A couple of weeks ago, there were several days when the national press was obsessed with how Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning single-handedly held up a bill that would extend unemployment benefits for the jobless. Many members of the press seemed to be concerned with the Sen. Bunning holding up the legislation but said little about why the Senator said “I object” to the bill.
A little research would show that it was not that Senator Bunning did not agree with benefit extension, but that he felt that he had to take a stand against passing bills without paying for them. He said, “If the Senate cannot find $10 billion to pay for a measure we all support, we will never pay for anything. America is under a mountain of debt. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in a hearing last month that the United States’ debt is unsustainable. We are on the verge of a tipping point where America’s debt will bring down our economy, and more people will join the unemployment lines. That is why I used my right as a United States Senator and objected.”
In a USA Today Op-ed, Bunning wrote: “Last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev, asked to pass a 30-day extensions bill for unemployment insurance and other federal programs. Earlier in February, those extensions were included in a broader bipartisan bill that was paid for but did not meet Sen. Reid’s approval, and he nixed the deal. When I saw the Democrats in Congress were going to vote on the extensions bill without paying for it and not following their own Pay-Go rules, I said enough is enough.”
Where was the reporting that the benefits could have been passed earlier if Sen. Reid — who controls the Senate calendar — put off extending funding for Highway Trust Fund projects, unemployment benefits, and other programs to instead discuss two bills politically beneficial to him?
Reid had scrapped a bipartisan jobs bill the month before that included three month extensions for some of these now-expired programs. Reid then created his own, smaller jobs bill — which didn’t include the extensions.
After his jobs bill, Reid moved on to a tourism bill, a primary beneficiary of which is Nevada, the state he represents. The Senate voted on the tourism bill (which passed with 78 votes) the same day Bunning filibustered the extensions.
The sad part of the story is that he was alone in his objections. Nobody from either party made a public show of support. All you have to do is spend a little bit of time — read state-based or local blogs and the comments on some of the larger national blogs, listen to talk radio, talk to moms in the carpool line — and you realize that Bunning’s stand was not the wild-haired maneuvering some folks in Washington made it out to be.
It’s only anecdotal, but callers were flooding the phone lines on radio shows in support of Bunning. Talk shows nationally and locally were hearing it from callers, but there was no mention of that in the mainstream media. There is a different mood out there right now. People want some sign from Washington that their voices are being heard and Bunning for a couple of days was speaking for them.
Senator Bunning is retiring after his current term. Perhaps it is time that a large percentage of his colleagues in Washington should be invited to join him in retirement since they either are not aware of the mood of the electorate or do not care.