[Editor’s Note: This column originally appeared on March 3, 2010, when Jim Bunning was serving in the U.S. Senate. Bunning, who was born on Oct. 23, 1931, died last night in Southgate, Kentucky, at the age of 85.]
Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, a 78-year-old grandfather of 40 who is not running for re-election, has single-handedly fought a battle on Capitol Hill over the past week that ought to inspire all taxpayers to rally around his banner of commonsense.
Bunning not only said “NO” to a Congress that week after week has been driving the nation deeper and deeper into debt, but decided to use what power he has under Senate rules to make sure his “NO” was heard.
Three weeks ago, President Obama signed a law allowing the federal government to borrow an additional $1.9 trillion. That law included a provision Washington insiders call “Pay-Go,” which supposedly obligates Congress to offset any new spending it approves with new revenues or cuts in spending elsewhere in the budget. But this “Pay-Go” is a fraud.
A week after Congress enacted it, the House approved a bill that, among other things, “extended” for 30 days the current payment schedule for doctors treating Medicare patients, certain highway programs, the period of time that people can claim unemployment benefits and a provision included in last year’s $787-billion stimulus law that temporarily provided federal subsidies to help cover COBRA health insurance payments for unemployed people. Each of these provisions was set to expire on the last day in February.
But the House bill to extend them did not abide by Pay-Go. It contemplated adding $10 billion to the national debt.
Last week, the Senate approved a new $15 billion “jobs” bill pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. It also did not abide by Pay-Go. It contemplated adding $12 billion to the national debt.
In the wake of this, Reid went to the Senate floor on Wednesday night to ask for the unanimous consent of his colleagues to bring up his version of the House “extension” bill. Like the House bill, it would add $10 billion to the national debt.
If Reid had his way, the Senate would add $22 billion in new debt in two bills passed two weeks after enacting Pay-Go.
Jim Bunning drew the line. He let Reid know he would withhold his consent from allowing the bill to come to the floor. He would instead ask that the Senate unanimously consent to consider a bill he would offer that would be exactly like Reid’s — except that it would abide by the Pay-Go principle.
Reid could have accepted Bunning’s proposal and agreed to pay for the new spending. Or he could have called for a cloture vote to see if he could get at least one Republican to join with Senate Democrats to secure the 60 votes needed to overrule Bunning’s objection. Or he could have ended the session for the night determined to come back on Thursday to work something out with Bunning.It would use unspent funds from the $787-billion stimulus, rather than new debt, to cover the $10 billion in new spending. Bunning was also ready to consider other sources of revenue to offset the new spending — including an across-the-board rescission in current spending.
Instead, Senate Democrats resolved to teach the 78-year-old grandfather of 40 a lesson — to make him an example for other congressional conservatives.
As long as the Senate remained in session for the night, the Democrats could ask for unanimous consent to move forward with Reid’s bill. If Bunning was not physically present, he could not object and the bill would move forward. Most Republican senators, meanwhile, had gone home for the night.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., led a succession of Democratic senators who came to the floor and, one after another, attacked Bunning. They falsely accused him of wanting to take food off the table of unemployed workers and deny health care to the elderly — just because he wanted to pay for the contemplated 30-day extensions, which he fully supported.
For three and a half hours, Bunning stood his ground. “I will be here as long as you are here and as long as all of those other senators are here,” he told Durbin. “I am going to object every time because you will not pay for this and you propose never to pay for it.”
During the course of the night, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., showed up to help Bunning. But he was otherwise on his own. Nonetheless, he persevered and Durbin finally gave up — for the night.
“We are not conning the people in the United States about anything,” Bunning said before he left the Senate floor that evening. “They know what is going on. That is why they are madder than heck. They are tired of senators who talk out of both sides of their mouths.”
The next morning, Bunning renewed the fight. “If we can’t find $10 billion to pay for something we all support, we will never pay for anything in the Senate,” he said.
As of this writing, he has single-handedly fought the borrow-and-spend Senate to standstill.
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