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Jim Bunning's campaign to end the filibuster

jim_bio.gifOn Sunday, unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits will expire for millions of laid-off workers. The Senate is expected to pass a package extending the help in a month or so. In the meantime, an emergency extension was proceeding smoothly through the process. That is, until Sen. Jim Bunning objected.

Bunning is holding up the unanimous consent needed to move the process forward. His objection is that he wants the package funded through unused stimulus funds (which means the projects those funds are meant to pay for will go dark). Harry Reid allowed that this was a reasonable argument: He promised Bunning he'd bring up his amendment for a vote. Not good enough, Bunning replied. Why not? "I was not ready to risk voting on a bill," he explained. "I knew it would not get the amount of votes necessary to pay for it.”

In other words, Bunning would lose the vote. Even with the filibuster, he'd lose the vote. But his play isn't to win the vote. His play is to win the clock. Breaking his hold would require a cloture vote, which would mean two days to let the cloture vote "ripen" and then 30 hours of post-cloture debate. That means benefits will run out.

Democrats in the Senate are obviously upset about this, but there's not, in practical terms, much that they can do. The Senate rules are making it possible for Bunning to push the package past the deadline, even though he doesn't have the votes to uphold his position. But don't worry. Bunning is suffering, too. In one of the finest "let them eat cake" moments in recent political history, Bunning whined that his obstructionism meant he had "missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9, and it was the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina this year."

Oh, poor muffin.

Senate reform, however, could have no better friend than Bunning. Last year, ending the filibuster was a quixotic blogger obsession. Now it's the subject of a petition by the Senate majority whip. Former Republican majority leader Bill Frist says his colleagues are "overdoing" the filibuster. This is how change begins, and without Bunning making clear exactly what the problem is, it would be impossible.

By Ezra Klein  |  February 26, 2010; 3:55 PM ET
Categories:  Senate  
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Next: The dangers of demanding consistency


Well, in his defense the people who will suffer from this are all poor.

Posted by: nisleib | February 26, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

I support ending the filibuster for legislation, but not for judicial nominees. With majority rule, bad legislation can easily be repealed. With judicial nominees there is no going back, with the exception of impeachment (which requires cause). Since judges serve lifetime appointments, and since the judiciary is becoming increasingly political (Citizens United), we need some mechanism for keeping extremists off the bench.

Rather than keep the filibuster for judicial nominees, I'd prefer replacing lifetime appointments with long terms - say 16 to 20 years - and a limit of a single term. The problem is that this solution would require a constitutional amendment. Under those conditions, I would favor elimination of the filibuster for judicial nominees as well as legislation.

Sometime in the future, I would like to see a post from Ezra on the main blog addressing the effect of eliminating the filibuster on the judiciary. It seems important.

Posted by: Red79 | February 26, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Coverage of the filibuster is reaching new outlets, breaking away from the normal Post/Times/political insider coverage, getting closer to the mainstream. Last week's public radio program Living on Earth -- which focuses on the environment -- had a segment about how the filibuster is affecting climate change legislation, and more importantly, how the rules of the filibuster have changed so that merely the threat of a filibuster will stop a bill. That last point is very important to get across to the public, so it was heartening to see a program normally devoted to endangered species, pollution, the natural world and the like give it some time.

link to transcript and downloadable audio file:

Posted by: meander510 | February 26, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Since many insurance plans--including, I think, some state High Risk Pools that Republicans love--require previous CONTINUOUS insurance coverage--does Bunning's stunt perhaps mean that many people will actually get bumped off COBRA and find it hard to ever get insurance again unless the Democratic plan passes?

Posted by: MikeinChicago | February 26, 2010 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I happen to agree. The filibuster is good in that it provides for unlimited debate; however, the process has evolved to the point that the majority files cloture requests in anticipation of filibusters and the minority never actually takes to the floor in debate. The result is that some pundits claim that the filibuster consumes time when, in fact, the problem is that it consumes no time.

In the original Star Trek series, there is an episode entitled "A Private Little War" in which the series' creator bemoans the fact that two parties are fighting without seeing casualties: in the end, the presence of casualties precludes further war. Debate on the floor of the Senate has the same effect, in that whenever two parties go to war the presence of casualties (or, in the case of the Senate, reduced fund-raising appearances) reduce the need for battle.

As Democratic Party member Senator Byrd has recently written, the filibuster serves an important purpose -- and its absence in other democracies (French, English, etc.) causes both a reduction in legislative productivity and a reduction in citizen satisfaction; however, the filibuster without casualties -- the filibuster without loss of floor time as we have it today -- causes some to (wrongly) over-use the tactic and others to (wrongly) cry that the tactic itself is malicious.

Posted by: rmgregory | February 26, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

First Shelby aqnd then Buinning, surely two of the dumbest and most cantankerous members of the Senate. Bunning is a disgrace, except to serve as poster boy for the heartlessness of GOPers. If the previous commenter is correct and this means thousands lose coverage altogether, maybe, like the Anthem/BlueCross rate increases*, it will be seen as what finally pushes us over to reform.

*SF Chronicle reports this am that small businesses are seeing huge rate increases in addition to the Anthem increases for individuals.

Posted by: Mimikatz | February 26, 2010 4:22 PM | Report abuse

I wonder how many COBRA beneficiaries in Kentucky will be beating down the doors of Bunnings offices come Monday. Of course, unless one of them can offer him a job after he leaves the Senate I doubt he gives a damn.

Posted by: EricS2 | February 26, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

OK, assuming Bunning's purpose isn't to end the Filibuster. Further, assuming his purpose isn't to reduce the number of people with health insurance.

Bunning isn't the first name that pops to mind as a deficit hawk.

What's this about, really?

Posted by: ideallydc | February 26, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse


David Waldman says the Dems can break Bunning on this matter by forcing him to stay on the floor.

Why aren't they forcing Bunning to stand and meet all the UC calls?????????????????

Posted by: TigerCats | February 26, 2010 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Ezra, this is misleading. You should tell the readers that what Sen. Benning want is to remind the liberals that you need to pay for what you spend.

It's like democrats sitting on the kitchen table and talking about spending the money this country doens't have.

Pay as you go, don't rack up too much credit debt, dude.

Posted by: jack65 | February 26, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

jack65 - "...remind the liberals that you need to pay for what you spend"

Ha! Where have you been for the last decade? The Republicans don't pay for anything. Medicare part D, two tax cuts and two wars, all on the nations credit card. And Republicans have the gall to scold the Democrats about spending?

By the way, we had paygo until 2002, when the Republicans did away with it.

Posted by: nisleib | February 26, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

@ jack65:
Well this would be a bit more plausible if Bunning had made any effort to obstruct 2 rounds of unpaid for tax cuts, 2 unfunded wars, and unfunded medicare part d.

Why wasn't he putting a hold on these far more expensive budget busting items? Why is it such a big issue now that there is a democrat in the white house?

Bunning is just participating in hypocritical grandstanding that punishes the unemployed.

Posted by: srw3 | February 26, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Red, there are proposals (by law profs and constitutional scholars) to institute judicial term limits on the Supreme Court (and potentially on lower courts) that would get around the "lifetime appointments" requirement by specifying that only the nine junior-most justices hear and rule on cases.

Basically, every two years, a new justice would be appointed, generally to serve an eighteen-year term. Justices could serve for the rest of their lives, but once they were no longer one of the nine most junior judges, they would become "senior justices" and only sit in on cases when there was a vacancy or a recusal (similar to "senior judges" on lower courts currently).

The reason this could work is that the Constitution allows Congress to regulate the Court's rules, its membership, and its size.

Posted by: Isa8686 | February 26, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

There's just no excuse for the way these Senators are playing with other people's well-being. These are not good people. These people are like Blair on Gossip Girl. Fiddling in other's lives to suit their own purposes.

Posted by: ideallydc | February 26, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Oh poor muffin?

I think you just gave the filibuster a new name.

The Republicans aren't really ready to filibuster, they're just bluffin with their muffin.

Posted by: BobFred | February 26, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Democratic Party member Byrd's letter regarding the filibuster is available at

Democratic Senator Byrd -- the person who wrote the current rule, now along with 122 political science professors -- have put together a supportive brief that almost anyone can understand, even today's "progressive" Democrats.

Posted by: rmgregory | February 26, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Good use of 'muffin'.

Posted by: lizolan | February 26, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"Pay as you go, don't rack up too much credit debt, dude."

this is a joke, right?!?

Bush passed two tax cuts amounting to 2.4 TRILLION DOLLARS.

Bush passed a prescription drug plan amounting to 1.2 TRILLION DOLLARS.

Bush started an unnecessary war in IRaq that will cost over 1 TRILLION DOLLARS.

why weren't you concerned about deficit spending then!?!?!?!?


Posted by: TigerCats | February 26, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

I'm just happy to be a part of this important, nay, historic conversation. This piece is hard to read right now but I'll have more opinions later. It goes without saying the filibuster should be terminated before the November elections.

Posted by: StonedandHappy | February 26, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

What an awful, crazy thing Bunning is doing. And you're right that it's a great way to point out the need or Senate rule reform. I happen to think it's also a great way to point out what jerks the Republicans are. But it's not going to make anyone think anything if the Dems don't go out there and tell people about it; if they don't get on TV and in the papers and call Bunning out. The media doesn't look for stories, the stories must be written and given to them.

By the way, why does John McCain have Meet the Press all to himself this week?

Posted by: phillycomment | February 26, 2010 5:39 PM | Report abuse

How can Congress hold millions of laid off Americans hostage?

Why does this bill require a unanimous vote?

News reports indicate Brunning suffers from dementia. Can't they just pull this guy off the floor and take him to an Alzheimers' hospital?

The rest of Congress is no better. Reid's grandstanding efforts have contributed to a massive CRISIS!

911....Hello Obama, America calling. Where the f%*) are you? Time for you to walk the talk. Don't be a hypocrite, talk is cheap if you believe jobs for Americans matter - do something NOW.

Mr. President, give your lobbyist $$$ ridden healthcare pipedreams a rest. With 100 lobbyists per elected official, you only care about doing the right thing for corporations, NOT the people who elected you.

911. 911. 911. This is the NUCLEAR option - if Senate and President don't act now, people are going to take to the streets (hopefully not in violence). The government and the economy will implode immediately.

911. Real Americans lose our air supply Feb 28.

411. Congress, you don't get it. This isn't about you missing your weekend in Bermuda courtesy of corporate greed.

411. Congress, real people, hardworking Americans laid off due to corporate greed, outsourcing, and H-1B fraud will be HOMELESS without FOOD NEXT WEEK.

What that f%&^ is wrong with this Congress.

This actions are CRIMINAL. FBI/CIA/Law Enforcement please intervene to end this fraud. Arrest this white collar thugs?

Political criminals motivated by power and funded by greed must go NOW. Americans are madder than hell and not going to take this anymore.

Posted by: ReplacedbyH1b | February 26, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

True, a moron with a good heart would run things better than 80 percent of Congress.

Posted by: StonedandHappy | February 26, 2010 5:52 PM | Report abuse

Has anyone heard whether any of Bunning's Republican colleagues have yet had the decency to publicly criticize him for doing this?

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 26, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

Last year it was rumored that Bunning was suffering from the beginning stage of Alzhiemers. The rumor was never confirmed but McConnell forced him out as his poll numbers were so bad that the GOP didn't think he could get re-elected. He is retiring. However, what is Coburn's excuse for holding up the Bill on Veteran's benefits for months. And, of course, there is Shelby holding 3 Pentagon appointees hostage trying to extort 46 Billion tax payer dollar for Pork to be handed over to French owned company for junk the Air Force doesn't want.

Posted by: xclntcat | February 26, 2010 6:49 PM | Report abuse

We could lay off half of our senators because they have nothing to do anyway and then I would agree with this dumb senator.

Posted by: BOBSTERII | February 26, 2010 8:19 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: gitkonlyyou | February 26, 2010 8:20 PM | Report abuse

don't have any money for food the way it is, my unemployment only covers rent and food for my children, i only eat once a day, wheat bread. i can't even afford electric, using oil lamps at night and drink water from jugs filled in town and burn wood for heat. i wish i was born in the 1800's, at least i would feel normal. now no unemployment, it's totalily all over now, paid taxes for 25 years, now paid back with a knife in the back

Posted by: brokeinthesouthwest | February 27, 2010 12:41 AM | Report abuse

Bunning can only stall the bill, but the bill will eventually be passed anyway. Bunning's little show was just to get attention for his "principles" which was entirely pointless, because it will have NO EFFECT ON THE DEFICIT WHATSOEVER. But this little show of his will be an absolute disaster to 1 million people on unemployment and cobra.

In fact, because of his heartless actions, now even more millions of dollars will have to be spent by the unemployment agencies to prop back up the benefits when this finally passes. So this fool not only has forced millions of Americans into possibly losing their homes, cars and no food to eat, he has actually caused states to now have to spend millions more to start up the process again.

Did Jim Bunning object to the highest earners who are still receiving their repub tax cuts, which was given to them to create jobs, but instead took the tax cuts and moved millions of jobs over seas?

Posted by: wpjunk | February 27, 2010 12:45 AM | Report abuse

Why didn't the Democrats push this to it's conclusion. They are just as happy to have the sound bite of "Republican's say no". This is one Senator, acting alone. It could have been solved in 20 minutes, by allocating unspent, unallocated money from the stimulus bill, or by forcing him to hold the floor until he could not continue to stand. Instead, we get the usual sound bites and partisan articles in the press, without any real understanding of the underlying issue, nor of the potential fixes to the problem. Democrats wanted this "lapse" which will be fixed retroactively, in order to give themselves a soundbite to run on.

Bunning was acting alone, and could have been shut down if the Democratic leadership wanted to shut him down. Instead, they had to jet home for their three day weekend.

Posted by: KENinVA | February 27, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

"Posted by: KENinVA: Why didn't the Democrats push this to it's conclusion"

There weren't enough Democrats (and Republicans) still in Washington to pass the bill dispite Bunning's "no" vote. Because there were so few of them there in the Senate, the vote had to be unanimous among those remaining.

Posted by: sharon1015 | February 27, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

To me, Bunning is the perfect poster boy for the GOP. He is a very wealthy Senator with the best health insurance available (either through his job, Medicare, or privately because of his wealth). So what does he do? He puts on a mini-filibuster to hold up a bill which would extend unemployment benefits and reduced COBRA payments to the long-term unemployed.

We aren't talking non-working people here. We are talking working people who qualify for unemployment because the GOP-caused depression put them out of work.

The GOP is the rich person's party, the party that bails out the rich banks and their bonus-rich CEOs while it filibusters bills to help the working people.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | February 27, 2010 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Well, Jimmy, my benefits run out tmw and my COBRA runs out in a month, and all your worried about is a basketball game???
Tough sh*t is your lucid argument for objecting. How does the Senate continue to let one heartless punk rat control the lives of at least 20 million people without a reason or a care??? This is the the ammunition we need to change the rules in the Senate, we are no long a democracy with this rule and this fecal filled Senator in control.
He knows there is no way people will get their benefits now, they are all dead to him, but he only cares about missing a game???
He has been successful in setting up death panels, since no money no healthcare means death to me and many others, burn in hell you rat

Posted by: rosenfan1 | February 27, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I wonder if Bunning filibustered when GW Bush was throwing unneeded billions at the Iraq war and huge corporations like Halliburton?

As I recall, Bush added more to the deficit than all the presidents before him put together.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | February 27, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Because the Republican are abusing the filibuster, it seems like a good idea to end it. But I don't think we should do it, maybe instead of ending it, they can modify it, you know something like, the minority can use it only 10 times a year or only on huge laws or something like that.

Sooner or later the majority will change and then the Republicans will start passing one law crazier than the other and there will be nothing Democrats could do to stop it.

I know usually having the cake and eating it too is not possible, but we got to think in advance and not do something radical that we might regret later. Case in point: California senate needs a 2/3 of votes to pass any law, I am not sure what party pushed for it, but regardless, now they are totally stuck, the state is on the brink of collapsing, everybody is suffering. I know the example is the exact opposite, but it nevertheless proves the same point, if we end the filibuster now just because we need to stop the Republican's obstructionism, later when they become the majority (and they will, sooner of later), there will be nothing we can do to stop them. There should be something in between...

Posted by: jrdn | February 27, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

So Bunning has a problem will this 10 billion dollar Bill but he had no problem with the Bush tax cuts two of them that cost us 928 Billion dollars, GOP 1.3 trillon (unfunded) dollar prescription drug plan and unfunded wars costing 2-3 trillion dollars and lets not forget the 1752 page $286 billion dollar transportation Bill that contains a record 6,371 pet projects inserted by members of Congress

Posted by: rl5614 | February 27, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

What happened to old fashion democracy. Majority rules. Why can't we reserve the super majority requirment for life time appointments of judges. Anything else we can ammend and change.

Posted by: 7baxter | February 27, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

What happened to old fashion democracy. Majority rules. Change the Senate rules to allow fillibuster only for lifetime appointmentfor.JUDGES.

Posted by: 7baxter | February 27, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Where's reconciliation?

Posted by: easttxisfreaky | February 27, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

DAMN Bunning

I thought CHENEY was heartless.

Posted by: kare1 | February 27, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

I hope Jim Bunning gets spinal meningitis and it bends his head down between his legs and he gets diarrhea and lives forver.

Posted by: PercyKution | February 27, 2010 3:47 PM | Report abuse

The pattern is shown each GOP Law Maker takes a turn at blocking/stalling Obama's Bills to help the American people. With the help of the Media/Press the original plan set out by Rush Limbaugh is in place. Yes Republicans are making sure Obama and the USA fail. Now there will be another GOP who steps up to stop any plan to help. Karl Rove gave the GOP talking points for the Health Care Summit. Senator Bunning made it clear TUFF SH*T in response to the cry for help from the American people. President Obama is fighting for all the American people with no help from many of the Democrats and all of the Republicans.

Posted by: qqbDEyZW | February 27, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

If he were here now to witness this offensive travesty, Dante would invent a special circle in hell or other imaginative punishment for people like Bunning and his ilk. If Satan chews Judas in his mouth forever, perhaps Bunning could be strategically deployed at the other end of Satan's digestive tract.

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | February 27, 2010 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Lets see, professional baseball player, dementia patient and very possibly Alzheimer candidate, that's who Republican's want to be the face of the Republican Party.
I am unemployed on unemployment insurance and COBRA and this diminished capacity rat is killing me and my family....What a great form of government we have.....1 demented Senator can destroy the lives of millions and millions of people.......

Posted by: rosenfan1 | February 27, 2010 6:13 PM | Report abuse

So if the Senate does it your way, Mr. Klein, how are the new benefits being paid for?

The Chinese?

The printing press?

A couple of years from now when the country is experiencing hyperinflation from all this debt, you'll pen another column complaining that Congress never took a hard line against spending.

"His objection is that he wants the package funded through unused stimulus funds (which means the projects those funds are meant to pay for will go dark)."

First of all, the programs haven't started yet so they can't "go dark". Barky is waiting for election season.

Second, why can't Congress authorize a larger TARP budget? Because the members would be held politically accountable, that's why.

I am a Democrat and I agree with Senator Bunning. You're column is political hack buffoonery, Ez.

Posted by: grunk | February 27, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

It turns out that this was not just a solo effort by Bunning. He was assisted by Republican colleagues Jeff Sessions and Bob Corker. This information was shared this morning by Senators Jeff Merkley, Debbie Stabenow, and Jack Reed.

The Democrats had intended to continue seeking unanimous consent agreements and thereby force Bunning to stay on the floor making an all-night filibuster. The hope was to wear him down, hopefully giving them an opening for getting unanimous consent. Apparently they gave up the effort at around midnight when Sessions and Corker appeared, ready to take Bunning's place as needed.

So this golden moment of Republican obstruction, targeted against the unemployed, was NOT brought to you by a lone crazy man. There was (to use Senator Merkley's term) "coordinated support."

Posted by: Patrick_M | February 28, 2010 2:05 AM | Report abuse

If you are unemployed or in need of the COBRA health insurance, this action sure makes it clear where the GOP stands.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | February 28, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

So if you are in the middle of say, cancer treatment, and are using COBRA, does that mean that you will just loose your coverage?

Jesus, that is some awesome lack of compassion that Bunning and the GOP has.

Posted by: vintagejulie | February 28, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Republicans are using a senator who is retiring as a straw man to mess up the work of government in hopes that by making government look ineffective people will vote against incumbent Democrats.

From now on I will repeat this sentence while reading every political news item.

Posted by: ideallydc | March 1, 2010 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I have been disgusted all morning at reporters trying to clean up Bunning's atrocity and willingness to place the fragile American economy and prospects for increased employment at risk by dressing it up as fiscal conservatism. One look at Bunning's record, debunks any notion that this money-laudering, tax evading corrupt politician has now or has ever been associated with fiscal conservatism other than talking about it. Ignore what comes out of people's mouth unless it matches their action. Bunning had $735 million in earmarks in the Omnibus bill last year alone. Check out Bunning's voting record. Where was his concern regarding deficits when he voted for Bush's 1.2 trillion dollar tax cuts which reported accounted for one-third of our deficit in 2009. Why wasn't he concerned about finding the money to pay of Medicare Part D? Where did he propose we find the money to pay for his own $735 million pork projects attached to the Omnibus bill?

I have a suggest of where to start looking for funds to pay for extending unemployment. Since Congress only shows up for work 2 of 5 work days when they aren't at recess (they have more recessed than pre-schoolers), we can start by cutting their salaries by 3/5ths and make it retroactive to the date they decided that it was OK to work 2 days and raise money for their campaign on the other 3, to charge tax payers for commuting back and forth to their jobs, and for the world's most generous pension plan (Bunning will continue to receive a pension in the upper $50 thousand dollar range for the rest of his life even if he is finally charged with money laudering and tax evasion) and for their own healthcare.)

As of yesterday, $1.2 million Americans ceased to receive unemployment benefits along with 2000 DOT workers who were furloughed without pay, and multiple construction workers who were sent home as road projects were shut down. In a consumer driven economy, what do impact do you suppose GOP Jim Bunning's irresponsible behavior will have. The media needs to bow out of embracing hypocrisy when the know that Bunning's voting record does not support fiscal conservatism.

Posted by: xclntcat | March 1, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Bunning merely wants Democrats to follow their own pay-go standard.

(To those that say "but Bunning didn't vote for pay-go" or "Republicans spend too", I ask you where is your moral center? Is it in the lowest common denominator? Or does one have principles that they live by? Towards a higher or greater good or expectation for self and society? Pointing to another's faults is the first step in compromising your own moral authority, one that greatly harms the self and the whole world. Let others judge or worry about their temporary benefits, but let us focus on living, being true to self and reason, and building a better society.)

Posted by: cprferry | March 3, 2010 9:31 AM | Report abuse

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