Bunning Offers Compromise - Deal Appears Imminent


Sen. Jim Bunning, R-KY, is making some serious waves in Washington and beyond, as he continues to block (12 times) the short term extension of unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits, surface transportation funds, and flood insurance, among other provisions.


But Fox has learned a deal between Bunning and Democratic leaders appears to be imminent (of course - anything can happen in this volatile environment).   The deal on the table:  Bunning gets his one vote to pay for this $10 billion bill out of unallocated stimulus funds; Democrats get their final passage vote right after.  If everyone involved signs off, this vote will occur tonight.  


Bunning then would also get a vote on 2 amendments to the longer term benefits bill that is currently open for debate in the Senate (one amendment that pays for benefits with an across-the-board cut in discretionary spending; the other will be a Dem-authored 'pay-for' TBA).  This isn't much of a concession, of course, as Reid had already announced he will allow amendments to be considered on this longer term bill.


Democrats, up to this point, had been willing to man the floor to force Bunning to mount an old-fashioned filibuster. A senior Dem leadership aide tells Fox, Democrats had lined up 21 members of their Caucus willing to stay all night to, every half hour, try to get the short term extension passed without objection.


That would have forced the 78-year old Bunning to stay in the chamber all night, a daunting prospect, just to object each time.


It's been a topsy turvey day on this story.   Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME, took to the floor, of her own accord, and tried to get Bunning to end his filibuster, saying, "I want to emphasize this issue is so important to senators on both sides of the aisle." (the unemployment benefits extension, in particular)  


Bunning wouldnt budge.


Dems pummeled Bunning all day. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, said, "It is immoral.  It is obscene to say to those people hey, we're stopping the extension of your unemployment benefits and you're on your own."  Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, decried the move as "unconscienable."


The number of Republicans who defended their colleague was strikingly few.  In fact, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, the senior senator from Kentucky, was on the floor when the Collins-Bunning exchange occured Tuesday morning, but McConnell used his leader time to talk about healthcare, instead.  The relationship, or lack thereof, between McConnell and Bunning is legend. 


Sen. Jim DeMint, R-SC, offered the loudest defense yet of Bunning, on Tuesday, saying, ""I commend him for it, and I hope our colleagues will stop the hypocracy...stop trying to create a crisis of our debt, while every day we make that crisis worse."


Dems maintained that the unemployment situation is an emergency -- just like a hurricane, tornado, or other natural disaster.  No need to pay for it.


Democrats did recently approve "pay as you go rules" -- meaning you have to pay for what you spend by finding offsets -- but they're opting to use the emergency clause in that legislation for this extension.


I found Bunning returning from a vote -- the only camera around. I approached him gingerly, as other camera crews and reporters had been staking him out 'abush-style', ready to pounce. The ornery senator did not take kindly when one reporter held open an elevator to try to get him to talk on Monday.   But Bunning is like that on nearly every other day, for the most part.  He always wants to know a reporter's name and affiliation.   This is likely the baseball star coming out in him (Bunning is a Hall of Fame pitcher) -- when he had to deal with the rather rough-n-tumble word of sports media.


But Bunning was willing to talk this time.


He told Fox, "We are working on a proposal. It offers 3 different pay-fors."   The "pay-fors" referral is a reference to pay-as-you-go rules --- finding a way to pay for this bill.  Bunning wants this bill paid for out of unallocated stimulus funds.


I asked Bunning if Republican leaders were working this out, and Bunning shot back, "Leadership hasn't been involved.  I decided we ought to try our best to get a compromise to pay for it that the other side would agree to."


Bunning did not say much else.  He got onto the subway and refused to allow our camera (and me) to join him.  He nearly threw Howard Fineman of Newsweek from the train, but Howard stood his ground.  After all -- it is a public subway train under the Capitol. 


Republicans, regardless, are ready to be done with this issue and move back to healthcare.  Bunning's fight has been an unwelcome distraction.  


Democrats have, of course, laid the groundwork for using a controversial fast track procedure, known as 'reconciliation' on healthcare reform legislation -- a move which does away with GOP filibusters, like Bunning's.