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Last week, we all got a wonderfully explicit view of Republican obstructionism. No, I’m not talking about the marathon seven-hour healthcare summit in which the Republicans repeatedly stuck to their position of starting over rather than offer any constructive ideas for reform. I am talking about Senator Jim Bunning’s (R-KY) lone objection to extending a package of benefits in the Senate on Friday. While he dressed up his objection in seemingly noble, anti-deficit logic, Senator Bunning could have chosen a better bill to protest deficit spending. The one he chose was actually relatively small by Washington standards; only about $10 billion according to CNN, and of all things was focused on extending unemployment benefits and the benefits under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), among other things. As a result: about 1.2 million people nationwide lost their unemployment benefits today until the funding for the Federal program is reauthorized. Further, the loss of the COBRA benefits means that many Americans will have even more trouble paying for health insurance, which if they are receiving COBRA payments, they need the assistance more than anyone else. With the standoff only intensifying in the Senate, it does not look like that will happen any time soon.
I originally planned to publish this post last night, but I thought I would wait for developments today and expand it a bit. Well folks, it was worth the wait. According to the Huffington Post, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), the Republican Whip, or the number two Republican behind Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, argued today that extending the unemployment and COBRA benefits is a disincentive to find a job. Oh here we go again. This argument pops up from time to time by speakers on the Right, and it is nearly always ridiculous. However, this time it is even worse than usual; in case anyone forgot, we are still in a recession, and the unemployment rate is still around 10%. Apparently, Arizona is in a different world than the rest of us; either that, or Senator Kyl is out of touch with reality himself. The fact is, Senator Kyl may have a job, but millions of people do not, not by their own fault, mind you, but as a result of the worst economic trouble in more than half a century. If Senator Kyl has a few million extra decent jobs lying around for people to take, by all means, get in the media and on the record as creating them. Now, if this episode teaches us one thing, it is that we need to change something in the Senate.
Now, Congressional Democrats are, as expected, trying to use Senator Bunning as the poster boy for Republican obstructionism that has plagued Congress for the last year. It is great that Democrats are starting to publicly call out the obstruction of Congressional business, but beyond gaining some points with the public and possibly a seat or two in November, just calling them out like this will not be worth very much in the long term. Instead, we need something more fundamental, something to fix this problem at the core. Currently, Senators can place holds and filibuster legislation just by writing something down, which did not always be the case. Historically, someone had to be on the floor and speaking in order to filibuster; as soon as either condition was broken, the filibuster was as well.
The change was a good one for the minority party in the Senate, but now said minority is just simply abusing the power. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) needs to work with his caucus and either reinstate the old rules or implement some new restrictions on the use of the filibuster. With Republicans able to quietly do a filibuster or a hold quietly and almost completely devoid of individual accountability, no wonder Congress is often at a standstill. If we force Senators to physically maintain their filibusters, we might just see more efforts at achieving bipartisan compromises instead of the polarization we are now faced with.
UPDATE March 3, 1:11 PM: Early this morning/late last night the Senate finally convinced Senator Bunning to drop his objection. Further underscoring the ridiculous nature of his objection, the bill itself passed on a vote of 78-19, according to CNN. In addition, according to various sources, the quick turnaround will not affect unemployment benefits as badly as many feared. With the economic damage at a minimum, attention now returns to healthcare reform. Will the Democrats continue to make an example out of Senator Bunning in order to pass the new healthcare plan? A post on that will be coming as soon as I have more details (and time!).
The The Filibuster Showdown by The New Age of Politics, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.