Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) fought some of his final battles as a senator on Monday, by preventing the Senate from quickly passing legislation that he said would only duplicate work already being done by the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce suicide incidents.
Senate Democrats tried one last time to bring up the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, which would spend $22 million more on suicide prevention at the VA. But as he has over the last few weeks, Coburn said he would not agree that request to take a shortcut on Senate procedures, and said he believes the bill would only add money to an unaccountable VA.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Monday refused to support quick passage of two bills, which prevented the Senate from passing them in the short time left in the 113th Congress.
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"Almost everything that's in this bill has already been authorized and approved with the $10 billion that we sent to the VA," Coburn said, referring to the huge VA reform bill Congress passed earlier this year.
"I'm going to be objecting to this bill because it throws money and doesn't solve the real problem," he said.
Coburn said he understands the issue of suicide directly, both as a doctor who has treated suicidal patients, and as a member of a family that has seen suicide. But he said the real issue here is not whether Congress should help these patients, but whether Congress can clean up the VA and turn it into a more accountable agency that will be able to do a better job than the job it's been doing.
"Don't pass another bill, hold the VA accountable," he said. "Regrettably… I object to this bill, not because I don't want to help save suicides, because I don't think this bill's going to do the first thing to change what's happening."
Coburn rejected a request that the legislation be taken up quickly, without following longer procedures, a request that requires all senators to agree. Coburn's rejection doesn't stop the Senate from taking up the bill under regular procedures — however, senators were hoping to quickly pass it because it's near the end of the 113th Congress.
Coburn also rejected another unanimous consent request to quickly pass an energy efficiency bill that was also supported by both parties.