U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to leave the Senate before his second term is finished should have progressives here in Oklahoma at least a tad worried.
Could Oklahoma elect someone even more conservative to fill his seat? That’s absolutely possible. Unless a big-name politician, such as former Gov. Brad Henry, steps into the race, Democrats have little chance to replace Coburn. Some of the Republicans who have been mentioned as possible candidates include ultra-conservative politicians that pander to the most extreme elements of their party.
Coburn, widely known as a fiscal conservative, announced last week that he was retiring from the Senate, where he has served since his 2004 election. Coburn has been dealing with a reccurence of prostate cancer, and he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. He had earlier pledged not to serve more than two terms in the Senate. I respect his decision to step down. There have even been times when I’ve actually agreed with Coburn on issues. For example, I agreed with Coburn recently that the National Football League should not be exempted from taxes.
I was quoted Friday on the NPR.org site about Coburn’s retirement. As I argued, I found some of Coburn’s Senate actions through the years--his numerous holds on legislation that earned him the nickname “Dr. No”--as political theater and simple constituent pandering. Yet Coburn has to be considered the lesser of the two evils when compared to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who remains reviled in major pockets of this country and world for his radical views disavowing climate-change science and his antiquated position on gay rights. Inhofe will be up for reelection this year as well and has drawn a Democratic opponent, which means both the state’s U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs.
Gov. Mary Fallin set the dates for the special election for Coburn’s seat on the regular election schedule, which means some of the politicians mentioned as candidates would have to give up their current positions in order to run. This could make the election extremely intriguing and could open up opportunities for Democrats and progressives if a bevy of Republicans decided to run.
Some media outlets locally and nationally, however, have already opined that Democrats have no chance for either Senate seat, and that Inhofe will easily coast to reelection. Anti-Obama hysteria or the “Obama effect,” fueled by the corporate media here, especially The Oklahoman, is the major reason Democrats have been sidelined over the last several years in the Oklahoma political scene.
Republicans have super majorities in the state House and Senate, hold all the major statewide offices and make up the state’s entire Congressional delegation.
So could the state’s political scene get even more radically conservative? Yes. Some of those Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for Coburn’s seat include U.S. Reps. James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine. (Lankford, in particular, is expected to run.) Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon has also been mentioned. What about Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who once ran for a Congressional seat on an ultra-conservative, anti-gay rights platform? He certainly knows how to dish out the shallow, right-wing rhetoric and work the corporate power structure here.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have issued statements stating that they would not run for the seat. Of all the possible Republican candidates mentioned in the media, Cole would have been the most palpable for progressives.
It’s my perception that Lankford, Bridenstine, and Shannon have all identified in one way or another with right-wing extremism in ways deeper than even Coburn and would probably be even more ideological. Cornett is involved in a highly contested mayoral election, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ran for the position or ran for Lankford’s Congressional seat.
So it goes in Oklahoma these days. Progressives can probably only hope for less radical Republicans to win elections. This will change one day, but, for now, that’s the reality.
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.