Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., may have agreed to end his quixotic crusade against extending unemployment benefits. But that doesn't mean Democrats are ready to stop talking about him.
The last couple of days -- with Bunning refusing to allow the Senate to move forward with a bill both parties agreed should pass, and an increasing number of Republicans coming to the floor to defend him -- couldn't have come at a better time for Democrats. Why? Because they're going to have to use the budget reconciliation procedure to finish work on healthcare reform. And the specter of Bunning leading an angry one-man effort to keep the chamber from doing anything makes for a pretty good backdrop from which to argue that the Senate's rules -- including the filibuster -- are easily abused. Reconciliation would let Democrats pass fixes to the healthcare bill with a 51-vote majority.
Late Tuesday night, Salon obtained a set of talking points circulating among Senate Democrats, laying out the way they'll use the Bunning mess to push back against Republican efforts to paint reconciliation as some nefarious conspiracy to gut the institution's rules. After all, if the rules let Jim Bunning hold up unemployment benefits for 200,000 Americans just because he feels like it, maybe voters won't get so outraged when the GOP talks about how important the filibuster is.
The last two lines in the memo make the point most clearly: "Senator Bunning lifted the curtain on the great lengths that Republicans go to drag out every single action taken by the body, no matter how routine. It is why we need to return to an era of more up or down votes and fewer filibusters. It's why all options are on the table moving forward, including reconciliation."
The whole memo is below:
REPUBLICANS BOW TO PRESSURE AND STOP OBSTRUCTING UNEMPLOYMENT ASSISTANCE
* After 5 days of pressure from Democrats and the American people, Republicans have finally caved and stopped holding out-of-work Americans hostage.
* Senator Bunning is getting the same vote that we offered him last week - so he put millions of Americans through a week of uncertainty for no reason. (He would have been able to offer amendments on the larger bill regardless)
* This debate has exposed Republicans as out of touch and tone deaf to the challenges that exist for working families. The American people now see who is really on their side.
* Sen. McConnell showed a lack of leadership and put his caucus members at risk by letting this issue linger for days and refusing to rebuke Senator Bunning.
* Senator Bunning lifted the curtain on the great lengths that Republicans go to drag out every single action taken by the body, no matter how routine.
* It is why we need to return to an era of more up or down votes and fewer filibusters. It's why all options are on the table moving forward, including reconciliation.