Tom Patterson: For Americans, watching the saga of Sen. Jim Bunning and the unemployment benefits was like peering into a chasm. We learned much about the lack of seriousness of our leaders and the prospects for even minimal spending restraint. None of it good
For Americans, watching the saga of Sen. Jim Bunning and the unemployment benefits was like peering into a chasm. We learned much about the lack of seriousness of our leaders and the prospects for even minimal spending restraint. None of it good.
Bunning’s sin was that he objected to the unanimous vote wanted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to expedite the further extension of unemployment and COBRA health benefits. Bunning was very clear about his motives. He didn’t object to the extension. He thought it should be honestly paid for rather than just adding it to the national debt.
His idea wasn’t exactly original. In fact, Bunning was just trying to follow the Paygo Law, signed on Feb. 12 by President Barack Obama, who announced that “now Congress must pay for what it spends, just like everybody else.”
For his trouble, Bunning became the target of withering criticism. Network newscasts led with the story of his astounding lack of compassion, while their cameras chased him around the Capitol.
Diane Sawyer of ABC News stressed that this one man was arrogantly “blockading” Congress and “denying life support for the unemployed.” Reporter Jonathan Karl highlighted an unemployed microbiologist who, because of Bunning, would “have to move out of her house” — two days after benefits were delayed. Bob Schieffer sniffed that the episode was merely “about politics. Not about anything of substance.”
Democrats were delighted to have such a public relations bonanza fall into their laps. They lined up to press the attack. Reid wrung his hands over “constituents standing in the unemployment line.”
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs emphasized that “this is an emergency situation. I don’t know how you negotiate with the irrational.” Even fellow Republican Susan Collins of Maine claimed “he’s hurting the American people.”
It’s weird. They had the ability to go ahead and pass the bill through regular channels. But it was important to make an example of Bunning because he had laid bare the monumental hypocrisy of Congress and its Paygo pretensions.
Paygo was based on the common-sense notion that if you have no money and are deeply in debt, it’s not very smart to just keep spending more anyway.
So under Paygo, new spending must either have a funding source or be accompanied by a spending cut elsewhere.
Bunning’s tactic showed that Congress and the Obama administration were all for the Paygo rules, except for … well, except for everything.
This time, they wouldn’t have even had to forgo spending to enforce their own rules. Unspent stimulus funds were available as a funding source. It will never be easier than this to show even the mildest spending discipline, yet they failed miserably.
Unbelievably, it was Bunning who took all the heat. Only 17 colleagues stood with him on the final vote, and he went down to crushing defeat.
Congress recently raised the national debt ceiling to $14 trillion. It had to hit this unthinkable level in order to accommodate the tsunami of bloated budgets, stimulus spending, more stimulus, TARP funds, earmarks, foreign aid, union favors and handouts all around.
The Obama administration projects that within a decade, debt service will approach a trillion dollars annually.
Their response? Massive new spending on health insurance reform, cap-and-trade, nationalization of student loans, increased federal education spending, new entitlements and God only knows what else.
Our leaders pretend to believe they inhabit an alternate universe in which there is plenty of money and no penalty for excessive spending. Deficits not long ago were considered to be a natural curb on spending. Some argued they weren’t so bad to have around for that reason.
But now an unimaginable debt load no longer matters. Lack of federal income doesn’t matter. Intergenerational theft doesn’t matter. All that matters is My Re-election. Extra points for helping convert the “Land of the Free” into a welfare state.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said of the Bunning debacle, “Today we have a clear-cut example to show people just what’s wrong with Washington, D.C.”
She didn’t mean it kindly, but for once, the lady was absolutely correct.