I wrote Sen. Coburn last week to say how disappointed I am in him in view of the fact he did not support Sen. Ted Cruz's and Sen. Mike Lee's efforts in the senate - efforts that very few people believed would work, but applauded just the same for the awesome effort made on our behalf. I told Sen. Coburn that just because he knew it would not work was no reason not to stand up publicly for his constituents. At any rate, I received the response below, which is a form letter. Before rolling your eyes, let me assure you that all the times I have written him regarding one thing or another, he has never before replied via form letter. I have always received a personal response from him, even though it would take some months for him to reply. Here it is in its entirety, read it if you wish, take from it what you will. I just wanted to share with you what he said.
Thank you for contacting me about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (commonly called “Obamacare”), the fiscal year (FY) 2014 continuing resolution, and the government shutdown that has ensued. I want to be clear that I have opposed Obamacare every time an opportunity presented itself—from trying to obstruct it in committee, attempting to block and filibuster it on the Senate floor, voting against its passage, co-sponsoring and voting in favor of bills to defund it, and pushing efforts to knock off key components. I will continue to do whatever I can to repeal and replace Obamacare, but I will not mislead you into thinking this can be accomplished with a strategy that will not succeed. My office has received tens of thousands of phone calls, emails, and letters about this matter. Due to the overwhelming volume, I am responding with a form letter—which I typically avoid—because I believe it is important to provide you with a timely response detailing my position.
I would like to begin by stating that the current situation we face—from the colossally expensive health care law that takes away individual freedom, to the $17 trillion national debt that threatens our republic, to the dysfunction and lack of statesmanship exhibited by elected officials—can be attributed to a failure of leadership that ignores the U.S. Constitution. Rather than advance solutions that are in the best, long-term interest of the country, politicians of both parties have abandoned constitutional principles and instead advocated for short-term patches they deem politically advantageous with special interests. Because of this, Washington is overflowing with self-service, yet comes up short on selflessness and sacrifice. The current government shutdown is a sign of just how sorely we are lacking true, common-sense leadership in the nation’s capital.
As I discuss the FY 2014 continuing resolution (CR) and the ensuing government shutdown, I want to reiterate that not only do I wish to see Obamacare defunded, I want to see it repealed in its entirety and replaced with true market-based health care reform. We need improvements in our health care system, but Obamacare largely just expanded coverage in a broken system and will actually make many of the cost, access, and quality problems in health care worse. I still am fighting to advance sustainable, market-based solutions that lower costs, improve access, increase transparency, and put federal health care spending on a sustainable path.
However, despite my strident opposition to this unworkable law, some Oklahomans have wrongly been told I support funding Obamacare. That is simply inaccurate. The problem has been that some Washington-based organizations have been telling Oklahomans that conservatives can use the CR as a vehicle to attempt to defund Obamacare. The strategy wrongly suggested that the Democrat-controlled Senate and President Obama would both somehow agree to defund the very same law they worked so hard to pass, or that the government would be forced to shut down and this would give conservatives more leverage. But both scenarios failed to take into account the reality of the situation. The truth is that Republicans in Congress simply do not have the votes and needed leverage to achieve this goal. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and will never agree to gut the president’s signature health care law. Moreover, even under a government shutdown, Obamacare still continues to be operational because the majority of the law is funded with “mandatory spending” that does not require continued funding from Congress. This is what we are currently witnessing: the House and Senate were unable to agree on a CR, the federal government shut down on October 1, and Obamacare continues to roll out regardless.
The fact of the matter remains that the CR should not have been used as a vehicle to attempt to defund Obamacare. Rather, the CR debate should have been focused on reining in reckless government spending and prioritizing taxpayer dollars. It should have highlighted the $350 billion of government funding lost each year to waste and duplication. It should have focused on making sacrifices with the budget so that our grandchildren do not have to pay for our mistakes. It was the best opportunity possible for conservatives to eliminate waste, cut spending, and make progress bringing our fiscal house in order.
Instead, however, some Washington-based special interest groups were able to hijack the CR debate and blatantly misled the public in the process, falsely raising expectations about defunding Obamacare and questioning the motives of those who disagreed over their proposed strategy. From the start, I opposed the strategy to use the CR as a vehicle to defund Obamacare because it offered false hope to conservatives across the country about what the strategy could accomplish. I felt an obligation to share this truth precisely because I believe we must prepare ourselves for the long, hard fight that will be required to rid ourselves of this misguided law. There is no magic bullet and to falsely suggest otherwise fails to condition Obamacare opponents for the real battle that lies ahead. Sadly, as I warned my colleagues months ago, this narrow-minded focus on tactics with the CR has distracted and divided members of Congress who are otherwise united in pursuing the right goals: replacing Obamacare with patient-centered reforms, and reining in wasteful federal spending.
Funding the government through stop-gap CRs is an irresponsible way to govern in the first place. Congress should be debating separate appropriations bills that can be scrutinized, amended, and voted on for their individual merit. I have opposed every CR that has come before me in the Senate, including the recent bill that provided funding for FY 2014 at an annualized rate of $38 billion more than allowed by the Budget Control Act. The American people deserve better than a Congress that ignores the very laws it passes, waits until the last minute to address critical funding issues, and uses the threat of a government shutdown as a political tool. The American people deserve a federal government that operates efficiently and effectively, and within the limited bounds set for it by the Constitution.
As a recent Congressional Research Service memo summarized, the president has already signed 14 laws that have repealed, rescinded funds, or otherwise modified or eliminated parts of Obamacare. Rather than the all-or-nothing approach of defunding the entire law, moving forward, Congress should continue with an aggressive strategy to defund, delay, and dismantle specific provisions of the health care law. One great place to start would be for Congress to delay the individual mandate. President Obama and his administration have already delayed at least half a dozen parts of the law, including giving big businesses a break from the enforcement of the employer penalty tax next year. Why should big corporations and Wall Street firms get a break from being taxed if they do not offer health coverage, while American consumers are still taxed if they do not purchase health coverage? That is simply unfair. Delaying the individual mandate would allow Congress to adopt common-sense reforms that will actually lower Americans’ health care costs and put us on the path to replacing the law in its entirety. Implementing the health care law thus far has been confusing and unsuccessful, and illustrates exactly how disastrous it is and how it will negatively impact Americans—which is why I so vehemently opposed it from the beginning.
The government shutdown could have been avoided, and it is my hope that strong leadership will help reach an agreement to move forward very soon. I assure you I will continue working tirelessly not only to replace Obamacare with true, market-based health care options, but to force Congress to live within its means and govern responsibly.
Tom A. Coburn, M.D.
United States Senator