“Dr. No” threatens to deliver a baby
Posted by sanityinjection on August 12, 2008
This is a bizarre little story involving one of the more colorful members of the US Senate, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
Coburn is what you’d call a “true believer”. He’s a right-wing Republican who irritates Republicans and Democrats alike by stubbornly sticking to his convictions on both economic and social issues. In doing so, he’s thrown many a monkey wrench into other Senators’ pet projects, including the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” boondoggle of his GOP colleague, the now-disgraced Ted Stevens of Alaska. The Senate has learned that love him or hate him, Tom Coburn does not back down easily.
This issue, however, has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the fact that Coburn, like many Senators, had a real job before he ran for office. Coburn is an obstetrician (which, combined with his opposition to pork-barrel spending projects and his habit of putting a hold on other Senators’ bills, earned him the nickname of “Dr. No”.) When he was first elected as a Congressman, the concern arose that continuing to practice medicine might create a conflict of interest for Coburn when he had to vote on issues concerning the health care industry. However, Coburn was devoted to his work with low-income and high-risk patients. So he worked out an agreement with the House Ethics Committee that he could continue to deliver babies as long as his fees only covered his costs and no more.
When Coburn came to the Senate, however, he faced a new set of rules on outside income. Coburn pointed out that he needed to continue his work in order to be able to stay practiced and be able to resume working as a full time physician when he eventually leaves the Senate. So he decided that he would only deliver babies for free, and pay all his insurance and administrative fees out of his own pocket.
However, the Senate Ethics Committee has ruled that because the hospital where Coburn works is a for-profit entity, there is a conflict of interest even if Coburn himself is not making money. Uniquely, this is not a partisan issue as both Democrat and Republican leaders have admonished Coburn. The Ethics Committee warns that if Coburn delivers any more babies he will be in violation of Senate rules and subject to reprimand. However, Coburn has no intention of giving in. He’s betting that the Ethics Committee and the Senate have more important things to worry about at the moment, and that if the Ethics Committee were to bring a motion to the full Senate to reprimand him for delivering babies for free, he would probably win the vote. Coburn has said he is continuing his practice and could deliver a baby at any time.
Technically, the Ethics Committee is correct and Coburn is out of line. But in practical terms, Coburn probably has the upper hand.