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Sen. Jim Bunning Wreaks Havoc on the Unemployed -- And His Own Republican Party

The batty Republican ends his jobs filibuster, but not before he brings further damage to his party's reputation.
 
 
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UPDATE: Under pressure from members of his own party, Sen. Jim Bunning has abandoned his one-man filibuster of the bill that would extend unemployment benefits another 30 day to the hundreds of thousands whose claims expired on Monday. As reported here, the bill also includes funding for federal highway construction and a "fix" to scheduled cut in fees reimbursed to Medicare providers, among other provisions. A vote is expected tonight.

Roll Call reportsthat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will allow Bunning to offer one amendment for a vote to address his stated concern that the bill must be paid for out of unspent stimulus money. Down the pike, when the Senate gets around to voting on a more comprehensive spending bill, Bunning will be allowed to offer two such amendments.

For a minute there, reports Mother Jones' Stephanie Mencimer, Bunning was a hero to the Tea Party crowd for holding the line on federal spending even if it meant putting the lives of out-of-work Americans at risk. Among those who backed Bunning's unilateral move were Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a perennial Tea Party favorite, as well as Rand Paul, who is running for Bunning's Senate seat with the endorsement of Tea Party groups. (Rand Paul is the son of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., whose quixotic 2008 presidential bid led to a first-place win in the straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference last month.)

There's a lot of things you can call Sen. Jim Bunning, R.-Ky., but you wouldn't ordinarily call him a friend to Democrats. But with his latest ploy -- one that will cause great pain to people whose unemployment benefits just expired, grind federal highway projects to a halt, and effect a fee-cut to doctors who take Medicare patients -- Bunning has written a script that could help Democrats campaigning for congressional seats in the mid-term elections.

Members of the majority party wasted no time in portraying Bunning's obstructionism as part of a grander GOP scheme that puts partisan interests ahead of the well-being of the American people, a notion that prompted one Republican senator to break ranks.

Today, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, stepped out from the GOP pack (whose members have largely remained silent on Bunning's antics) to call for passage of the measure. Bunning's response? "I object." And that was enough to scuttle it.

"It’s important that the American people understand that there is bipartisan support for extending these vital programs," Collins told reporters. "This is not a partisan issue. It only adds to the frustration of the American people when we are unable to act on a measure that has overwhelming support."

Collins is one of few, so far, who are willing to go on record against her out-of-control colleague, despite the cost to the American people, or even their own party.

It all began last week when, while gearing up for debate on a longer-term spending bill, Republicans and Democrats agreed to a stop-gap measure that would, among other things, extend unemployment benefits another 30 days. The measure quickly passed the House and was expected to do the same in the Senate until Bunning, who is retiring this year, voiced his objection to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's call for passage by unanimous consent. In the Senate, it may take 60 votes these days to pass virtually any piece of legislation, but it takes only one to stop a measure such as this.

As the week wore on, Bunning's behavior became more erratic. On Monday, when asked a question he didn't like, he flipped the bird at ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl. On Friday he spoke of his own sacrifice in perpetuating the filibiuster by which he holds up the bill: it caused him to miss a basketball game between Kentucky and South Carolina. (Jon Stewart breaks it down nicely here.) Even the partisanship-averse White House apparently gave spokesman Robert Gibbs license to call Bunning "irrational."