Friday, February 26, 2010

One Man Two Men v. 1.2 Million People.

Last night Jim Bunning, soon-to-be-retired Republican Senator from Kentucky, single-handedly filibustered to death a bill that would extend federal aid for unemployment insurance and COBRA medical coverage for another month.

As Democratic senators asked again and again for unanimous consent for a vote on a 30-day extension Thursday night, Bunning refused to go along.

And when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) begged him to drop his objection, Politico reports, Bunning replied: "Tough shit."

Bunning says he doesn't oppose extending benefits -- he just doesn't want the money that's required added to the deficit. He proposes paying for the 30-day extension with stimulus funds.

. . .

And at one point during the debate, which dragged on till nearly midnight, Bunning complained of missing a basketball game.

"I have missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9:00," he said,
"and it's the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina since they're the only team that has beat Kentucky this year."

Politico has more:

Reid has asked for unanimous consent to approve the package of provisions that expire Sunday, which also include 30-day extensions of flood insurance, highway funding and small business loans. But Bunning continues to object to the unanimous consent requests.

. . .

On the floor Thursday, Bunning complained about how the measures aren’t adequately paid for. And he criticized Reid for killing a bipartisan Finance Committee bill to address the unemployment rate and for “jamming” through other bills that he said would amount to a frivolous increase in spending.

. . .

“All the spending portions of that compromise of those programs that you’re talking about were paid for in that bill,” Bunning said. “Now explain that to the American people.”

. . .

"Remember now, this all could’ve been changed had not the leader of the Senate decided that a bipartisan compromise jobs bill was not as important as his partisan jobs bill that just passed just before all of this debate," he said in his final remarks.

Note: the "bipartisan" bill was in fact essentially a Republican bill, extending and expanding tax cuts for the mega-wealthy and corporations- while raising taxes on the middle class.

Now, up to this point Bunning was on his own. The renegade former baseball pitcher has been persona non grata in the Republican Senate Caucus for months now due to his often embarrassing conduct- and abysmal popularity in his home state, where his seat comes up on this year's ballot. It took some heavy arm-twisting, a total shutoff of campaign funds, and months of polls showing him going down to defeat to any Democrat you cared to name before Bunning finally announced he would not seek re-election.

But this morning, when Harry Reid made one last effort to get unanimous consent to pass the bill, Bunning found unexpected support- and the bill was killed until at least late next week:

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) took the floor after Reid to stick up for Bunning. He noted that there is broad bipartisan support for extending benefits, but said Bunning was right to take a stand against adding $10 billion to the deficit. He also pointed out that the jobs bill that Reid scrapped two weeks ago, crafted by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.), contained an extension of UI and COBRA.

"I admire the courage of the junior senator from Kentucky," he said. "Somebody has to stand up finally and say, 'No more inter-generational theft!'"

Yes, friends, that is the junior senator from Texas, the #2 man in the Republican Senate Caucus, the man responsible for getting Republicans in that body, John Cornyn, standing up and saying people should starve now so that their children won't pay higher taxes down the line. The fact that their children will go hungry, as children, RIGHT NOW cuts no ice with the Republicans... because, of course, they and their children are all well taken care of.

Before Cornyn opened his mouth, the Republicans could have written Bunning off as a renegade, and the extension of benefits could have passed next week after a simple (for a change) cloture vote. Cornyn, though, has made it more than one man: he's made it a campaign issue.

If Reid tries to pass this bill next week, expect a more intense filibuster, and a hard-fought cloture vote.

(Interesting: today Politico had an article on Republican threats to bring Senate business to a complete stop with amendments and procedural delays. My response: you mean, more of a halt than you're ALREADY bringing it to?)

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