Sen. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who single-handedly delayed unemployment benefits for 400,000 desperate Americans and forced an unnecessary furlough of another 2,000, should be a figure regarded with wonderment.
The awesome power he held in his hands! The utter disregard for vulnerable Americans he exhibited while wielding it!
Bunning is a Republican Superhero. He personifies the mean-spirited, hypocritical, wealthy-serving, obstructionist Republican Party. As a result, his fellow GOP senators championed him. South Carolina Republican Jim DeMint said, “He’s my hero this week.” Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions said, “I respect him for the courage he’s shown.” Bunning’s obstruction should be “honored” by the Senate, said Tennessee Republican Bob Corker. And Texas Republican John Cornyn said he admired Bunning’s obstructionist tactics.
Eighteen Republicans joined Bunning on Tuesday evening in voting to oppose extending unemployment benefits for a month and providing highway funding to re-employ the furloughed 2,000.
Republicans clearly admire obstructionism that hurts average Americans. It didn’t matter that the legislation was going to pass eventually no matter what Bunning did. It didn’t matter that Bunning could have made his hypocritical point by delaying legislation that didn’t affect people’s everyday lives. What mattered to Bunning and his backers is that Republicans—the minority in the Senate—succeeded in holding up Americans.
Though Bunning blathered about blockading the bill to ensure it did not add to the federal deficit, no such high-minded intent existed. Bunning made that clear when he agreed to end his obstruction in exchange for a vote he knew would fail on an amendment to fund the bill.
During the six-day ordeal, Bunning bemoaned his own losses—missing the opportunity to watch a televised college basketball game because he was forced to defend his obstructionist position on the Senate floor and losing his cool on national TV as lowly reporters attempted to follow him into an elevator exclusively for use by high-fallutin’ senators. And he treated others with disdain—flipping the finger at a TV news man and growling, “tough sh*t,” at two fellow senators, Democrats, of course, as they pleaded with him to release the unemployment money.
In 1998, former President Bill Clinton described Bunning as “mean-spirited.” That’s appropriate not just for Bunning, but also for the party he represents.
This is the party that has obstructed health insurance reform for a year, preventing millions of uncovered Americans from finally securing insurance, while at the same time the GOP’s impeding progress allowed greedy insurance companies to continue dropping sick policyholders. This is the party that supported former President George W. Bush’s unfunded stimulus bill but opposed the stimulus bill proposed by President Obama to help reverse the worsening economy and rising unemployment that he inherited from Bush. Unfunded legislation, including the Medicare prescription program, was fine by Republicans when Bush was in office. But suddenly it’s not while Obama is president.
Bunning claimed he engaged in his one-man ban on the unemployment benefit extension because Congress recently passed pay-as-you-go legislation requiring that each spending bill include a funding mechanism. Of course, what he failed to mention is that he and his Party of No voted against the pay-go legislation. This was a second no on pay-go for Bunning, who did it in 2005 as well.
Bunning and the Republicans say they are just worried sick about the national debt, but they reject all proposals to deal with it. Another example is the Deficit Commission. Bunning and his Party of No also opposed creating this commission to cut the national debt. This defines the word hypocrite.
While stopping funds for the unemployed and adding 2,000 more people to the unemployment rolls, Bunning handled another constituent group—the rich—with enormously more tender care. He and his fellow Republicans cut the taxes of millionaires while Bush was in office. And like the Bush stimulus bill, the Republicans didn’t bother providing a way to fill the revenue hole they dug when they gave rich people the break.
Similarly, Bunning supported a farm bill that allows farmers earning up to $750,000 a year to collect government subsidies, but felt it was fine to cut off “government subsidies” to the unemployed.
Bunning got high-level Republican support for that position. The Senate Republican whip, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, asserted that unemployment benefits dissuade furloughed workers from seeking jobs “because people are being paid even though they’re not working.” A total of two Republican senators, James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Susan Collins of Maine, publicly asked Bunning to release the unemployment checks. The others either supported his obstruction with their silence or, like Kyl, openly backed him.
Despite Kyl’s contempt for unemployed Americans who in this Great Recession are forced to compete with five others for every job opening, the real deadbeat is Bunning. In January 2009, Bunning missed more than a week at the start of Congress and refused to explain his absence. Later that year, Bunning was the only senator to miss the Christmas Eve vote on the health insurance reform bill. Bunning skipped nearly half of all Senate floor votes in December, a total of 21, one more than ailing, 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd missed. Bunning gets paid $170,000 by the government, and collects top-notch government health benefits, whether he shows up for work or not. But this Republican Superhero felt it was fine to cut off paltry checks and COBRA health insurance matches for the unemployed whose average benefits would add up to $15,236 a year.
In his years in the Senate, Bunning has repeatedly voted against the health insurance program for poor children called CHIP. He opposed funding for the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. He rejected additional funding for the Consumer Product Safety Commission as poisonous pet food and lead-painted toys from China flooded U.S. shores. He said no to foreclosure aid and assistance to those unable to afford winter heating bills.
Bunning embodies the Party of Obstruction. No unemployment benefits. No health insurance reform. Not even health insurance for impoverished children. No. No. No for working folks.
The GOP is, however, the Party of Obliging corporate and wealthy interests: Yes. Yes. Yes for the rich.