Lots of tough talk from Dems on Sen. Jim Bunning's (R-KY) filibuster against the extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits, but no real fight.
Last night, Roll Call (subscription only) was reporting that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) was ready for a knock-down, drag-out with Bunning over this much-needed extension:
Retiring Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) late Thursday launched a one-man crusade to block an extension of unemployment and COBRA insurance benefits, vowing to allow the benefit programs to expire Sunday unless Democrats agreed to pay for them with unused stimulus funds.
Bunning’s quixotic pursuit of deficit offsets at the potential expense of payments to unemployed or uninsured citizens enraged Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and other Democrats, who vowed to keep the chamber in session until Bunning relents or collapses.
A senior Democratic leadership aide said Durbin would ask for unanimous consent to pass the extensions without Bunning’s payment scheme every half hour for the foreseeable future. "We’re going to keep doing it until we break him," the aide said.
And this morning, Roll Call tells us Bunning was on the verge of losing what's left of his mind, which is exactly what forcing a one-man filibuster is all about:
Bunning’s filibuster angered Democrats, most notably Durbin, who organized a group of the chamber’s younger Democrats Thursday night to man the floor for a potential all-night session.
But after three hours of often heated debate — during which Bunning could be heard yelling obscenities at other lawmakers — Durbin dropped his efforts for the evening shortly before midnight.
So they had him to the point where he was shouting obscentities on the Senate floor and decided... to let him go home for a good night's sleep.
He probably slept a hell of a lot better than the Kentuckians who are out of work and depending on those benefits, I can tell you that. No word on whether Senate Democrats actually tucked him in.
This morning, the fight resumed, presumably after a nourishing breakfast which some of those Kentucky families would probably have liked to have had themselves. The unanimous consent request to pass the extension was made, Bunning objected, gave a short speech, and then suggested the absence of a quorum, which you may recall is often used as a stalling tactic to avoid conducting an actual filibuster.
While it's true that the presiding officer of the Senate has no choice but to direct the clerk to call the roll when a Senator suggests the absence of a quorum, it is also true that a quorum call can be suspended by unanimous consent if a Senator asks for it and there's no objection. In other words, any Senator could have immediately asked for the quorum call to be dispensed with, and if Bunning (or a supporter) wasn't there to object, then it'd be ended, after which another unanimous consent request to pass the UI/COBRA bill could be made.
Instead, we are more than one hour into this pointless quorum call, during which one of two things could be happening. One, Democrats could be in negotiations with the guy they said they were going to "break." Or two, Democrats are needlessly giving the guy they said they were going to "break" a chance to kick back and relax, filibustering the bill while he naps.
Dems promised last night that they'd be renewing their unanimous consent request to pass the bill every half hour until Bunning either caved or collapsed. To me, that's a bit too generous, and I'd prefer seeing them all armed with the script for the request and prepared to make it as often as possible, such that there's not so much as a piss break allowed for Bunning today. Sure, he could get other Republicans to object on his behalf, but I'm not really all that sure anyone wants to. At least not on the substance. But either way, Dems have already skipped two "scheduled" unanimous consent requests during this quorum call, with no indication of when they'll be prepared to get back to their promise next.
A one man filibuster is the kind a concerted effort to "make them filibuster" is most likely to break. But instead, no one's even trying anymore. On C-SPAN2, they're saying the Senators are in negotiations to end the stand-off. But a one man stand-off ought to be broken on principle alone.
Doesn't look like it's happening, though. Surprise, surprise.
UPDATE: Nevermind! The Senate appears to have adjourned for the weekend. Bunning has won for the day, and Durbin's threat has shockingly failed to materialize at all. The extent of Bunning's punishment: he missed prime time TeeVee last night.
Enjoy your weekend. Maybe the DSCC will call you for money this evening!
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