Frustration with Senate Republicans is near the boiling point with Democrats who control that chamber. And Thursday night, that frustration boiled over.
Unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits will expire on Sunday due to the Senate's inaction on a short-term extension.
Thursday night, in the wake of a testy healthcare summit with rare bipartisanship, CSPAN 2 viewers were treated to a seldom-seen, late night, partisan floor brawl between 2 scrappy senators, joined by some of their colleagues.
Sen Jim Bunning, R-KY, has been objecting for 2 days, a one-man filibuster, to moving on a bill that extends the benefits for 30 days, because he wants the extensions paid for -- his suggestion: use unallocated stimulus funds.
Dems have said no way -- this is an emergency and should be treated as such - no offsets.
Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-IL, decided to take to the floor last night with some of his Dem colleagues and continue to ask for consent to pass the bill. This was a surprise to Bunning, who said Democrats had informed him only that Durbin would be going to the floor to renew a unanimous consent request (that's when all 100 members agree to pass something) ---- a moment that normally would only require about a minute of everyone's time.....Durbin would try (normally) to get unanimous consent; Bunning would object; everyone goes home.
Instead, Durbin held the floor and continued to try and get unanimous consent every half hour for four and a half hours -, a clear sign that Dems are fed up with Republicans' ability to grind their agenda to a halt, even on measures that will likely garner more than a healthy majority of the GOP conference.
This Durbin move forced Bunning to remain on the floor for hours with Durbin to object each time. Republicans are clearly going to block all the measures they can that increase the record deficits Congress is running up. Republicans are also going to hold Dems' feet to the fire on recent "pay as you go" (PAYGO) rules passed that require all non-emergency spending to be offset.
Durbin, joined by Sens Claire McCaskill, D-MO, Mark Begich, D-AK, and eventually Bernie Sanders, I-VT, and Jeff Merkley, D-OR, engaged in a colloquy, while the prickly Bunning fumed.
Bunning, who is not seeking re-election this year, decried the move and was joined by Sen Bob Corker, R-TN, who accused Dems of a "sneak attack". Corker vowed to stay on the floor with Bunning all night.
"If the attempt tonight is going to be to keep a man 20 years my senior here without the knowledge that this was going to happen...this, in my opinion, is beneath the Senate. And while I might be weary, I will stay here the entire night to defend the Senate and defend the fact that the Senator from Kentucky did not know this was going to happen," Corker said.
Durbin said he was defending out-of-work Americans -- that he would love to be home, instead, as he is "no spring chicken."
In the end, it was essentially a draw, though Bunning won the night.
The benefits will, indeed, expire Sunday - checks won't go out Monday - though the Senate will likely be able to renew them with a Tuesday vote (likely cloture - then final passage).
Next week, Dems are expected to produce a broader bill, the second in their "jobs agenda", that will extend the benefits, among many other provisions - including popular tax extenders, for one year.