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Jim Bunning's lonely stand against deficit spending to fund unemployment benefits -- does he have a point?

March 2, 2010 |  9:27 am

Hall of Fame Pitcher now Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning throwing out first ball at a 2008 game 

Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning has been demonized in the media a lot lately.

CNN has been running a crawl that reads, "Thousands hurt by one senator." Ticket has described him as a goat. He has been blamed for the furlough of 2,000 workers at the Transportation Department. From the podium of the Obama White House, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs denounced him. Even Bunning's Republican colleagues have pleaded with him to stop objecting to a stop-gap measure that protects the unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans afloat.

But Tuesday on the Senate floor, Bunning, a two-term lawmaker who can afford to be difficult because he's not running for reelection, stood his ground. Like a Hall of Fame pitcher staring down the batter, he challenged Senate leaders to use other parliamentary options to get the bill to the floor. And he read into the record a letter from Robert, an unemployed man in Louisville, Ky., who applauded the senator's stand against deficit spending.

"This country is sooner or later going to implode because of the massive amount of debt run up over the past 40 or 50 years," Robert wrote. Asked frequently why he is doing this now, Bunning answers, "Why not now?"

Some of this is political posturing. As one liberal analyst told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I would have more sympathy for [Bunning] and others if they applied the same logic to new tax cuts or to extending expiring tax cuts like the estate tax."

Lots of people think Bunning is a loose cannon -- he is given to strange outbursts that reportedly prompted his colleague from Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to force him to retire. He was the sole senator to vote against President George W. Bush's appointment of Ben Bernanke in 2006. He accused then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson of acting like the "minister of finance in China" for taking over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. He once accused an opponent of looking like one of Saddam Hussein's sons.

So satirizing him is easy.

Still, across the country, some voices are rising to his defense. "A month ago, Democrats were suggesting the Repubs were phony tightwads for not joining them in support of paygo," wrote blogger Debra Saunders. "It turns out, paygo is the phony. Two weeks after it became law, the Senate passed a $15 billion jobs bill exempt from paygo."

With 17 million Americans out of work, it seems a no-brainer to pass a 30-day Band-Aid protecting their benefits, even if it means busting the deficit. But the question Bunning raises is a good one: "If we can't find $10 billion to pay for something that we all support, we will never pay for anything on the floor of this U.S. Senate."

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Bunning, a Hall of Fame Pitcher for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies who pitched a perfect game in 1964, throws out the ceremonial first pitch at a 2008 game. Credit: Doug Pensinger / Getty Images

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