, the good doctor says he has just begun to fight. “Fifty-one votes is a great moral victory for me,” Dr. Coburn said, “and I’m not going to quit.” He promises to seek a formal rules change from the Senate at a future date.
But just in case common sense doesn’t prevail, he is taking precautions. He no longer accepts new patients and has withdrawn from a group partnership he belonged to with other physicians. He estimates that in today’s litigious climate he needs $200,000 a year to pay for his expenses, mostly malpractice premiums. If he isn’t allowed to collect it, he will have to hang up his stethoscope. “It may not make sense, but it will have its flip side,” he told me. “I’ll have a lot more time to devote to changing our tort system so that premiums don’t have to be that ruinously high.”
I love that end part that I highlighted. If you want me back here so much, you’re going to get my full attention!