Is Bunning conducting a filibuster?
posted at 1:36 pm on March 2, 2010 by Ed Morrissey
Senator Jim Bunning has both Republicans and Democrats angry this week, thanks to his insistence on objecting to the funding mechanism for an extension of unemployment benefits and highway funds. Bunning has objected to unanimous consent requests from both parties to move towards a vote for the bill, and has refused to pursue an amendment demanding that the federal government use stimulus funds rather than new borrowing to pay for it. But the media has reported on this incorrectly almost from the beginning, including Roll Call, which should know better:
Senate Republicans sought Tuesday to insulate themselves from the damage caused by Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) filibuster of a bill that would extend unemployment and health benefits and highway programs.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) took to the floor Tuesday morning to ask that the Senate vote within hours on the bill so that thousands of furloughed federal highway workers could go back to work and the unemployed could see a resumption of their jobless benefits. Bunning’s filibuster, which he kicked off Thursday, caused those provisions to expire Sunday night. The retiring Kentucky Republican wants the measure paid for.
Bunning objected to Collins’ request, as he has to nearly a dozen requests from Democrats for similar rapid resolutions to the standoff.
This is not a filibuster, which is a specific procedure in which Senators force debate to continue indefinitely as a means to block a final vote, denying “cloture” to the majority party. Alternatively, and now somewhat archaically, it also describes an effort by one Senator to just continue talking to stall action. Bunning is using another mechanism altogether, one that won’t block a final vote, although it will delay it:
As I noted in a previous post, and as is increasingly well known to those who actually are capable of comprehension, Senator Jim Bunning – for the simple reason he wishes it to be paid for – is objecting to a repeated unanimous consent request by Senate Democrats to call up and pass a bill that would temporarily extend unemployment benefits, transportation funding, medicare reimbursement, COBRA subsidies and other expenditures to the tune of another $10 billion or so. Again, Democrats are requesting that each U.S. Senator agree – that is, effectively vote “yes” – to said extension without full consideration or debate on the Senate floor.
Yet, news account after news account of his continued objection to this unanimous consent request report his actions as a filibuster. Politico, Roll Call, Fox News, CNN, and the list goes on and on. And the accusation of filibustering is even worse among Senators and Congressmen, as exemplified by the DCCC Chair, Chris Van Hollen and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. But it simply is not the case that what Mr. Bunning is doing is a filibuster under the rules, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. Senate fully comprehends. …
A filibuster is one of two things. One, an actual filibuster where a Senator gets control of the Senate floor and will yield only for a question while continuing to speak, thereby delaying consideration of a measure. Picture Mr. Smith goes to Washington (if you haven’t seen it, do). Two, a “filibuster” under Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the Senate whereby debate is continuous unless “cloture” is filed to shut off debate on a measure under consideration and the vote is 3/5ths or more of the Senate. Senate Democrats did not call this bill up to give it floor time. If they had thought it important enough, they could have. Instead, they simply asked for a “UC,” or unanimous consent to pass it. Senator Bunning simply does not wish to give his consent – i.e. he does not want to vote for it.
No one is required to give unanimous consent to any request for it. Senators normally give it, though, in order to keep business moving. Withholding unanimous consent simply means that the Senate will have to hold procedural votes that it would otherwise waive in order to finish its work. That’s not a filibuster.
Furthermore, Bunning’s action is based on the demand by Democrats and the White House to restore the pay-go rule, as Heritage’s Brian Darling explains:
Liberals are up in arms because Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is blocking a bill that would extend unemployment benefits, extend health insurance subsidies (COBRA), extend highway funding, increase Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians (Doc Fix), extend a temporary “flood insurance” program and continue aid for small business programs. The bill, H.R. 4691, was introduced and passed the House on February 25th by a voice vote. When the bill came up in the Senate, Sen. Bunning objected and requested a vote to offset the estimated $10 billion cost of this bill over the next month. With the two words “I object” Sen. Bunning may save taxpayers $10 billion and Sen. Bunning has provided America a stark example of how Members of Congress refuse to pay for new spending initiatives.
Bunning said of the bill “if we can’t find $10 billion to pay for it, we’re not going to pay for anything.” A month ago, Congress passed something called pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budgeting when they increased the the statutory limit of allowable national debt to $14.29 trillion, a $1.9 trillion increase. The current PAYGO rules are loaded with exceptions and loopholes, yet many saw the new PAYGO rules as a step in the right direction to restrain some out of control spending. The problem is that Congress seems to waive the PAYGO rule rather than offset one cent of new spending. …
Basically, liberals in Congress love the idea of PAYGO, yet they refuse to enforce the statutory requirements that all new spending be offset. They do this by designating all new spending as an “Emergency Designation.” This is feel good politics at its worst, because the left can claim they are for PAYGO, yet PAYGO has yet to restrain any spending. Furthermore, the vote on PAYGO in the House helped pave the way for a $1.9 trillion increase in the debt limit. Therefore one can argue that PAYGO actually increased spending in the Congress.
Bunning isn’t even opposing the bill, or at least not its purpose. He’s objecting to the financing, which violates the pay-go rules Democrats just imposed.
Pay attention to the misreporting on this issue, because it will happen again when Republicans begin using the same process to slow down reconciliation. Coburn threatened to withhold unanimous consent on bill readings during the ObamaCare debate last December, and wound up forcing the clerk to read the bill aloud for hours. If Democrats decide to cram ObamaCare through reconciliation, it won’t just be Bunning withholding unanimous consent, and not just on ObamaCare, either.
Bunning isn’t filibustering. If Democrats want to get to a vote, they can with or without unanimous consent. If their bill is well supported, it will eventually pass. But after the scolding a few weeks ago from Obama on deficit spending and the Democrats’ victory dance on pay-go, the real reason Democrats are unhappy about Bunning’s action isn’t because it’s a filibuster, but because it shows their hypocrisy on deficit spending. And the American media needs to do its research on Senate procedure before declaring the withholding of unanimous consent a “filibuster.”
Update: The Boss Emeritus weighs in on the Bunning debate, too:
Some weak-willed Republicans don’t want the GOP to be cast as the heartless Scrooges taking away “temporary” unemployment benefits that have become enshrined permanently. …
Sen. Bunning’s move to unmask pay-go hypocrisy has been dismissed by the White House as “irrational.” His GOP colleagues are backing away.
But if Republicans can’t stand up and question the permanent Nanny State and can’t point out the unintended consequences of liberal intentions without folding like card tables, what good are they?