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Coburn's Hard Bargain

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Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) introduced an amendment to the health care "fixes" bill that would prohibit use of federal funds to purchase erectile dysfunction ("ED") medications for registered sex offenders.

Coburn must have thought he hit a political trifecta with this amendment. It's about sex (allowed only with an opposite-gender spouse in the missionary position with lights off); and sex offenders ("the gift that keeps on giving" for politicians); and restricting access to a drug (the more regulation, the better where drugs are concerned -- because that works so well now).

Right there are three good reasons for all Republicans (plus a few Democrats) to vote for the amendment. I think Republicans liked it for a fourth reason: it would insert politicians between doctors and their patients. (These are the same people who want to keep government out of people's lives.)

Coburn's amendment was a Republican vote-magnet for a fifth reason: if the amendment passed, then the whole "fixes" bill would have to be returned to the House of Representatives for another vote. Coburn could have introduced his proposal as a separate bill but he chose to use it as a way to obstruct passage of the "fixes" bill.

Unfortunately for Coburn, support for the measure was soft. The Senate voted to kill the amendment, by 57 to 42. Those in favor included all 40 voting Republicans, plus Democrats Evan Bayh and Ben Nelson.

Just as second marriage often represents the triumph of hope over experience; I keep taking these Republican legislative proposals seriously. So I wondered how many people actually would have been affected by Coburn's amendment.

The answer: not many. Here's the math. All that follows will probably come out in committee hearings if Coburn introduces his proposal as a stand-alone bill in the Senate.

There are about 705,000 registered sex offenders in the United States and its territories (Source: National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 704,777 on December 8, 2009). Fewer than 10% of these people are female (Center for Sex Offender Management). So let's assume 95% of sex offenders are male -- 669,000 people.

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Rick Wise is an industrial psychologist and retired management consultant. For 15 years, he was managing director of ValueNet International, Inc. Before starting ValueNet, Rick was director, corporate training and, later, director, corporate (more...)
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