Published March 18, 2010
Republicans have a message for Democrats considering switching to "yes" on health care reform: We'll be watching you.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., warned Thursday that he and the staff of several other GOP senators will be monitoring with a microscope any potential payoffs to Democrats that materialize down the road in exchange for their vote on the health bill.
"If you think you can cut a deal now and it not come out until after the election, I want to tell you that isn't going to happen," Coburn said at a news conference. "And be prepared to defend selling your vote in the House."
Republicans are playing hardball after several "sweetheart" deals emerged in the Senate-passed health care bill, including the so-called "Cornhusker kickback" -- which would spare Nebraska certain Medicaid costs.
That provision was stripped in a package of changes introduced Thursday, but Coburn suggested Democrats might try to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo -- giving something in return for votes -- by arranging for juicy payoffs down the road, like a federal appointment or local project.
As Democratic leaders try to win over just a few more hold-outs to reach the 216 votes needed to pass the Senate-approved bill in the House, the feisty Oklahoma Republican said he'll have his eye out for exactly that kind of deal.
"If you voted no and you vote yes, and you lose your election, and you think (your nomination) to a federal position isn't going to be held in the Senate, I've got news for you -- it's going to be held," Coburn said.
"No. 2 is, if you get a deal, a parochial deal for you or your district, I've already instructed my staff and the staff of seven other senators. We will look at every appropriations bill at every level, at every instance, and we will outline by district, and we will associate that with the buying of your vote."
A senior Senate GOP aide told Fox News that his staff found what he says is a sweetheart deal for Tennessee, aimed at Rep. Bart Gordon, D-Tenn., who just flipped to a "yes" vote.
The bill includes a provision that the aide said would provide the state with additional federal funding for Medicaid expenses.
The White House scoffed at the idea of Democrats striking special deals going forward, when asked whether, for instance, President Obama might be pledging campaign trail support in exchange for votes.
"I don't think a member of Congress is going to say 'I'll vote for health care if you come visit my district and campaign for me,'" White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.