A tired old man whose time is almost through decided to chuck popular sentiment and make a stand for principle. It sounds like the storyline for a hundred Hollywood movies, but this played out in real life earlier this week as Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning was castigated for cruelly holding up unemployment benefits and highway projects because he simply wanted to follow the rules he didn’t vote for, but was determined to hold the Senate to.
Obviously the gesture was a futile one – perhaps not as futile as managing my old hometown baseball team (yes, Jim Bunning managed the Toledo Mud Hens in 1974 and 1975 before going into politics and is the lone Baseball Hall of Famer to also serve in Congress) but the $10 billion fiscal measure to extend unemployment benefits another 30 days passed handily, 78-19. That vote added another $10 billion to the deficit.
Originally, Bunning simply wanted the $10 billion to come out of stimulus funds already allocated rather than creating new debt. Later, an amendment he sponsored would have taken away a tax credit for paper companies as a tradeoff to maintain the idea of PAYGO legislation (that lost 53-43 on a fairly party-line vote.)
The PAYGO legislation came about as an effort to sweeten the deal when Democrats wanted to raise the national debt ceiling to nearly $15 trillion. Republicans voted en masse against the amendment to add PAYGO but they lost and PAYGO became the rule along with the increased debt limit.
Yet Democrats rammed through two pieces of legislation by declaring them as “emergencies” exempt from the PAYGO rules and were well on their way to making this another case when Bunning made his stand. “If we cannot pay for a bill that all 100 Senators support, how can we tell the American people with a straight face that we will ever pay for anything?” asked Bunning.
For Congress to pay anymore than lip service to cutting the size of government, some hard decisions need to be made. Certainly there’s a humanitarian case for extending benefits, but that $10 billion comes out of the private sector or becomes debt for our ancestors (descendants, thanks Tim – d’oh!) to pay off. It’s simply an unsustainable system.
Unfortunately, not every Republican backed Bunning’s stance because Democrats are outstanding at playing the victim card and attempted to tar the entire GOP with the broad brush of being uncaring and unfeeling. Since Bunning isn’t running for re-election he had nothing to lose by taking a stand.
And I have nothing to lose by branding Democrats as hypocrites. They had yet another opportunity to stand by the rules THEY enacted yet to them the rules only apply to everyone else. At least the Republicans didn’t have that pretense of PAYGO legislation yet managed to balance the budget during the early years when they were in charge of Congress.
So I applaud Senator Bunning for his stand and would love to see him and fellow Republicans continue obstructing when they see the double standard for which Democrats are famous. They may have won this round but come November Democrats may regret what they’ve done.