Tom Coburn Loses ‘Tenther’ Debate With Town Hall Attendee

In a town hall forum conducted late last month in Bentonville, AR, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) admitted that health care rationing occurs in the United States. In a YouTube clip that is being celebrated by conservative bloggers, Coburn engages in a debate with a woman who supports a single-payer system.

Coburn argued that instituting a single-payer system would result in “rationing.” The town hall attendee astutely noted, “I feel like health care is rationed now.” Coburn responded, “Well, not near the extent it is in the countries that have single-payer.” In fact, countries with single-payer systems — like Australia and Canada — enjoy higher life-expectancy, lower infant mortality, and better cost efficiency.

Coburn quickly pivoted to a “tenther” argument, asking the woman: “Where do you find the authority in the U.S. Constitution for the federal government” to run a single-payer health care system? The crowd exploded with applause. Undeterred, the woman town hall participant quickly stumped Coburn:

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: Let me ask you a question about the Constitution. I’m not an expert on the Constitution, but we already have Social Security, we already have Medicare —


COBURN: And both of them are bankrupt. So you want to create another bankrupt program?

TOWN HALL PARTICIPANT: You know, we have to take care of people. [Crowd yells “no!”]

Coburn never responded to the woman’s constitutional argument. Watch it:

The town hall attendee who challenged Coburn was exactly right. Under the Oklahoma senator’s understanding of the Constitution, Medicare and Social Security would cease to exist. As Ian Millhiser writes, “[T]here is something fundamentally authoritarian about the tenther constitution. Social Security, Medicare, and health-care reform are all wildly popular, yet the tenther constitution would shackle our democracy and forbid Congress from enacting the same policies that the American people elected them to advance.”