What on earth did Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., do, and why did he do it?
An astonished ABC reporter followed the senator down the hall. The reporter confronted Bunning as the visibly irritated senator boarded an elevator and tried to leave. The reporter stopped the doors from closing and continued the questioning. Why, he repeatedly asked Bunning, why?
What did the senator do? Fail to pay taxes? Visit a mistress on taxpayer money? Utter a racial slur? No, Bunning committed an even more egregious sin. In effect, he said to his congressional colleagues, "Before we expand a program, let's make sure we can pay for it."
Defying Democrats and most Republicans, Bunning objected to a motion for unanimous consent on an extension of unemployment benefits. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said that his "views do not represent a majority of the Republican caucus." Bunning actually supports extending the benefits. He wants them paid for out of unspent "stimulus" funds.
The exasperated ABC reporter explained, "We wanted to ask the senator why he is blocking a vote that would extend unemployment benefits to more than 340,000 Americans, including Brenda Wood, a teacher in Austin, Texas, who has been out of work for two years."
Collectivists love using hardship tales to push for a bigger welfare state. Why, unemployment benefits, like health care, are a right! Dissenters become the moral equivalent of Jack the Ripper.
Brenda Wood is a teacher. We like teachers. She lives in Texas. A lot of people don't like Texas. It gave us former President George W. Bush. But it is a red state, which means Bunning doesn't care about anybody, even his own kind. Wood is a female, deserving special care, protection and empathy. And, she's been out of work for two years! Why doesn't Bunning just burn down her house and be done with it?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said, "I hope Republicans will reconsider and think about their constituents standing in the unemployment line as we speak." Never mind that the Senate had already planned to vote on another bill to extend unemployment and provide other things that Bunning temporarily stopped. Or that Reid could, if he chose not to use Bunning as a pinata, still bring the matter to a vote. So Bunning's "obstruction" has no real impact. It merely puts another coat of paint on the Republicans-are-cold-and-heartless image promoted by Democrats and the Demo-journalists.
Here's a less-than-hardship tale, included in my book "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies, and the Special Interests That Divide America." On a lovely afternoon a few years and one lower back surgery ago, I ducked out of work, grabbed some tennis balls and went to a nearby public park. Nobody was around to hit with, so I used a backboard. A little later, I walked over to a young man firing balls at another backboard. "Want to hit?"
He was quite good and, it turned out, had played on his high-school tennis team. After working up a nice sweat, we sat and toweled down. He asked what I did for a living. At the time, I ran an employment search firm. "Great," he said, "I'm looking for a job. Can I leave you a resume?" "If you're looking for a job," I asked, "why are you out here hitting tennis balls?" "Oh, I don't intend to get serious," he said, "until my unemployment compensation runs out."
Larry Katz was the chief economist at the Labor Department during the Clinton administration. He argued that extending unemployment compensation benefits decreases the incentive to get out and look for a job. Workers, he insisted, are almost three times more successful in finding jobs when benefits are just about to run out.
Not that ABC asked or cares, but the money for extending unemployment benefits must come from somewhere. This means taxes, borrowing or printing, which creates inflation and is another kind of tax. Unemployment benefits come in part from employers who pay into state and federal funds. And like any other tax paid by an employer, it effectively reduces the amount of the employees' take-home pay.
None of the Bunning hit pieces, at least the ones that I saw, even mentioned that the extension violates pay-as-you-go. Remember that? Way, way back on Feb. 12, President Barack Obama signed "paygo" into law. It requires that new government spending be "paid for" with cuts, money taken from something else or new taxes. Congress, Obama said, must "pay for what it spends, just like everybody else."
In the end, the Senate ignored paygo -- as it did with the recent "jobs" bill -- and passed the extension. Eighteen other senators -- all of them Republicans -- found their spines and joined Bunning in voting no. He took a stand. He made his point about unfunded spending. Now the people must turn around the good ship Welfare State. Iceberg ahead.