Democrats have reached a deal with Sen. Jim Bunning, R-KY, who has been holding up a bill for days that temporarily extends unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits -- while he insisted that the $10 billion measure be paid for.
Bunning will now get a vote on an amendment that pays for the measure out of unallocated stimulus funds. This is, ironically, what Dems offered Bunning days ago, but Bunning was insistent that all 100 senators accept his amendment -- an unusual move.
But Democrats and late night talk show hosts have pummeled Bunning, and not many of his Republican colleagues have come to his aid.
Under the deal, Bunning will get 2 more votes on amendments to a longer term benefits bill. One would pay for an extension with an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending. The other is to take money from so-called "black liquor" -- keeping it from being eligible for the cellulose biofuels producer tax credit. Bunning said that "would save the Treasury $24 billion."
At 8:30pm, the Senate will vote on Bunning's stimulus amendment -- then on final passage of the temporary extension. It is clear the final passage vote will be overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, the chamber's #2 Dem, has led the charge against Bunning. He argued tonight that members should not support Bunning's move, primarily because, "It is unfortunately a way to delay even further" the benefits, as the House would have to take time to pass this Senate bill (it does not match anything the House would have passed -- so any changes would mean the bill goes back to the House for approval before heading to President Obama for his signature.)
Bunning chided Dems for not supporting "pay as you go" rules recently approved that mandate that any new spending be paid for with offsets (they are referred to as "pay-fors") in the budget, decrying the burdensome, mounting national debt. Dems chided Bunning for not supporting the PAYGO bill and said this is an emergency -- therefore, the bill should not be paid for.
Bunning, in a statement, said of tonight's vote on his amendment, "I hope Senate Democrats tonight vote for their own pay-fors and show Americans that they are committed to fiscal discipline. I will be watching them closely and checking off the hypocrites one by one."
So -- the drama is over....for now (I think).