Coburn Fights to Keep Medical Practice

Freshman Sen. Tom Coburn (search) will go ahead with his fight to retain his medical practice while serving in Congress, even though the Senate Ethics Committee has rejected his request.

"No, I am not going to close my medical practice," Coburn, R-Okla., said Tuesday. "I am going to wait and see what the Ethics committee decides finally, and then I'm going to try to change the rules."

Senate rules generally bar lawmakers from earning outside income. Coburn, an obstetrician (search), wants to practice medicine on weekends and during breaks and said he will take his cause to the Senate floor.

Coburn agreed not to take any new patients after a Dec. 2 letter from the Ethics committee (search) outlined the long-standing rules barring outside professional activities. But he has continued to give exams and deliver babies.

In his six years in the House, where he was known as an outspoken maverick, Coburn was allowed to continue practicing medicine without making a profit.

He said the Senate may regret forcing him to give up his medical practice.

"There's going to be a whole lot of heck to pay up here because if I am working up here five solid days a week, I'm going to create all sorts of mischief, much more so than I would otherwise," he said.

In a letter to Coburn dated March 18, Sens. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., the chairman and vice chairman of the ethics committee, said they would not support a change in the Senate rules, the Tulsa World reported.

Coburn says continuing to practice medicine is a good way to stay connected with voters back home.

"The very idea that my practice would influence negatively my ability to represent or would coerce through a conflict of interest my votes on things is totally ludicrous. Somebody is not going to me for a sore throat so they can influence my vote or for a female GYN exam. That's not going to be their purpose," he said.

The Senate's other doctor, Majority Leader Bill Frist, a heart-lung surgeon, sometimes volunteers his surgical services, including on trips to developing countries, but has not sought compensation.

Coburn's medical practice also became an issue in his bitter Senate campaign against former Democratic Rep. Brad Carson. One Carson ad raised a woman's allegation that Coburn sterilized her without her permission, a charge Coburn denied.