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Republican

Sen. Tom Coburn (R)

Tom Coburn Contact
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Email: n/a
DC Contact Information

Phone: 202-224-5754

Address: 172 RSOB, DC 20510

Tom Coburn Biography
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  • Elected: 2004, term expires 2016, 2nd term.
  • State: Oklahoma
  • Born: Mar. 14, 1948, Casper, WY
  • Home: Muskogee
  • Education:

    OK St. U., B.S. 1970, OK U., M.D. 1983

  • Professional Career:

    Mgr., Coburn Optical Industries, 1970–78; Practicing physician, 1983–present.

  • Political Career:

    U.S. House of Reps., 1995-2001.

  • Religion:

    Southern Baptist

  • Family: Married (Carolyn); 3 children

Tom Coburn, a Republican who previously served in the House, was elected to the Senate in 2004 and reelected in 2010. He generates plenty of media attention as one of the Senate’s most idiosyncratic conservatives, and in that vein announced in January 2014 that he would resign his seat at the end of the 113th Congress rather than serve the final two years of his term. Read More

Tom Coburn, a Republican who previously served in the House, was elected to the Senate in 2004 and reelected in 2010. He generates plenty of media attention as one of the Senate’s most idiosyncratic conservatives, and in that vein announced in January 2014 that he would resign his seat at the end of the 113th Congress rather than serve the final two years of his term.

Coburn has battled prostate cancer, but said his health wasn't a factor in his decision to leave. The timing of his announcement enabled his successor to run in the November 2014 midterm election instead of in a special election. "Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career," he said in a statement. "That’s how I saw it when I first ran for office in 1994, and that’s how I still see it today. I believe it’s important to live under the laws I helped write, and even those I fought hard to block.”

Coburn grew up in Muskogee, where his father started Coburn Optical Services, which became the town’s biggest employer. Coburn graduated from Oklahoma State University and, while there, married his childhood sweetheart, who was Miss Oklahoma 1967. His father moved his company to Virginia, and Coburn followed to join the business. These were years of campus and youth rebellions, but not for Coburn. “I was focused on business, kind of driven. I was sort of aloof to the counterculture. I never even heard of marijuana,” he says. Coburn took over the lens division of the company and increased sales from $100,000 to $40 million. In 1975, the company was sold to Revlon.

After being stricken with melanoma, Coburn decided to go to the University of Oklahoma Medical School. He graduated at age 35, moved back to Muskogee and opened Maternal and Family Practice Associates. In 1994, Coburn read in his local newspaper that the area’s congressman, Mike Synar, was calling for a greater role for the government in running the health care system, and decided to run against him. Synar’s 2nd District, covering northeast Oklahoma outside Tulsa, was traditionally Democratic but increasingly conservative. As it turned out, Synar was beaten in the 1994 Democratic primary by a 71-year-old retired middle school teacher. That left an easier path for Coburn to prevail in the general election, which he did, 52%-48%.

Coburn belonged to the group of conservative agitators who came to power with Republican leader Newt Gingrich and were determined to make big changes. He regularly angered appropriators by opposing their bills and offering multiple amendments. A strong opponent of abortion rights, Coburn sponsored bills requiring AIDS counseling for pregnant women and labels on condoms disclosing that they don’t prevent infections that lead to cervical cancer. He became known around the Capitol for conducting graphic slide shows for lawmakers and staff about the effects of sexually transmitted diseases. In time, Coburn and other firebrands in the Class of ’94 became disenchanted with Gingrich and undertook an ultimately unsuccessful plot to unseat him as House speaker in July 1997. In 2000, Coburn kept his campaign promise to serve only three terms in the House and did not run for reelection. He went home to his medical practice in Muskogee and wrote Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders.

In 2003, when Republican Don Nickles announced he would retire after four terms in the Senate, several well-known politicians lined up to run. In the GOP primary were Kirk Humphreys, Oklahoma City mayor, and Bob Anthony, an Oklahoma energy commissioner. Coburn at first stayed out of the contest because he had been recently treated for colon cancer. But after several weeks, he changed his mind, saying he had “an impression in my spiritual life that I was supposed to do this.” Coburn’s cultural and fiscal conservatism, his opposition to Washington insiders, and his adherence to his House term-limit pledge had earned him fans across the state. Though early polls showed a close race, he won 61% of the vote to 25% for Humphreys and 12% for Anthony.

The Democratic nominee was Brad Carson, who had been elected in the 2nd District to succeed Coburn in 2000. He had one of the most moderate voting records of any House Democrat and had supported gun rights and the Iraq war. Carson labeled Coburn an extremist whose sometimes impolitic public remarks “already made us a laughingstock all across not only the country but the whole globe.” With support from national Democrats, he raised more money than Coburn. Coburn presented himself as a part-time lawmaker, determined to uphold principle and willing to take on his own party’s leadership, while portraying Carson as an extreme liberal who would be “a vote for Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton to run the Senate.”

In September, news broke of a lawsuit, long since settled, by a woman who claimed Coburn in 1990 sterilized her without consent when operating on her ectopic pregnancy and then filed a false Medicaid claim. Coburn said the woman gave oral consent and that he’d never sought reimbursement for the sterilization. A Carson ad said Coburn “sterilized an underage girl without her consent,” then committed Medicaid fraud “to get paid for the illegal procedure.” Coburn charged that Democrats had connived with reporters to raise the issue. Coburn won by a solid 53%-41%.

Early in his Senate career he vowed not to seek earmarks and was quick to criticize those who did. When he tried to delete $453 million for two bridges in Alaska, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens exploded. “If the Senate decides to discriminate against our state...I will resign from this body,” he fumed. Coburn lost on a 82-15 vote, but he continued to challenge other senators’ earmarks, making him a less than popular colleague. He also challenged the Bush administration’s financing of the Iraq war through supplemental appropriations. And he teamed up with Democratic Sen. Obama of Illinois in 2006 to win enactment of a central database for federal grants and contracts, which Coburn called “a small but significant step toward changing the culture in Washington.”

Coburn’s constant challenges of Senate operations infuriated Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid. He proposed multiple amendments to the Democrats’ omnibus appropriations bill in March 2009 and tried to remove $5.5 billion in what he deemed wasteful projects in the 2009 economic stimulus legislation. With the Senate’s other physician at the time, Republican John Barrasso of Wyoming, he opposed the Democrats’ health care overhaul bill in 2009. He also attracted considerable attention with an amendment barring federal payments for erectile dysfunction pills to convicted sex offenders.

Coburn insisted that Democratic measures be paid for, and he blocked any he thought were not offset with spending cuts, including a major food safety bill, National Science Foundation grants in political science, home health care for veterans, aid to victims of strife in Uganda, and money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “If we don’t start paying for things, we’ll face a disaster worse than Greece,” he told National Journal.

In March 2010, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell named Coburn as one of three Senate Republicans to President Obama’s commission on the federal debt, co-chaired by former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles and former Sen. Alan Simpson of Wyoming. The panel’s recommendations included tax increases, continuation of the 2010 health care legislation, and substantial changes in entitlement programs. But they did not get the supermajority Obama required to trigger his support for enacting the recommendations. Coburn joined Senate Republican colleagues Judd Gregg of New Hampshire and Mike Crapo of Idaho in voting for the recommendations, as did Senate Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois and Kent Conrad of North Dakota.

Coburn’s efforts to trim spending have occasionally been quixotic. In July 2011, he offered an amendment that would require veterans to show more convincing evidence of Agent Orange exposure before receiving disability payments. The bill actually did receive the support of Vietnam War hero John McCain, R-Ariz., but it was defeated, 30-69. In the same month, Coburn released a 10-year plan to save $9 trillion, including sweeping changes to Medicare and Medicaid, capping home mortgage tax deductions, and cutting $1 trillion in Pentagon spending. He also proposed ending tax breaks and benefits for people with incomes greater than $1 million. The plan failed to get traction. In November 2012, he released a provocative report called the “Department of Everything,” recommending nearly $68 billion in Pentagon budget cuts. Among the reductions, Coburn suggested downsizing the number of senior military positions. His plan was endorsed by respected Washington Post national security columnist Walter Pincus.

He also complained about farmers who make more than $1 million receiving subsidies from the Department of Agriculture. His amendment banning these payments passed the Senate, 84-15, in October 2011. “It is the height of hypocrisy for politicians to complain about tax rates for millionaires while ignoring spending programs for millionaires,” Coburn told The Oklahoman. Coburn was one of the few Republicans willing to consider tax increases to balance the budget.

During the 112th Congress (2011-2012), Coburn had some success with one of his crusades: phasing out ethanol subsidies. As a senator from a large oil-producing state, Coburn views oil and gas subsidies as “tax breaks” and not subsidies, but views ethanol credits as costly subsidies. “There’s no subsidies in oil and gas. You need to go look your facts up. They’re legitimate business expenses,” Coburn told National Journal Daily in 2011. He co-sponsored a bill with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. to repeal $5.4 billion in ethanol subsidies, which eventually passed 73-27. Though the vote was largely symbolic, the bill generated momentum for on the issue, and Congress let the 45-cent-per-gallon ethanol subsidy expire at the end of 2011.

Coburn was the lead GOP negotiator for new gun control measures in the wake of the deadly shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012. He joined forces with Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. to hammer out a deal enhancing federal background checks for gun purchases. In March 2013, NBC News reported that the National Rifle Association wouldn’t oppose a Coburn-endorsed compromise bill. But Schumer was unable to reach agreement with Coburn, and Democrats moved the bill through committee without his support. A final bill implementing background checks stalled.

Going into the 2010 election, some Democratic strategists thought Coburn might be vulnerable after he admitted counseling his Washington, D.C., housemate and Nevada GOP Sen. John Ensign about an affair Ensign had had with the wife of his chief aide. Ensign then tried to find a job for the aide to keep the affair a secret. But the issue had no negative impact in Oklahoma, where Coburn was reelected with ease, 71%-26%. In May 2012, the Senate Ethics Committee admonished Coburn for “improper conduct” in the matter. The committee stated that Coburn should not have met with Ensign’s former aide, Doug Hampton, because a lobbying ban prohibits contact with former Senate staffers within one year of their departure.

In October 2011, Coburn had surgery for his prostate cancer and returned to the Senate a week later.

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Tom Coburn Election Results
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2010 General
Tom Coburn (R)
Votes: 718,482
Percent: 70.64%
Spent: $2,644,376
Jim Rogers
Votes: 265,814
Percent: 26.13%
Stephen Wallace
Votes: 25,048
Percent: 2.46%
2010 Primary
Tom Coburn (R)
Votes: 223,997
Percent: 90.36%
Evelyn Rogers
Votes: 15,093
Percent: 6.09%
Prior Winning Percentages
2004 (53%); House: 1998 (58%), 1996 (55%), 1994 (52%)
Tom Coburn Votes and Bills
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National Journal’s rating system is an objective method of analyzing voting. The liberal score means that the lawmaker’s votes were more liberal than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The conservative score means his votes were more conservative than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The composite score is an average of a lawmaker’s six issue-based scores. See all NJ Voting

More Liberal
More Conservative
2013 2012 2011
Economic 9 (L) : 90 (C) 2 (L) : 97 (C) - (L) : 94 (C)
Social 17 (L) : 82 (C) 21 (L) : 77 (C) - (L) : 88 (C)
Foreign 16 (L) : 83 (C) 16 (L) : 77 (C) - (L) : 94 (C)
Composite 14.5 (L) : 85.5 (C) 14.7 (L) : 85.3 (C) 4.0 (L) : 96.0 (C)
Interest Group Ratings

The vote ratings by 10 special interest groups provide insight into a lawmaker’s general ideology and the degree to which he or she agrees with the group’s point of view. Two organizations provide just one combined rating for 2011 and 2012, the two sessions of the 112th Congress. They are the ACLU and the ITIC. About the interest groups.

20112012
FRC7171
LCV97
CFG10087
ITIC-40
NTU9689
20112012
COC63-
ACLU-25
ACU10092
ADA50
AFSCME0-
Key Senate Votes

The key votes show how a member of Congress voted on the major bills of the year. N indicates a "no" vote; Y a "yes" vote. If a member voted "present" or was absent, the bill caption is not shown. For a complete description of the bills included in key votes, see the Almanac's Guide to Usage.

    • End fiscal cliff
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Block faith exemptions
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • Approve gas pipeline
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Approve farm bill
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • Let cyber bill proceed
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • Block Gitmo transfers
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Raise debt limit
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Pass balanced budget amendment
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Stop EPA climate regulations
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Proceed to Cordray vote
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Require talking filibuster
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Limit Fannie/Freddie
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Regulate financial firms
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Pass tax cuts for some
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Legalize immigrants' kids
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Ratify New START
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Confirm Elena Kagan
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Stop EPA climate regs
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Repeal don't ask, tell
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2010
    • Overturn Ledbetter
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Block release of TARP funds
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass $787 billion stimulus
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Repeal DC gun laws
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Confirm Sonia Sotomayor
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass health care bill
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Bar budget rules for climate bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass 2010 budget resolution
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Let judges adjust mortgages
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Allow FDA to regulate tobacco
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Protect gays from hate crimes
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Cut F-22 funds
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Label North Korea terrorist state
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Build Guantanamo replacement
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Allow federal funds for abortion
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Cap greenhouse gases
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2008
    • Bail out financial markets
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2008
    • Increase missile defense $
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2008
    • Overhaul FISA
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2008
    • Raise CAFE standards
    • Vote:
    • Year: 2007
    • Expand SCHIP
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Make English official language
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
    • Path to citizenship
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Fetus is unborn child
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
    • Prosecute hate crimes
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Withdraw troops 3/08
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Iran guard is terrorist group
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
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The Almanac is a members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics. Comprehensive online profiles include biographical and political summaries of elected officials, campaign expenditures, voting records, interest-group ratings, and congressional staff look-ups. In-depth overviews of each state and house district are included as well, along with demographic data, analysis of voting trends, and political histories.
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