About Senator Coburn

Making Government Spending More Transparent and Accountable to Taxpayers

The U.S. government spends trillions of dollars every year, but up until recently, taxpayers and even government officials had little information about who was receiving that money or how it was being spent. Along with then-Senator Barak Obama, Dr. Coburn authored a law (Public Law 109-282) making all government spending publicly available on an internet website. The website http://www.usaspending.gov/ includes a “Google-like” search engine that allows every citizen to the see how their tax dollars are being spent and where. The site gives every taxpayer valuable tools to hold their government accountable for every penny it spends. This law has been called the greatest government transparency reform since the Freedom of Information Act was passed forty years ago. Dr. Coburn has also authored the law (contained within Public Law 111-68) that requires the office budgets of every member of Congress to be posted online, which is available: here.

Eliminating Billions of Dollars of Wasteful Washington Spending

The national debt now exceeds $17 trillion, which means every American owes $54,000 of this debt. This out of control spending by Washington politicians threatens to bankrupt our nation as well as the standard of living of our children and grandchildren and the retirement security of our parents and grandparents. Dr. Coburn has cut and prevented billions of dollars in wasteful Washington spending. He has offered hundreds of amendments to eliminate unnecessary spending. He has been successful in passing provisions of law prohibiting the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security from paying billions of dollars in underserved taxpayer funded bonuses to government contractors for shoddy and incomplete work. He has successfully fought to curtail millions of dollars in excessive junkets by bureaucrats. He stopped a $246 million tax earmark for Hollywood movie makers and eliminated a $1 million earmark for a museum dedicated to the 1969 Woodstock concert.

Leading the Fight Against Corrupt, Pork Barrel Spending

Congress’ low regard among taxpayers stems in large part from the public’s disgust over the wasteful, self-serving, and often corrupt pork barrel spending that rewards campaign donors and prioritizes parochial interests over national needs. Dr. Coburn has led the fight against these pork projects, known as earmarks. The Hill newspaper noted “Coburn’s maneuver [in 2005] to strike the Bridge to Nowhere only collected 15 votes. But since then, more have gotten on Coburn’s bandwagon as the volume of complaints from constituents about government spending and specifically the explosion of earmarks has increased. Many have underestimated Coburn throughout his career, but he has shown during his brief tenure in the Senate that he is a potent force.” The Politico newspaper wrote “Coburn, a first term senator, can be credited with writing the anti-earmark playbook, now dog-eared, replicated and amplified by his congressional colleagues. After years of forcing Congress to justify pork barrel projects, congressional leaders eventually relented and ended the practice of earmarking in 2011.”

Stopping Billions of Dollars of Secret Spending

The U.S. Senate is often referred to as “The world's greatest deliberative body,” yet every year it passes hundreds of bills with no debate or no votes using an informal practice known as the “hotline.” Until recently, most of these bills went unnoticed, allowing Washington politicians to secretly authorize the creation of countless new programs and the spending of hundreds of billions of dollars. Employing his rights to object to secret spending and to hold and filibuster legislation, Dr. Coburn has single handedly saved taxpayers billions of dollars by blocking more bills than any other Senator. The number of bills blocked by Dr. Coburn “ranks as one of the most prolific in the history of the institution, said Donald Ritchie, an associate Senate historian.” The Politico newspaper reported that “A typical bill moving through the Senate has a number of institutional hurdles to clear: subcommittee, committee, leadership and Coburn. It’s that last one that you won’t find in a textbook,” noting that “Senate aides on both sides of the aisle now take legislation directly to Coburn’s office before moving forward to make sure he has no objections — whether he’s on the relevant committee or not. If he does, they often swallow their pride and make the changes he’s asking for.” Dr. Coburn’s holds on these bills prevents billions of dollars of excessive spending from being secretly approved, results in changes to bills to protect individual freedoms, and guarantees the right of taxpayers to know how the government is spending the money hardworking Americans send to Washington.

Holding Government Accountable

Dr. Coburn has issued 40 oversight reports analyzing every branch, every department and every mission of the federal government to identify savings for taxpayers by exposing waste, mismanagement and stupidity and proposing solutions. As Chairman of the Federal Financial Management Subcommittee from 2004-2006, Dr. Coburn held more oversight hearings than any other Senate Subcommittee, exposing billions of dollars of government waste and mismanagement. As the ranking member of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Dr. Coburn is currently investigating billions of dollars in mismanaged government programs. He has also offered more amendments to bills during his first term than any other Senator during this same period. Among those, Dr. Coburn has succeeded in passing amendments requiring government grants and contracts be opened to competitive bidding to ensure that taxpayers get the best deal on products and services.

Reducing Government Bureaucracy

Congress creates hundreds of new programs every year, many of which duplicate the goals and purposes of numerous other programs that already exist. There has never been a comprehensive evaluation, but at least 640 programs within the federal government have been identified as being duplicative. Dr. Coburn offered an amendment, which is now law (Section 21 of Public Law 111-139), requiring the Government Accountability Office to identify federal programs, agencies, offices, and initiatives with duplicative goals and activities and to annually estimate the cost of such redundancy with recommendations to reduce duplication.

Protecting the Rights of Law Abiding Americans to Protect Themselves and Their Families

Dr. Coburn has consistently fought to ensure the right to bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is not infringed upon. When federal bureaucrats and unelected judges restricted the Second Amendment in national parks, Dr. Coburn authored a provision of law [Section 512 of Public Law 111-24] to reaffirm the right of law abiding Americans to carry firearms to protect themselves and their families when visiting national parks. When Congress sought to pass a bill that threatened to unfairly deny some veterans the right to bear arms, Dr. Coburn successfully fought to make changes to the bill to ensure that the rights these vets fought and sacrificed for would not be denied to them.

Fighting to Protect the Sanctity of All Human Life

As a practicing physician, Dr. Coburn has delivered more than 4,000 babies and as a member of Congress, he has stood up for the rights of the unborn as well as those at the end stage of life. He has been a leading proponent of adult stem cell research, which holds far more promise than unethical and destructive embryonic stem cell research. The National Journal identified Dr. Coburn as a key pro-life leader in Congress, stating “Coburn was particularly influential” on the abortion issue. “He and other conservatives have attached a host of anti-abortion riders to appropriations bills,” the magazine noted.

Ensuring Access to Affordable and Quality Health Care for All Americans

As a practicing physician, Dr. Coburn knows all too well the struggle many patients have accessing affordable and quality health care. He has introduced legislation, The Patients’ Choice Act, that would guarantee all Americans choice of health care coverage and ensure universal health insurance without increasing the role of government in health care decisions. He has written a provision of law (provision of Public Law 105-33) guaranteeing patients’ rights for those enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, including timely access to primary and specialty health care providers, a timely grievance process with appeals, an explanation of the enrollee’s rights and plan information, and prohibitions on restrictions on communications between patients and doctors and financial incentives to encourage health care providers to deny medically necessary care. He wrote another provision of law [provision of Public Law 106-113] guaranteeing access to home health care for homebound Medicare beneficiaries in rural areas. He wrote a law [provision of Public Law 106-387] allowing Americans to import lower cost prescription drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration from other countries. Dr. Coburn has also been a leader on promoting wellness, disease prevention, and combating HIV/AIDS, successfully negotiating a provision of law to ensure that a majority of the billions of dollars the U.S. spends on HIV programs domestically and globally are directed towards primary medical care for patients.

Leading By Example

Recognizing that many in Congress lose touch with reality in Washington, thousands of miles from their states and communities, Dr. Coburn is committed to the concept of serving as a citizen legislator. He continues to practice medicine on a pro bono basis and delivers babies free of charge. He kept his pledge to serve no more than three terms in the House of Representatives, and his self imposed two term limit in Senate allows for his legislative priorities to be focused on what is best for the nation and not his next re-election. Dr. Coburn has returned over $1 million from his Senate office budget. He reads every letter sent to his Senate office and tries to send a personal reply to every constituent who writes to him within a month of receiving a letter or e-mail. By staying grounded as a citizen legislator, he is able to take the concerns and priorities of his constituents to Washington, rather than sending Washington’s priorities to Oklahoma.

Ensuring Our Troops Have the Best Weapons and Equipment

The United States Army has been very aggressive in rapidly fielding new equipment to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan such as improved body armor, unmanned aerial vehicles, and armored transport vehicles. Yet, the Army has been slow in examining the use of the current small arms weapons, such as the M4 carbine rifle. The current small arms weapons are purchased using a sole-source contract with only one competitor. Dr. Coburn worked to enact a provision in law (Public Law 110-417) that would require full and open competition to procure the next carbine rifle, ensuring both the best weapon for our troops and the best value for our taxpayers. He also forced the Army to conduct tests of weapons under battlefield conditions (such as dust storms) to determine if the Army’s rifles stand up to the sandy and dusty environments of Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result, the Army is planning to begin testing new potential rifles for purchase as early as 2010. This will be the first purchase of a new rifle for regular forces in the Army in almost 20 years. Because of these efforts, the Defense Department leadership is currently reviewing all small arms weapons and will report to Congress on a comprehensive modernization plan for small arms weapons. This will ensure that our troops have the best weapons to defend themselves and our nation.

Saving Lives through Increased Organ Donation

In 1984, Congress passed the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) to create a nationwide system to manage organ donation and transplantation.  In 1988, after the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, NOTA was amended to include a ban on the transplantation of organs infected with HIV into any patient.  Today, thanks to medical advancements HIV infection is no longer a death sentence, but many HIV+ patients eventually require organ transplants.  They have been restricted to receiving only organs from donors without HIV.  Biomedical research overseas shows promise, however, that HIV+ patients may successfully be able to receive HIV+ organs.  Yet, this antiquated federal policy prevented U.S. researchers from studying the potentially life-saving treatment further.

Dr. Coburn successfully led a bill with Senator Boxer – the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act – to repeal the provision and to allow research and potential use of HIV+ organs into HIV+ patients.  Passage of the HOPE Act means the medical community will be able to pursue research to determine the safety of transplanting HIV-positive organs from deceased donors into recipients with HIV —which could increase the organ donation pool by 500-600 donors a year, and save hundreds of lives.[1] 

[1] Boyarsky BJ, Hall EC, Singer AL, Montgomery RA, Gebo KA, Segev DL. Estimated the potential pool of HIV-infected deceased organ donors in the United States. Am J Transplant 2011;11:1209-17.

Reducing Waste on Political Science at the National Science Foundation

When most Americans think of the National Science Foundation, they think of innovative research in physics, biology, engineering, mathematics, and technology.  Most would be surprised to hear the agency has spends over $10 million a year on political science.  Instead of funding studies to advance the economic interests or national security of the nation, NSF has supported low-priority research on Americans’ attitudes toward the Senate filibuster, how politicians change their websites over time, and how lobbying campaigns affect bill development over time.  Dr. Coburn successfully attached a provision to an appropriations bill (P.L. 113-6) to improve the use of taxpayer funds for political science research.  The new provision requires NSF to only fund political science projects if they are vital to the nation’s security or economic interests.

Lowering Federal Student Loan Interest Rates and Costs

Prior to the 2013-14 school year, the interest rates on Federal Direct student loans were arbitrarily set by Congress.  This meant that when interest rates were low (such as during economic recessions), students and parents could not benefit from these reduced borrowing costs.  Likewise, when the economy improved, taxpayers were forced to subsidize artificially low rates on federal student loans.  That is why Dr. Coburn and a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, legislation that tied the interest rate on federal student loans to the federal government’s borrowing costs.  Signed into law by President Obama on August 9, 2013, this legislation reduced borrowing costs for every single college student taking out new federal student loans.  In fact, the typical undergraduate borrower during the 2013-14 school year will save about $1,545 over the life of their loan.  Additionally, by ensuring interest rates are set by the market and not by Congress, Dr. Coburn’s legislation protected taxpayers from subsidizing artificial rates in the future.  The Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act, Public Law 113-28, was a win for both students and taxpayers.


The Party is Over for Taxpayer Funded Political Conventions

Despite our skyrocketing national debt, political parties received a $36.6 million check ($18.3 million per party) from taxpayers to pay for the costs of political conventions that occurred in the summer of 2012.  According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), more than $220 million in federal funds has gone toward party conventions between 1976 and 2012.  Dr. Coburn led the fight to stop spending taxpayer money on booze, balloons and confetti for partisan political events.  He previously listed taxpayer-funded conventions as the number one most wasteful item in his 2011 Wastebook.   In June 2012, Dr. Coburn’s amendment prohibiting the use of federal money for political party nominating conventions passed the Senate 95 to 4 as an amendment to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240).  Fortunately, hardworking taxpayers will no longer have to fund summertime party junkets for the political class.  On April 3, 2014, the President signed into law legislation eliminating federal funding for political party conventions (Public Law 113-94).