Bunning and Dems both claim a win 

A bill to extend unemployment benefits put Republicans in a political bind as one of their own blocked the legislation for days using the party's mantra of fiscal responsibility.

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., struck a deal with Democrats late Tuesday to drop his objection to a $10 billion extension of unemployment benefits in exchange for a vote on at least one provision to pay for the
legislation.

In a speech on the Senate floor announcing the deal, Bunning spoke in support of the provisions of the package but his frustration at fiscal irresponsibility. He said he wanted to show that neither party has "clean hands" when it comes to the deficit.

The agreement, which allowed the Senate to pass the package without taking a roll call vote, couldn't come fast enough for Senate Republican leaders, who were squirming at the accusation that their party was responsible for leaving thousands of people stranded without much-needed unemployment checks and health insurance.

When reporters repeatedly asked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is also from Kentucky, about whether Bunning was "speaking for all Republicans" in blocking the bill, McConnell refused to answer.

"I know what you're asking me about," McConnell said after the query was posed several times. "What I'm telling you is, we're in the process of working this out."

Bunning wanted "a full offset" for the bill, pointing out that the Senate in January struck a deal when it raised the debt ceiling to more than $14 trillion, that it would pay for the cost of all future
legislation.

Though it's a comfortable theme for the GOP, Republican strategist Alex Vogel points out, Bunning picked "an uncomfortable issue."

Democrats were practically giddy denouncing Bunning's move, relishing the public backlash hitting the GOP on the issue. For weeks, Republicans have been on the political offensive and on the right side of opinion polling with their objections to major Democratic legislation, including health care and a global warming bill.

But not this time.

"I can tell you that Senator Bunning's objection to unemployment benefits has become the face of the Republican filibuster, and all across the country there is an uproar," said Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "I really believe this is gaining momentum."

Bunning had a long list of GOP supporters Tuesday, even though they refused to stand behind him on the Senate floor.

"He's making a point and it's a valid point," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "Democrats talk about how they are going to pay for things and then they don't."

Republicans pointed out that Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., could have moved the bill forward by calling for a roll call vote. According to the GOP, Democrats wanted a simple voice vote to avoid going on the record in support of another bill that adds to the debt.

"It's the majority leader's responsibility to run the floor," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. "This is a crisis, frankly, of his own making."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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