Food Safety Bill? Coburn Says No

Image of Tom Coburn

Lost in all the election hoopla and the debate over repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” has been U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s fierce opposition to a vital food safety bill.

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act has been delayed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after Coburn objected to the bill, according to media reports. Reid has said he might not even try to bring the bill to the Senate floor before the election, the reports stated. The House has already passed a similar proposal.

The recent massive egg recall has put food safety in the political forefront, but Coburn hasn’t budged on his opposition to the bill, which he argues isn’t paid for and won’t be effective, according to reports. He also objects to the new regulations in the bill.

The legislation, among other things, would require more inspections of food-producing facilities. It has bipartisan and even corporate support.

According to a story in The New York Times:

… mainstream consumer advocates and major food makers are nearly united in calling for passage. Just a few years ago, many manufacturers were opposed to expanding the F.D.A.’s food authority. But when a relatively small producer sold contaminated spinach several years ago, the entire industry’s crop was thrown out, resulting in huge, industrywide losses. And once a food contamination scare affects a product, sales are slow to return to normal.

So even when consumer advocates and corporations come together for the benefit of people’s health and business profits, Coburn, who has the nickname “Dr. No,” still uses it for political theater and calculation.

Here’s what Coburn said about the bill in a recent press release:

The Majority Leader also knows that one of my concerns with the bill is that it is not paid for. Unfortunately, he has refused to even discuss ways to pay for the bill by reducing spending on lower priority items. With our national debt at $13.5 trillion we simply can’t continue to borrow and spend without restraint. The American people should question the competence of any member of Congress who can’t find $1.4 billion of waste in a $3.5 trillion budget that could be cut to pay for improved food safety.

The federal deficit “scare,” of course is Coburn’s current mantra, and it’s also a major election tactic of the Republicans this year. But we shouldn’t forget that under former President George Bush Republicans helped create the deficit by funding two long military occupations and passing tax cuts that primarily benefited the country’s wealthiest citizens.

Reid issued this statement about Coburn’s objections to the bill:

In light of recent events like the egg recall in Iowa, it is unconscionable that Senator Coburn and his Republican colleagues are putting politics ahead of a common-sense, bipartisan bill to ensure that the food products our families consume everyday are safe. I suspect that Senator Coburn’s constituents in Oklahoma would be as outraged as the people I represent in Nevada at the prospect that partisan political maneuvering would cause parents to have to start worrying about the safety of the food they feed their families. There are too many people, like Rylee Gustafson of Henderson and Linda Rivera of Las Vegas, who have been sickened with contaminated food to let this critical issue be hijacked by petty politics.

My hope is that Senator Coburn will reconsider his obstruction, and work with us to make sure that when it comes to food, parents have the peace of mind that all Americans deserve.


Newspaper Uses Smears, Fallacy On SQ 744

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On Sunday, The Oklahoman editorial page, using a red-herring argument and hyperbole, attacked a pro-State Question 744 op-ed article written by an award-winning teacher.

The editorial (“Claim that Legislature has shorted education simply untrue,” September 19, 2010) claimed Heather Sparks’ September 15 article in The Oklahoman is part of an argument filled with “half-truths,” but it’s the newspaper, not Sparks, that’s engaging in deceit.

Sparks was Oklahoma’s 2009 Teacher of the Year. As a teacher, she can directly see the effect of low per-pupil spending in Oklahoma, which ranks last in a seven-state region and 49th in the nation. Since she’s an award-winning teacher, her views should be carefully considered, not dismissed with a fallacious argument and hollow rhetoric.

SQ 744, if passed, would simply raise per-pupil spending to a regional average. Note the word “average.” The states that would be used to calculate the rate are Texas, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado. The average funding would be phased in over a three-year period.

In her op-ed, Sparks clearly points out the state’s low school funding when compared to “neighboring states”:

Oklahoma’s children deserve good, high-quality schools. Today, Oklahoma is dead last in the region and 49th in the nation in what we invest in our students. Voting yes on State Question 744 gives our children the same educational opportunities as students in neighboring states.

That’s a straightforward argument, and it’s one I’ve made here and elsewhere. It’s not based on “half truths” or based on a “fish tale,” as The Oklahoman argues. We have low per-pupil spending here when compared to the rest of the nation. That’s a fact. I believe SQ 744 will improve Oklahoma schools and put the state in a position to reduce its dropout rate and produce more college graduates.

This how The Oklahoman responded to Sparks:

Of all the half-truths (and worse) that Oklahomans are sure to hear as the campaign for State Question 744 revs up, none is bigger than the fish tale that the Legislature hasn't made education a priority. A proponent used that argument just last week in an op-ed piece on these pages.

The proponent, of course, is Sparks. Note “half-truths (and worse).” What’s “worse” supposed to mean, anyway? What’s worse than “half-truths”? Lies?

After essentially smearing Sparks, the editorial then proceeds to show how much of the state budget goes to education, but this is a red-herring argument, which tries to change the topic. Sparks is using the regional comparison to argue her point about school funding and the legislature, but the editorial completely ignores this and tries to change the subject. The use of red-herring arguments is fairly typical of The Oklahoman editorial writers, who often omit crucial information in their writing as well.

The Oklahoman style, of course, is to demonize anyone who disagrees with its anti-education stances. Why won’t the newspaper editorial writers argue about the state’s low per-pupil spending when compared to the rest of the nation and the region? It’s because they simply can’t do it. Also, attacking an award-winning teacher is tacky.


Inhofe Leads Charge Against DADT Repeal

It comes as no surprise to Oklahomans that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who has a history of making hateful, anti-gay remarks, is taking a lead role in trying to stop the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

After all, through the years Inhofe, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn and state Rep. Sally Kern, among others, have made Oklahoma seem like the most intolerant state in the country when it comes to equal rights.

In a recent floor speech, Inhofe, who is a member of the Armed Services Committee, argued the Senate should delay voting on the repeal, which could allow gay people to openly serve in the military, until the Department of Defense completes a study of the issue. The report may not get finished until Dec. 1. The House has already passed the repeal measure. The repeal amendment would be included in the Department of Defense Authorization bill.

Ostensibly, Inhofe wants a full discussion about the issue after the study is completed, but he could also simply want to delay the vote, hoping the midterm elections will bring enough anti-gay rights politicians back into the Senate to stop the repeal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will bring the measure to a vote, but it’s still uncertain when he will do so. Reid is in a tough campaign fight for his Nevada Senate seat.

If there’s any doubt about his position on “don’t ask, don’t tell,” here’s some of what Inhofe said recently about the repeal, according to a Jason Linkins’ post on Huffington Post:

For those of us -- and I'm one of them -- who have gone through the military, gone through basic training, and you stop and think -- it just doesn't make any sense. Second of all, it's just not working. You have women, men, then you have a third group to deal with, and they're not equipped to do that.

And you know -- you hear the stories all the time. A military guy -- I happen to be Army, and Army and Marines always feel that when we're out there, we're not doing it for the flag or the country; we're doing it for the guy in the next foxhole. And that would dramatically change that.

Inhofe unleashed these bigoted comments in a recent interview with the American Family Association. Does Inhofe or anyone really think an American soldier wouldn’t fight or do their duties because “the guy in the next foxhole” is a gay, as Linkins noted? What about the “third group” language? So we have women, men and “the third group.” This is a highly offensive statement.

Inhofe, as you recall, said this in 2006 about the Federal Marriage Amendment:

...As you see here, and I think this is maybe the most important prop we’ll have during the entire debate, my wife and I have been married 47 years. We have 20 kids and grandkids. I'm really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we've never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.

Inhofe’s remarks are part of a pattern among some state leaders. In his 2004 campaign, Coburn warned against “lesbian debauchery” in southeast Oklahoma schools. Kern once said gay people were a greater threat than terrorism to the country.

Inhofe is on the wrong side of history and remains dead wrong about almost everything, including the changing cultural attitudes in this country. This much is certain: Eventually, gay people will be allowed to serve openly in the military, and Inhofe’s demeaning rants will seem even more archaic and offensive.