Bun­ning’s high, hard pitch stirs Democrats’ anger

The Kansas City Star (Sunday) - - WASHINGTON | - By CARL HULSE

“We have to call them out,” ri­vals say af­ter the Repub­li­can’s fil­i­buster over job­less ben­e­fits.

While the leg­isla­tive toll has been high, the par­ti­san con­flict in the Se­nate has been waged in a gen­teel, deco­rous man­ner. Now things are threat­en­ing to get ugly.

Se­na­tors rou­tinely ini­ti­ate fil­i­busters, lodge ob­jec­tions to votes and im­pose “holds” on White House nom­i­nees and then go about their busi­ness as they await make-or-break pro­ce­dural votes.

The last straw seems to have come in the form of Sen. Jim Bun­ning’s de­ci­sion last week to launch an old­fash­ioned, one-man fil­i­buster to block job­less Amer­i­cans from an ex­ten­sion of un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits be­cause of his con­cerns over the fed­eral bud­get deficit.

A group of Democrats took to the floor in a late-night ses­sion on Thurs­day to hold the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can’s feet to the po­lit­i­cal fire.

They cas­ti­gated Bun­ning, forced him to re­peat­edly af­firm his ob­jec­tion and re­minded him of bleak un­em­ploy­ment num­bers in his home state. Bun­ning, a gruff 78-year-old base­ball Hall of Famer, was ag­gra­vated to the point where he was over­heard swear­ing on the Se­nate floor and com­plain­ing he had been am­bushed.

He did not budge on his ob­jec­tion, but Democrats said that stay­ing late was well worth the ef­fort since they were able to put a face — Bun­ning’s — on what they called a case of Repub­li­can ob­struc­tion and show in a more graphic man­ner how busi­ness was be­ing con­ducted, or not, in the Se­nate.

“We can’t let peo­ple stay in the shad­ows if they are go­ing to do th­ese things,” said Dick Durbin of Illi­nois, the No. 2 Se­nate Demo­crat, who led the im­promptu floor skir­mish. “We have to call them out.”

Democrats have been un­der pres­sure from their al­lies to be more ag­gres­sive in chal­leng­ing Repub­li­can pro­ce­dural tac­tics and pro­duce the 60 votes needed to move ahead on most sub­jects.

The sit­u­a­tion with Bun­ning has yet to be re­solved. The Se­nate is ex­pected to con­sider a longer-term ex­ten­sion of the pro­grams Mon­day, with pas­sage likely this week.

The show­down al­ready has got­ten plenty of at­ten­tion. As they mixed it up on the Se­nate floor, Democrats said they found the air­ing of their griev­ances with Bun­ning cathar­tic and ben­e­fi­cial to the Se­nate.

“When Se­na­tor Bun­ning de­cided to do this, it came with a risk,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Mis­souri Demo­crat. “And the risk was that there were go­ing to be se­na­tors who were go­ing to speak out about it.” McCaskill said that both par­ties had been at fault in the Se­nate, “but that it is time we try to make this place work bet­ter.”

“I think the Se­nate would be a health­ier place if we did it more of­ten,” she said.

Step­ping up their con­fronta­tions with Repub­li­cans car­ries risks. In Bun­ning’s case, he was act­ing vir­tu­ally alone and did not have the man­power or the ex­per­tise of the lead­er­ship ap- para­tus to back him up or pro­vide guid­ance in re­spond­ing to the Democrats.

Repub­li­cans said that if Democrats wanted to make such face­offs a reg­u­lar event, they would force Democrats into po­lit­i­cally em­bar­rass­ing sit­u­a­tions by propos­ing votes on is­sues Democrats wanted to avoid, such as ter­ror­ism tri­als in the U.S.

At the same time, th­ese types of guer­rilla tac­tics could fur- ther po­lar­ize the Se­nate just when there has been a glim­mer of bi­par­ti­san­ship, like on the re­cently passed plan to spur job cre­ation. The Chicago Tri­bune con­trib­uted to this re­port.


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