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Bunning Relents, Temporary UI Extension Signed Into Law

March 3, 2010 - by Eric Naing

Sen. Jim Bunning’s [R, KY] one-man filibuster came to an end last night allowing the Senate to pass an emergency extension for unemployment benefits (H.R.4691).

Bunning, whose objection prevented the Senate from passing the extensions through unanimous consent, wanted the Democrats to find a way to pay for the bill’s $10 billion price tag. Democrats managed to avoid the “paygo” rule by classifying the extension as “emergency spending.”

The Senate ended up passing the temporary extension in a 78-19 vote and the bill has already been signed into law by President Obama. The measure also extended COBRA benefits, delays a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and provides funding for highway projects.

As part of the deal to get Bunning to end his filibuster, Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] allowed a vote on an amendment that would offset the cost of the extensions by ending the “black liquor” tax credit for paper companies. That amendment failed to pass in a 43-53 vote.

Sen. Reid technically could have bypassed Bunning’s blockade by calling for a cloture vote. Several Republican senators had objected to Bunning’s actions and could easily have helped Reid get the 60 votes needed for one. But a cloture vote would have ensured days more debate on the bill – unlike passage through unanimous consent, which would be immediate.

Not wanting to waste more time trying to extend benefits that expired on Sunday and gambling that Bunning would break, Reid held off on a cluture vote and was ultimately successful.

Another payoff from Reid’s gamble is that Democrats were handed a messaging coup. Bunning’s filibuster grabbed headlines and provided a stark example of Democratic claims that the GOP is the party of obstruction. Expect Bunning to be brought up again and again as Democrats move forward with a plan to change the Senate health care bill (H.R.3590) through budget reconciliation.

With the stop-gap extensions out of the way, the Senate now has a little more time to consider a longer extension that would last throughout the year.

Some right-leaning blogs have complained that the media is unfairly labelling Bunning’s prevention of unanimous consent as a filibuster. Here’s Hot Air’s Ed Morrissey:

This is not a filibuster, which is a specific procedure in which Senators force debate to continue indefinitely as a means to block a final vote, denying “cloture” to the majority party. Alternatively, and now somewhat archaically, it also describes an effort by one Senator to just continue talking to stall action.

But counter to what Morrissey says, the Senate’s definition of a filibuster includes Bunning’s actions:

filibuster – Informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.

But regardless of what you call it, Bunning’s objection had the same effect as a filibuster.

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