If more evidence was needed that Congress has become dysfunctional, Sen. Jim Bunning’s one-man filibuster provided it. His objections to the government’s deficit spending are valid, but taking out his frustrations on unemployed workers and Medicare patients was misplaced.
Sen. Susan Collins tried this week to break the logjam with a reasonable proposal to extend the benefits in the legislation for 30 days to give lawmakers time for debate. She was the first Republican senator to try to end the impasse. Sen. Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, refused the overture. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers across the country lost their benefits on Monday when doctors began being paid 21 percent less to see Medicare patients. Funding for the federal highway trust fund has been delayed, prompting the U.S. Transportation Department to lay off 2,000 people this week delaying local projects, and a Small Business Administration loan program was suspended.
“I’m very concerned because the failure to act has real-life consequences for so many Americans, from unemployed workers in my state — 500 of whom have had their benefits expire — to doctors and health care workers across the country who will start to refuse to treat seniors because of a huge cut in Medicare to small businesses who won’t be able to get loans,” Sen. Collins told The Hill, a Capitol Hill publication and Web site.
Tuesday night, Sen. Bunning relented and the bill was quickly passed by a large margin.
All members of Congress should be concerned that the body routinely passes measures that aren’t paid for. But, it seems odd to hold up a $10 billion bill that would help working-class families and the elderly, but not take a similar stand against measures that have added trillions of dollars to the deficit. Sen. Bunning voted for the tax cuts proposed by President George W. Bush and for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The tax cuts and wars are each estimated to have cost the treasury more than $1 trillion.
Senate Democratic leaders, especially Majority Leader Harry Reid, aren’t blameless. Sen. Reid could have brought an alternate version of the bill — which included elements of the jobs bill passed by a wide margin in the Senate last week — to the floor. He also could have earlier threatened to keep the Senate in session — the move that made Sen. Bunning finally give in — or more quickly scheduled a vote on the unemployment measure to force Republicans to either bypass Sen. Bunning or publicly stand with him. Sen. Reid likely didn’t do this because he thinks Democrats will gain pub-lic support by allowing Sen. Bunning to bear the brunt of criticism for holding up the legislation, which contains measures with popular support.
This kind of behavior is why the public is so disillusioned with Washington.