U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s vote against opening the government and raising the country debt limit is yet another example of his crass, bifurcated political style.
In an extremely bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate voted 81-18 Wednesday to fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. This came after a 16-day government shutdown.
Coburn was one of the 18 who voted against it, which might not seem unusual, unless you consider all his previous public statements railing against the Republican strategy to hold the government hostage in order to defund the Affordable Care Act. Coburn called that GOP strategy “intellectually dishonest.”
“But to create the impression that we can defund ObamaCare when the only thing we control — and barely — is the U.S. House of Representatives is not intellectually honest,” Coburn said on MSNBC days before the vote.
That statement seems reasonable enough coming from a politician who recently said, in perhaps a less lucid moment, that President Barack Obama was “getting perilously close” to impeachment, which was a bizarre, untruthful claim.
But when the time came to vote on the funding bill, Coburn chose to keep the government closed and destroy the nation’s economy. Fortunately, there were more than enough Senators who actually agreed with Coburn’s statements about the awful, senseless Republican strategy in the first place.
So, in other words, Coburn tries to have it both ways. On one hand, he seems like a rational moderate by opposing fringe elements in his party. On the other hand, he votes in unison with that fringe element. He gets away with it because the corporate media here won’t hold him accountable to his obvious contradiction.
Here was Coburn’s statement after his vote:
Washington doesn’t need short-term budget and debt limit extensions as much as we need a long-term spending addiction recovery plan. The American people should do what any responsible parent would do if their adolescent child couldn't handle the responsibility of a credit card. We should cut up the credit card and live within our means. With this agreement, the hard decisions we have to make have only been put off for another day, when our fiscal problems will be bigger and more painful to solve. It’s time to make tough choices now.
These are standard, hollow GOP talking points. Coburn, who claims for now that he’s not going to run for reelection in 2016, is simply appeasing his ill-informed base of supporters, which he purposely enrages with misinformation and presidential impeachment suggestions. It should make people wonder if he actually IS going to run for reelection.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe was unable to vote on Wednesday because he’s recovering from major heart surgery, but it’s a good bet he would have voted along with Coburn to keep the government closed and ruin the country’s credit by not raising the debt ceiling.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole was the only politician in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation that had the decency and common sense to stand up to the Tea Party radicals and vote in favor of the bill. Cole also stayed consistent with his earlier remarks criticizing the GOP strategy, which ultimately cost the country’s economy an estimated $24 billion.
But let’s get back to Coburn. As I’ve written again and again, Coburn likes to present himself as a dignified statesman championing government fiscal responsibility, but his actions often expose him as a Republican extremist and political opportunist. His vote to inflict further damage on the nation’s economy for what seems to be obvious personal political gain is yet another example of that.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s current campaign to expose fraud in the nation’s disability program is a case of misplaced priorities.
Why not go after wasteful military spending or audit and investigate defense contractors? The U.S. spends more than $700 billion a year on defense. Surely, there’s some fraud or at least some bad practices in how that money gets spent.
Instead, Coburn targets a program that actually pays extremely little to its truly disabled participants, who now may end up suffering even more.
Of course, all government fraud and waste is bad. Let’s end it. But why pick on a program for the disabled? That’s just cruel.
Coburn is leading a government investigation into the Social Security Disability Insurance program. On Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a segment that purported to show abuse of the system in West Virginia. The segment alleges that an attorney and some doctors in West Virginia colluded to help people receive disability payments even though they weren’t actually disabled.
According to Coburn, who was quoted extensively on the segment, such abuse is widespread. He told a 60 Minutes reporter, “Probably a third of everybody on disability, there's no way that they're disabled.” It makes for good television.
But many of those organizations who help the disabled pointed out the segment for what it was: Sensationalism. The General Accounting Office, according to a Media Matters critique of the segment, has pointed out that fraud accounts for only one percent of disability payments.
The Media Matters report on the segment cited people who work for organizations that support the disabled. One of those people, Rebecca Vallas, co-chair of the Social Security Task Force at the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, said, “The recent 60 Minutes broadcast is just the latest in an array of sensational and misleading media reports that have perpetuated myths and stereotypes about the Social Security disability programs and the people they help. These media reports do a tremendous disservice to viewers as well as to people with disabilities.”
It should be clear that Coburn’s agenda is purely political. He has often agitated for cuts in so-called entitlement programs, such as Social Security, and this is a way for him to further that GOP cause. Unfortunately, as those in the disabled community argue, he’s hurting vulnerable people who desperately need government assistance to survive. Even those who are supposedly scamming the system, and most are presumably unemployed, are only getting around an average of $700 a month.
I realize there are a lot of people in Oklahoma who view Coburn as bipartisan and fiscally responsible. I’ve never been one those people. Appearing on 60 Minutes is just another one of his political stunts to further the radical GOP agenda.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s remarks at a town hall last week that President Barack Obama was getting “perilously close” to committing an impeachable offense shows just how radical and bizarre the right-wing has become in the last two decades or so.
That the right-wing political establishment is made up of pandering extremists playing to a declining, myopic, ill-informed voter base is nothing necessarily new to some people, but Coburn’s comments do add a new dimension to the lunacy here in ultra-conservative Oklahoma.
The corporate media here, especially the editorial page of The Oklahoman, often tries to depict Coburn as a wise, prudent statesman with a bi-partisan interest in fiscal matters, but it’s a characterization I’ve never accepted about him. Coburn remains a right-wing extremist, perfectly capable of discarding facts whenever necessary to foment voter anger and scare people. His impeachment comments are untruthful and irresponsible, and he should retract them.
For the record, Obama has done nothing at all that would indicate he is close to committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are necessary for an impeachment. Coburn backed his “perilously close” statement with only generic language. “I think there’s some intended violation of law in this administration, but I also think there’s a ton of incompetence,” he said. No local media outlet to my knowledge challenged Coburn by asking for specific evidence. That’s fairly typical here.
Coburn, who made the comments in Muskogee Wednesday, was just one of several congressional Republicans who have raised the impeachment issue this month, and not one of them has offered a legitimate reason. As Jonathan Bernstein, writing in Salon.com, puts it:
None of these politicians seem to feel any need to actually discuss the grounds for impeachment. At best there’s some hand-waving around the minor scandals of the last year, but for the most part it’s just assumed that impeachment is what Republicans normally do to Democratic presidents, just because.
Coburn also called Obama a “friend,” but that also seems nonsensical at this point, another myth that goes along with the fictional media characterization of him as the wise statesman above the fray of mean-spirited politics. “Can you imagine how he treats people who aren’t his friends?” asked David Axelrod, a former advisor to Obama, in response to Coburn’s comments. Axelrod also said, “It’s plainly absurd, but it’s worse than absurd. On this, I think [Coburn] was way out of bounds.”
Coburn has a history of absurd comments. He once said Obama “actually believes in socialism” and warned against growing lesbianism in southeastern Oklahoma school. His consistent, reckless comments undercut his fictional image in the state media.