Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican who has carved out a niche as Congress’s top waste-watcher, announced late Thursday that he will leave the Senate at the end of this year — a full two years before his term is up.
Mr. Coburn has been battling cancer and was scheduled to have key tests next month.
In a statement, he said he decided it was time to shift his focus to his family.
“As a citizen, I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere. In the meantime, I look forward to finishing this year strong,” he said.
His departure will leave a significant hole in Congress. He has assembled one of the best teams of investigators to root out wasteful spending, and has turned it into a cottage industry with his annual “Wastebook” featuring questionable projects funded with taxpayer money.
Those fights have earned him opponents in many federal agencies, but colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Senate line up to work with him, and he regularly finds areas of cooperation with Democrats on waste or government reform.
Most recently, Mr. Coburn has battled Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who has clamped down on letting Republicans offer amendments on the Senate floor.
Mr. Coburn led the Senate last year in the number of amendments filed, and regularly demanded a chance for his proposals to at least be granted the chance for a vote.
Mr. Coburn was elected to the Senate in 2004 and had vowed to serve just two terms. His second term was slated to end after the 2016 election.
He had won election to the House during the 1994 Republican wave and served three terms, stepping down after the 2000 election because of another self-imposed term limit.
He has been battling prostate cancer for several years and is undergoing chemotherapy.
In his retirement statement he said he’d promised not to serve more than 12 years in the Senate.
“Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career. That’s how I saw it when I first ran for office in 1994, and that’s how I still see it today. I believe it’s important to live under the laws I helped write, and even those I fought hard to block,” he said.