Political Hay

Jim Bunning’s Finest Hour

Imagine -- a Republican who's actually listening.

By 3.3.10

Sen. Jim Bunning cut a deal with Democrats to release the hold he had blocking a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits and subsidized COBRA health insurance. But the impact of his stand against more deficit spending will hang over Washington for some time. When he said on the floor Tuesday night that, "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? That is what senators say they want, and that is what the American people want."

The Inside the Beltway media will insist that Bunning was throwing sand in the gears of Republican political momentum, but I don't think that American people saw it that way. To most Americans concerned about our country's future, this latest "deal" makes the rest of Bunning's Republican colleagues appear all the more politically cautious for not backing him up.

My guess is that some of those Republicans up on Capitol Hill flashed back to the beating that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took for shutting down Washington back in the mid-1990s budget battle. They were focused -- as they all too often are -- on Washington's echo and perception chambers. In this case, that was a mistake.

All you have to do is spend a little bit of time outside of the Beltway mentality -- read state-based or local blogs and the comments on some of the larger national blogs, listen to talk radio, talk to moms in the carpool line -- and you realize that Bunning's stand was not the wild-haired maneuvering some folks in Washington made it out to be. Back in 1995, people may have been unhappy or frustrated with the Clinton crowd, but the economy was better and we were not a nation at war on two fronts, and perhaps most important, we were, compared to today, in far better fiscal shape, even if our budgets were in deficit.

If Republicans were nervous about getting behind Bunning out of fear that folks back home might revolt because unemployment checks weren't coming, or their constituents in the hinterlands weren't getting their local reruns of Seinfeld on their dish, then maybe they should go home and listen. It's only anecdotal, but callers were flooding the phone lines on Fred's radio show yesterday in support of Bunning. And it wasn't just Fred's show. Talk shows nationally and locally were hearing it from callers. There is a different mood out there right now. People want some sign from Washington that their voices are being heard and Bunning for a couple of days was speaking for them.

Did it backfire? It appears Bunning made his point and we're back to business as usual. But other opportunities are going to come along where American taxpayers are going to want to hold their government accountable. This is an administration that has the worst case of tin-ear I've ever seen. Joe Biden says one minute he doesn't know what the American people think, then tells us ad nauseam what they think anyway, in between saying that stimulating the economy has worked -- but then again it hasn't -- all in one sitting. We have a President who has not spent one day of his life working at a private sector job that contributed a dime of economic growth lecturing CEOs on the policies they should support to help grow the U.S. economy. You have prospective political appointees who actually believe their failings, such as creating offshore tax havens for clients, are actually reasons for them to work at senior position in Cabinet level departments, since their cheating experiences will allow them to better identify other cheaters. In short, we have leaders who do not believe they are accountable.

This Bunning Budget Buster is just the latest example of Republicans being too timid by half in holding this White House accountable for the spending, spending, and more spending it is doing. Every few weeks it seems we read about another round of extenders and debt-ceiling raising and skies-the-limit promises on jobs, growth and trade. And from the Republicans? Crickets.

But there are signs some Republicans get it. Later today, Sen. Scott Brown will introduce an amendment that will return about $80 billion in unspent and uncommitted stimulus dollars to taxpayers via a lowered payroll tax. Given the trillions of debt this Administration and this Congress have put on the backs of our families and future generations, this is a nice, symbolic move. Maybe we should use this temporary "tax cut" to invest in the campaigns of conservatives who will work with leaders like Brown to get us a better return on our "investment" in Washington.

Finally, in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry won his GOP primary running away. In Washington, the cognoscenti are saying that his populist campaign, which trounced Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and tapped into voter anger over Washington's economic and health care efforts, was evidence that voters were willing to toss out Republicans or Democrats alike if their views on such issues weren't respected. Perry may have used Hutchison's long-time in Washington to great political effect, but a conservative, long-time Republican governor running against a Washington controlled by Democrats doesn't strike me as particularly "bipartisan." Republicans voted for the Republican they felt best reflected their concerns and interests. When Republicans vote for a Democrat for that reason, we can say "bipartisanship" reigns.

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About the Author

Jeri Thompson serves on the advisory board of SecureAmericaNow.org., a bipartisan foundation focused on national security issues, particularly in the Middle East.