Rep. Tom Coburn says he came to Washington three years ago determined to keep up his medical practice, and he won't let a House ethics committee decision restricting income from seeing patients get in his way.
"I'm going to continue practicing medicine regardless of what they say," the Oklahoma Republican said Wednesday after the ethics committee decided that doctor-lawmakers should not practice medicine for money.The committee, after a yearlong debate, formally ruled that the doctor-patient relationship, like that between a lawyer and his client, was "fiduciary," or based on one person putting his trust in another, and as such was banned under a 1989 law restricting what lawmakers can earn outside their salaries, now $136,700 a year.
Another doctor-lawmaker, Democrat Vic Snyder of Arkansas, raised the issue when he was elected in 1996. Eight doctors are now in the House, along with a veterinarian and several dentists.
The 1989 act said legislators could earn up to 15 percent of their salaries in outside income from such enterprises as farming or running a business, but that "fiduciary relationships" as maintained by lawyers, real estate agents or insurance agents were prohibited.
"That doesn't make any sense," said Coburn, a conservative elected in 1994 as a "citizen legislator" and pledged to serve no more than three two-year terms before going home to Muskogee, Okla.
He has continued to practice medicine at home and has delivered more than 200 babies since his election to Congress.
"I'm not going to abide by what they've said," Coburn said. "If I can't resolve it, I won't be here."
Coburn said he didn't care about the money, but thought it was a matter of principle that lawmakers should be allowed to continue their professions as long as they provided full disclosure of their outside activities.