Did GOP senators fear repeat of 1995 showdown? 

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-KY, has been a one-man band for the past week as he brought the Senate up short with his objection to a unanimous consent request to approve $10 billion in new spending on unemployment benefits, Medicare subsidies, highway construction projects and much else.

Only two of his colleagues - Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Sen. John Corker of Tennessee - spoke on the floor in support of Bunning. The rest of the GOPers were notable for their absences during Bunning's manuever to force the Senate to abide by the Pay-Go law it passed a few weeks ago. Pay-go requires that any spending increase be balanced with a spending cut somewhere else in the federal budget.

So where were the rest of Bunning's Republican colleagues? A big factor was Bunning's nettlesome personality, which has prevented his being accepted as a member of the Senate club. But that's only one explanation and not a wholly satisfactory one, considering that politicians of all stripes are generally quite happy to make nice in public with one who has struck a responsive chord with the public.

Jeri Thompson, wife of the former Tennessee senator and Republican presidential candidate candidate, has an interesting angle on the issue. Bunning's tactics brought back memories of the epic budget showdown between the newly elected Republican Congress and President Clinton in 1995:

"My guess is that some of those Republicans up on Capitol Hill flashed back to the beating that Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took for shutting down Washington back in the mid-1990s budget battle. They were focused -- as they all too often are -- on Washington's echo and perception chambers. In this case, that was a mistake," Thompson writes in the American Spectator.

If that is so, and I suspect that it is, Thompson points out that the Republicans were mis-reading the public pulse on Bunning:

"If Republicans were nervous about getting behind Bunning out of fear that folks back home might revolt because unemployment checks weren't coming, or their constituents in the hinterlands weren't getting their local reruns of Seinfeld on their dish, then maybe they should go home and listen," she said.

"It's only anecdotal, but callers were flooding the phone lines on Fred's radio show yesterday in support of Bunning. And it wasn't just Fred's show. Talk shows nationally and locally were hearing it from callers. There is a different mood out there right now. People want some sign from Washington that their voices are being heard and Bunning for a couple of days was speaking for them."

Sounds like the Senate GOPers may well have let slip a golden opportunity to force the issue on spending, unlike House GOPers whose recess rebellion in 2007 changed things on the energy front. Go here for the rest of Thompson's piece, which offers additional thoughts about excessive timidity among congressional Republicans.

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Mark Tapscott

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