The Debt Doctor: Coburn Announces His Retirement

Yesterday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), M.D., announced that he would retire at the end of the year, two years before his Senate term would normally expire. Dr. Coburn has had a long career in the Senate, and his decision represents a big loss for advocates of fiscal responsibility.

Dr. Coburn has been one of the most vocal Senators about the need to get the national debt under control. He went beyond the usual platitudes about the need to control both spending and tax loopholes, detailing his ideas in a $9 trillion deficit reduction plan Back in Black. For the last five years, his office published an annual Wastebook with detailed examples he identified as "wasteful government spending" (read about the latest edition here). His lists of targeted savings not only include trimming government spending, but also lists of wasteful tax expenditures to eliminate.

Coburn served on the Bowles-Simpson Fiscal Commission, which recommended changes to place debt on a downward path as a share of the economy. After those recommendations failed to get a vote in Congress, he joined the "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group of Senators that tried to update the recommendations and get a vote in the Senate.  

He has been vocal about reforming the Social Security Disability Insurance (DI) Program, before the DI Trust Fund runs out in 2016. Although he was one of the Senate's more conservative members, Coburn sought common ground on several key issues. As a notable example, he joined forces with Joe Lieberman (I-CT) to release a bipartisan list of savings to the Medicare program. In some examples from the last few months, he worked with Democratic senators to repeal ethanol mandates, control fraudulent drugs, and increase transparency around settlements with the federal government.

When they were both included on Time's 100 Most Influential People last year, President Obama wrote the tribute to Tom Coburn:

The people of Oklahoma are lucky to have someone like Tom representing them in Washington — someone who speaks his mind, sticks to his principles and is committed to the people he was elected to serve.

So long, Dr. Coburn. Your voice will be missed.