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Tax Relief Act of 2005

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I will consume what time I may and then ask for the remaining time when I finish.

The first thing I would like to say is I hold no ill will toward anybody who opposed me on this whatsoever. The Members here understand what their role is, and I understand what mine is. But I also understand that one of the things our country needs is citizen-based legislators. That is what I was in the House.

During my time in the House of Representatives, nobody ever accused me of being anything other than the most hard-working there. I delivered 400 babies in 6 years while I was in the House. I never missed a vote during those times. I might have missed votes associated with the airlines or committee meetings, but I never missed a vote. I campaigned on the fact that I was going to be term limited. I am a term-limited Senator. The most I will be here is 12 years, and maybe not more than 6.

But the point is: Why would I want to practice medicine? I want to practice medicine so I can be involved in what real people experience every day in this country. We don't get to see that enough. We don't get to see that at townhall meetings when we give speeches. But I will tell you that sitting in the middle of a patient's room when there is conflict in a family or death and dying or a new complication associated with an old disease and lives get impacted, I get to measure and I get to see what none of you get to see--what we do and how it affects people.

I want to practice medicine to be the best Senator I can be. I want to maintain my skills so I can go back and deliver babies. There is nothing better in the world than delivering a baby. It is a reaffirmation of why we are all here. It is a reaffirmation of life.

I will tell you that we need to think long and hard about our ethics rules.

We have shot ourselves in the foot. Every Member in the Senate is ethical and wants the same thing for our country as I do--a bright and golden future, security and opportunity for our kids. But our ethics rules lack common sense.

I will address one particular statement. This word is all about compensation. Arbitrarily, the decision was made by the Ethics Committee to define ``compensation'' as any compensation. I will read what 5 CFR 26236-303(b)6 of the U.S. Government Office of Ethics for the rest of the Government says.

Compensation in this aspect is net compensation.

This could have very well been solved by the Ethics Committee in a broad and consistent and commonsense interpretation of the word ``compensation,'' but they chose not to do that. I don't know why. I am disappointed and hurt.

I was not allowed to come before the Ethics Committee. I was not allowed to present my case. I was not allowed to discuss with any Ethics member my issue, to explain the basis of why I wanted to do it, and where I thought their interpretation was wrong. I had to secure legal counsel to have any communication with the Ethics Committee. I was notified by the Ethics Committee before I was ever sworn in that they had made this decision even though they lacked or asked for no input from me on my situation.

If that is the pattern under which we operate the Ethics Committee, we have real problems. I don't blame that on the chairman of the Ethics Committee or the ranking member. It is a problem we see in lots of other areas of Government, that staff tend to drive things. People who do not have the ultimate responsibility take the ultimate responsibility.

What I want to do is very simple: I want to be a great Senator. I want to contribute. I know I can contribute in ways that I would not be able to contribute by being a doctor and continuing the practice.

The question of Senator Frist: Senator Frist has a wonderful arrangement. It is not available to me. He has a limited number of days that he has a malpractice firm, insurance firm, that will insure him. That is not available in the practice of obstetrics in Oklahoma. It is not available to me, period. If I could do that, I would practice just as Senator Frist. But I don't have that available to me, so I have expenses four to five times what Senator Frist would pay for the same type of insurance. Could I secure that, I would be happy to do it.

The other thing we ought to talk about is the history of the Senate. We had reference to the rule change in 1977. There were no doctors in the Senate then. Senator Strom Thurmond's words, in adding physicians, was because he was trying to kill it. He was not trying to put physicians on there--and it backfired on him. That was his own rules. If you read his history of what happened in 1977, his attempt was to exclude many of us by adding doctors in the hopes that the Senate would turn that around.

Some history on the Senate: There have been 37 doctors who have been in the Senate. Senator Frist and myself are the last two. Every doctor who was a practicing doctor who came to the Senate prior to Dr. Frist practiced, received payment and acted in an ethical fashion while they were here.

It is not about money. It is about the ability to practice. I know not all Senators share my zeal for citizen-based legislators. There is a real difference. To the people of Oklahoma, when I campaigned, I made three promises to them: One, I would guarantee I would not be here for a long time; No. 2, I would continue to practice; and No. 3 is that I would work hard to solve the problems of the country before I tried to solve the problems of Oklahoma.

I put the priorities out there. Oklahomans believe in that. Not necessarily all the editorial writers, not the talking heads, but the people who voted for me, every one of them knew I planned on continuing to practice medicine.

It is also important to look at the confluence of the rules we have, the rules that say I could own a business and not directly direct it but indirectly direct it and have no limitation on my income whatever. I can farm, own a farm, collect government subsidies, with no limit whatever. I can write books. I can write music. I can counsel. I can advise. There is no limitation on us, except if you are a professional that has a fiduciary responsibility.

The question ought to be what was behind the meaning of the rules. Do you think the intention was not to have a doctor practice medicine? That wasn't their intention. The fact that the malpractice crisis has created such a situation where you cannot practice for under $100,000 a year in terms of your expenses and overhead associated with that was never thought about in 1977.

I understand there is going to be a motion, a point of order raised against this. I understand that. That is a high bar for any Member to change anything around here with 60 votes. I understand the feelings and the reasoning behind the Ethics Committee on why they want to do that. And I understand their motivation and their thinking. But I make one point to my Senate colleagues: There has not been one subcommittee that has had more subcommittee hearings than I have. As a matter of fact, there is not one subcommittee that has had half as many subcommittee hearings as I have. I have missed one vote in the entire year. I practice medicine on Saturdays, on the weekends, and from 6 to 9 a.m. on Mondays. I catch my flight, and I am here for votes. My practicing of medicine does not interfere with my Senate duties. It enhances my Senate duties.

If we don't change our rules, I will live with whatever the Senate says. I will figure out a way to practice medicine in some way that accords me to try to keep my skill and try to do that within the ethical guidelines of the Senate. But I believe we are discouraging anybody else who is a physician to run for the Senate, No. 1. No. 2, we discourage other professionals to run for the Senate. And it would be my hope that you would think about the long-term consequences of what we are doing. This does no damage to the Senate. In fact, it will enhance the Senate.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, I take whatever time I might consume.

The real difference for my colleagues to know is the definition of the word ``compensation.'' The same lawyer that is on the Senate Ethics Committee today worked for the Senate Ethics Committee in the House when the determination was made for the practice of medicine that compensation was net compensation.

There is no damage done to the House or the institution of the House. As a matter of fact, because that rule was changed, there are now, I believe, 11 doctors in the House. I reject the idea that this would do damage to the Ethics Committee. This is a simple definition. It is one that the Ethics Committee could have chosen to use but chose not to. I don't know the motivation behind that. I know they could have solved the problem, and we wouldn't be where we are today.

I reserve the remainder of my time.

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