We were immensely saddened to learn of the death of former Senator Tom Coburn, an obstetrician, who had served in both the House and the Senate. Senator Coburn died Saturday, at the age of 72.
We admired the Oklahoma Republican’s unfailing devotion to the cause of limited government and his relentless campaign against unnecessary government spending. This earned him the nickname “Dr. No.” The Wall Street Journal recalled Coburn’s antipathy to careless spending of the taxpayer’s money, which was mixed with a pragmatism that mean he actually got things done:
Coburn challenged his own party on spending earmarks, making famous the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska that led to a broader earmark ban. He took on special-interest tax subsidies and defeated the ethanol tax credit almost by himself.
He took a particular interest in health care and offered a roadmap for Republicans for free-market reform to reduce the tax subsidy for employer insurance that is skewed to the affluent; he wanted to use the savings to provide tax credits for lower-income workers whose bosses don’t offer insurance. The Trump Administration could do worse than campaign on a version of it this year.
Many conviction politicians accomplish little because they care more about looking principled than advancing their principles. Coburn was different because while firm in his convictions he was also pragmatic in forming alliances to get things done. American politics would be healthier, and government would be less destructive, if we had more Tom Coburns.
We looked forward every year to Senator Coburn’s “Waste Book,” a report on often absurd ways Congress voted to spend the taxpayer’s money. He discovered memorable items such as a $1 million budget to develop “Menus for Martians,” though at the time no trips to Mars were scheduled, or $325, 000 to build a robotic squirrel to explore the interactions between snakes and squirrels.
Coburn came to Congress in 1994, in the heady years of the Reagan Revolution. Having pledged to serve no more than three terms, he went home to Oklahoma in 2000. He was elected to the Senate in 2004. He kept his promise not to serve a third time and in 2014 announced that he would again go home to Oklahoma. By then, he was already battling cancer.
Senator Coburn, who delivered more than 4,000 babies, was first diagnosed with melanoma at the age of 28. John Fund penned a lovely remembrance of Tom Coburn, the man.
Our hearts go out to the former Senator’s family and friends and to the people of Oklahoma who have lost a valiant and principled fighter.