Sen. Jim Inhofe talks heart surgery, health insurance and politics

In an interview during his first week back after emergency heart surgery, the Tulsa Republican says he wasn't scared of dying, he couldn't back Chris Christie for president and Don't Ask, Don't Tell works for him.
by Chris Casteel Modified: November 10, 2013 at 7:00 pm •  Published: November 10, 2013
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Sen. Jim Inhofe returned to Washington last week, about a month after emergency heart surgery. Inhofe, R-Tulsa, had extreme blockage in five arteries. Inhofe, who turns 79 this month, has been in the U.S. Senate since 1994 and is running for re-election next year. He is the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and will help manage the 2014 defense bill when it comes up for consideration, possibly this week. He sat down for an interview in his Capitol Hill office to talk about his health, his health insurance and other topics. Some of his answers have been edited for reasons of brevity and clarity.

Q: At any point in the process, after you found out about all the blockage, were you scared you might not make it?

A: No, not at all. The same doctor who did (his wife's surgery) a year ago, Dr. Bob Garrett, we called and said, ‘Could you immediately do the surgery?' And he said, ‘Yeah.' So I got off the lane, got on the table and off we went. To answer your question though, no, I wasn't. In fact, it was a little relief. I had not felt any symptoms. If all that problem was there, I needed to get it corrected and I have a tendency to do things right away instead of waiting around.

Q: Was there anything you were told that you can't do now that you were doing before?

A: No. The joke around here is ... when I'm traveling in the state, I keep a real heavy schedule and I wear out my staff. And they're saying we can't keep up with the old Inhofe, let alone the new Inhofe. I can't think of anything. My heart was so restricted during that time, it's got to be a lot better now. And I can already tell that it is.

Q: Can you still fly upside down?

A: Hmm-hmm (yes). In fact I went in two of my rockets last Sunday. I didn't go upside down. You don't want to rush into things. I wanted to do that just so I could go ahead and stay current. The restriction I have for six months is that when I fly in my twin, I have to have a twin-engine-rated pilot in the plane with me. When I fly a single engine, you can always find a single-engine pilot.

Q: Did you have any second thoughts about running (for re-election) again after all this?

A: You know, this didn't intermingle with that in mind. (I've said) the reasons I'm running again and that hasn't changed. And Obama hasn't changed. So I'd say not. Frankly I enjoyed the time I couldn't be here.

Q. I heard you say on C-SPAN that you were watching (the 16-day partial government shutdown) from the perspective of someone who wasn't up here and it all seemed foolish to you.

A: It is a different perspective when you're not here and you're home and you're watching what's going on and how it's being reported. It is a little bit foolish. I can see why the American people — why our (poll) numbers are down so low.

Q: Yet you said the night they voted to extend funding and raise the debt ceiling for another few months that you would have voted against that.

A: Yes ... I made that announcement back in, I think, 2004 that I would not do it anymore.

Q Raise the debt ceiling?

A: Yes.

Q: You got a little bit of attention not long after your surgery about some comments you made about Obamacare. Let me ask you this, you've been buying insurance through the federal employees health program and now you've got to go out on the exchange to buy insurance. Are you going to do that, or are you going to go on Medicare?

A: I haven't even thought about that. Now that this thing is behind me, I don't anticipate spending any money on health anyway. Or I'm not going to have any problems.

Do you remember the time, it was the all-night thing that (Texas Sen. Ted) Cruz did? And while I didn't stay up all night, I did participate ... So I told the story about (his wife, Kay's, heart surgery). And I was trying to get the point across that people who are the real proponents (of Obamacare) want a single-pay system, they want socialized medicine. So what I did was take her case and say with her case, at her age, in Canada, she would have had to wait six months, and the U.K. it would have been two months. And she couldn't have lived another two weeks. Not knowing that that same thing was going to happen to me. So it gets very down and personal when you think that a lot of people in those countries, they just die.

Q: Do you know that for a fact, that somebody in your condition in Canada wouldn't have been able to get surgery?

A: Yeah, oh yeah. They have tables that show — that's why the hospitals up north like (the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota) and some of those have such a high Canadian population because people come to America because they're denied procedures up there.

Q: Do you ever do your (health) insurance? Do you have any idea what you have now and do you ever mess with it, or does somebody just kind of do that for you?


by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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