Bunning Hijacks the Senate

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I didn’t think it was possible for Senator Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, to get more unpopular with his colleagues: he was forced, feet dragging, to announce he wouldn’t run for reelection after fellow Kentuckian and minority leader Mitch McConnell wouldn’t even endorse him. But tonight, he is pariah to a whole new level. Before heading home for the weekend, the Senate is trying to wrap up a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits, health care benefits for the unemployed (Cobra), highway and transit programs, the compulsory copyright license used by satellite TV providers and the federal flood insurance program. Some of the programs — including unemployment benefits and Cobra — expire on Sunday unless something is done and Dems are proposing a $10 billion bandaid fix while they work on a bigger year-long extension they aim to pass in the next couple of weeks.

Bunning, though, is objecting, as is the privilege of any senator. He says he’ll allow the bill to go through tonight if money from the stimulus is used to pay for the bill, rather than passing it unfunded. “What I have proposed is a pay-for. My gosh, we’ve got over $400 billion in unspent stimulus money,” Bunning said on the Senate floor. “I’ll be here as long as you’re here and as long as all those other senators are here and I’m going to object every time because you won’t pay for this and you propose to never pay for it.”

Democrats reacted with outraged press releases. “We are in a serious recession; millions of Americans are out of work,” said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat. “People have depleted their savings; they run the risk of losing their homes; they’re trying to keep their children in school and trying to provide the necessities of life for their families. And it is simply unfair for one senator to attempt to hold the Senate hostage on this issue.”

Bunning has a point: for Dems who wax poetic about Paygo and reducing the deficit it’s hypocritical to then turn around an pass bill after unfunded bill (only $5 billion of the $15 billion jobs bill that passed earlier this week was paid for). At the same time, I don’t envy Bunning: standing between a senator and the airport at the end of the legislative week is a dangerous place to be. If Bunning can’t be convinced to drop his objection, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will have to file for cloture to proceed, which means 30 hours of debate which pretty much ensures the entire Senate will be here through much of the weekend.