Senate Democrats spent Thursday night hammering away at Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) for single-handedly holding up action in the upper chamber – but he blurted out a message to one of them on the Senate floor: “Tough s—t.”
In an unusual display in the normally sleepy chamber, Bunning – without the support of GOP leadership – has blocked efforts to quickly approve a series of extensions to measures that would otherwise expire Sunday, including unemployment insurance and the Cobra program that allows people who lose their health benefits to continue getting coverage.
In a colloquy with Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sen. Jeff Merkley, a freshman Democrat from Oregon, was pleading for Bunning to drop his objection, when the Kentucky Republican got fed up.
“Tough s—t,” Bunning said as he was seated in the back row, overheard by the floor staff and others in attendance.
It’s rare for senators to curse at one another on the floor of the chamber. In 2004, Dick Cheney famously told Sen. Patrick Leahy to “f—- yourself” when the vice president appeared for a photo session in the upper chamber.
Bunning is furious about increased spending in the Senate – but he’s waging a lonely battle to stop it. The senior senator from his state, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, with whom he has a frosty relationship, is not backing him up. If he refuses to relent, Democrats will have to file cloture to shut down debate, pushing back final action until next week.
But Democrats are eager to have this fight; even though they know that Bunning remains largely by himself, they know that hammering away at the Kentucky Republican will drill home their argument that the GOP is out to obstruct progress.…snip…
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) approached Bunning around 9:30 p.m., and they spoke for a moment before Reid left the floor.
Reid has asked for unanimous consent to approve the package of provisions that expire Sunday, which also include 30-day extensions of flood insurance, highway funding and small business loans. But Bunning continues to object to the unanimous consent requests.
To maximize pressure on Bunning, Durbin has been reading messages from Kentucky residents and unemployment statistics from counties around the state, whose unemployment rate stands at 10.7 percent, above the national average. One country, Magoffin County, has 21.4 percent of its residents unemployed, Durbin said. Merkley said he is “deeply disturbed” that Bunning can be is so “disconnected from the challenges” of working Americans.Increasingly, more Democratic senators came to engage in the debate – and increasingly, those Democrats were angry.…snip…
Bunning, 78, a former Major League Baseball pitcher who is in the Hall of Fame, is considered one of the more eccentric members of the Senate. He doesn’t mingle much with his colleagues, can be gruff and rarely talks to the press. For months last year, he insisted he was running for reelection but found no support from McConnell and other top Republicans – and sharply criticized his Kentucky counterpart after he couldn’t raise the funds to mount a serious bid. Bunning ultimately decided to retire at the end of the year.
On the floor Thursday, Bunning complained about how the measures aren’t adequately paid for. And he criticized Reid for killing a bipartisan Finance Committee bill to address the unemployment rate and for “jamming” through other bills that he said would amount to a frivolous increase in spending.
In his exchanges with Democrats, Bunning has repeatedly referred to President Barack Obama as “your president.”
At 11:36 p.m., Durbin tried one final time to offer a unanimous-consent request to pass the 30-day extension. Bunning objected, and Durbin consented to a motion for adjournment after [Bob] Corker [(R-Tenn.)] and Bunning had a few more minutes to speak.
They will adjourn Friday morning, but the world’s greatest deliberative body will not vote until Tuesday morning – two days after the unemployment benefits have expired. There’s no agreement yet for a vote on the package, but the Senate begins debating next week an extension of expiring tax breaks that could become a vehicle for the package.
Bunning had one person to blame for his marathon session: Harry Reid.
“Remember now, this all could’ve been changed had not the leader of the Senate decided that a bipartisan compromise jobs bill was not as important as his partisan jobs bill that just passed just before all of this debate,” he said in his final remarks.