Senators Stick It to the 'Pork' Surgeon

Republicans have a HUGE problem these days with ethical matters — some legitimate, some not.  But the cumulative list of reported transgressions — from Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, "Scooter" Libby, Rep. Bob Ney, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, former Illinois Gov. George Ryan — is starting to take root in the voters’ conscience.

According to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, 88 percent of those surveyed believe corruption is a serious problem.  Worse, 36 percent believe Democrats are more ethical than Republicans, while only 33 percent believe Republicans are more ethical than Democrats.  And 40 percent of women believe Democrats are more ethical than Republicans.

All of which makes what the United States Senate did to Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, last month all the more outrageous.

For those who may not know, Sen. Coburn actually prefers to known as Dr. Coburn.  For some odd reason, he actually thinks there’s more honor and dignity in being a doctor than in being a senator.  Go figure.

And not just any ol’ doctor.  He’s an obstetrician.  A baby doctor.  He brings new Americans into the world.

But in his other job as a senator, Dr. Coburn is known for something very different.  He’s known for rocking the proverbial boat.  He’s a slayer of sacred cows.  And he’s an expert at taking a scalpel to federal pork.  In fact, Dr. Coburn is probably best known these days as the guy who has almost single-handedly fought in the Senate against the now-infamous "bridge to nowhere" in Alaska.

Suffice it to say that Dr. Coburn’s crusade against pork-barrel spending infuriates most of his Senate colleagues, including most of his fellow Republicans.

Which brings us back to ethics.

When Dr. Coburn was elected to the Senate last year, it presented a major problem with regard to his "hobby" as a baby doctor.  Senate rules prohibit senators from receiving compensation from anywhere other than their Senate salary.  The ban’s purpose is to prevent conflicts of interests and ethical concerns.  So the Senate told Dr. Coburn he had to give up his medical practice if he was going to remain a senator.

How delivering babies could be a conflict of interest, I don’t know.  It doesn’t make any sense.  Unless you consider that maybe 99 percent of what the Senate does doesn’t make any sense, in which case it makes all the sense in the world.

Nevertheless, Dr. Coburn challenged the ban and took his case before the Senate Ethics Committee (which these days might pass as the perfect example of "oxymoron").  Dr. Coburn even agreed not to accept any compensation from his medical practice, saying he would only charge exactly what was necessary to cover his operating expenses – office, staff, lab work, malpractice insurance, etc.

Last March, Ethics Chairman George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Vice Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., rejected Dr. Coburn’s request for a waiver from the ban.  So Dr. Coburn appealed to the full Senate — which last month upheld the Ethics Committee’s decision.

Sen. Craig Thomas, a member of the committee, has been outspoken in his belief that Dr. Coburn shouldn’t be allowed to continue to deliver babies, worrying that if an exception is made in Dr. Coburn’s case, then senators who are lawyers and veterinarians will want an exception from the ban, as well.  "My own view is serving in the Congress is a full-time job," Thomas says. "I don’t think there ought to be an exception made for one person."

Especially when that one person constantly criticizes the Senate’s pork-barrel spending, right Senator?

Only in the United States Senate could delivering babies be considered an ethical violation.  Dr. Coburn has vowed to continue fighting against this ridiculous ban, but he’s fighting an uphill battle.  Perhaps it’s time for his fellow Americans to rally to his side in this fight.  After all, it would be "for the children."