A U.S. Senator is trying to repeal the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB), which provides assistance to the families of fire fighters killed in the line of duty. As unbelievable as it seems, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) is claiming that the program, which has been on the books for over three decades, violates the U.S. Constitution and should be abolished.
PSOB came to Coburn’s attention when the Senate Judiciary Committee began work on a bill that would improve the program. Legislation sponsored by Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) makes a number of important changes, including expanding coverage to individuals who die from aneurysms.
Initially, Coburn signed off on the legislation, only to renege on his commitment to allow the bill to move forward. This was hardly surprising since Coburn regularly objects to Senate consideration of any bills he dislikes. But Coburn shocked everyone when he took his opposition to the next level and called for abolishing the PSOB altogether.
In a letter to Senator Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Coburn wrote: “Instead of expanding a program that is not the responsibility of the federal government, we should be working to terminate it.”
Even more startling was Coburn’s bizarre perspective on the origins of the PSOB program. “As you likely know,” he wrote, “the PSOB program was originally designed to be a model to the states to demonstrate how they could structure their own successful programs.”
The fact that Coburn was not in Congress when PSOB was created in 1976 is no excuse for his ignorance about the origins of the law. In fact, almost every fire fighter pension system in the nation provided death benefits long before PSOB was created.
This is not the first time Coburn has attacked fire fighters. This is the same senator who proposed eliminating the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) and Assistance to Firefighters (FIRE Act) grant programs, opposed expanding presumptive disability benefits to federal fire fighters and tried to eliminate the U.S. Fire Administration.
Coburn provides yet another example of the sort of extreme, anti-public safety politicians who think they benefit by attacking America’s fire fighters.