Bunning Budges?

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Third Floor U.S. Senate

The GOP Senate conference is downstairs having their weekly policy lunch on the second floor of the Senate. I hear Kentucky’s Jim Bunning is getting an earful in the meeting and rumors are swirling that he may cave and accept Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s offer to have a vote on his plan to use stimulus money to pay for the $10 billion 30-day extension of unemployment and health benefits (which will likely fail) before allowing a full Senate vote on passage.

Dems will probably be pretty disappointed in Bunning does actually blink. To them Bunning is the gift that keeps on giving: he makes their point about Republican obstructionism in a much more brutal way than Reid has ever had the cojones to do (ahem, Karen’s long time call to make them filibuster). In the last two days I’ve received 18 press releases from the DNC, DSCC or unions lambasting Bunning. One even pulled a phrase out of today’s Wall Street Journal story to highlight it to reporters:

Key Point: “Democrats used Mr. Bunning’s move to highlight what they said was a pattern of Republicans gumming up the works on even the most popular measures.”

It is absolutely ludicrous for Bunning, who voted for President George W. Bush’s unpaid-for tax cuts and the largely deficit funded Medicare Prescription Drug Program, to dig in his heels on this one small bill the failure of which causes so much pain to people already suffering. But, to be fair, this situation isn’t all on Bunning — at any time Democrats could’ve filed for cloture, waited 30 hours and passed them bill. They would’ve gotten cloture, too, given that a few Republicans, including Maine’s Susan Collins, have said privately or publicly that they would vote to overcome Bunning’s objection. But Dems have not done this because a) they thought Bunning would fold when they kept him here all weekend, and b) when he didn’t, they realized they were sitting on political gold (never mind the chaos that this expensive game of chicken is wreaking across the rolls of unemployed, the Department of Transportation and potentially millions of rural tv viewers). Either way, if Bunning doesn’t blink the Senate looks on track to pass a year-long $150 billion extension by Friday that would provide, retroactively, for all dropped benefits. Alas, Congress isn’t doing anything about the bureaucratic nightmares that will ensue from trying to back claim benefits or reapply for them for those who’ve been dropped from the rolls.