Poor Blanche, Stuck in the Middle with No One

Shaila Dewan of the New York Times has opted to throw Senator Blanche Lincoln a pity party bemoaning her primary challenge from Lt. Governor Bill Halter as well as the various Republicans lining to challenge her should she win the May 18th primary.

In a state where voters are known for valuing personal relationships over ideology, Mrs. Lincoln, a moderate Democrat, is in trouble even here in her own hometown, among those who attended high school with her or went hunting with her father. And her tenuous position shows just how dangerous a place the political middle has become.

Caught in a surge of antigovernment sentiment, Mrs. Lincoln has been blasted by conservatives for allowing health care legislation to proceed, and has already attracted a slate of potential Republican challengers. At the same time, in a state with a more centrist tradition than most others in the South, she has become a target of the left for opposing a government-run public health care option, easier organizing rules for unions and regulation to fight global warming.

Not only do polls show her behind several of the Republicans, she now also faces a challenger in the May 18 Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who has been championed by national liberal groups that have pledged to spend millions of dollars to fight her.

“I am the rope in the tug of war, folks,” Mrs. Lincoln told supporters in Little Rock last week.

It's hard to have much sympathy for Blanche the bland. It's a sad testament to the state of the nation's politics if the definition of moderate is Blanche Lincoln. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn noted that Senator Lincoln  is “one of the worst corporate Democrats in Washington,” saying that she had taken $866,000 from insurance companies and over $1 million from Wall Street firms.

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As One Bunning Blockade Is Lifted, Others Take Hold

Having failed to cement a legacy of note during his two terms in the Senate, Senator Jim Bunning seemed this week to relish his role as the obstructionist-in-chief, a rotating post to be sure passing ignominiously between various Republican Senators determined to wreck upon the rocks of ungovernability the SS Obama. One week it's Jim DeMint of South Carolina, another week it is Richard Shelby of Alabama, only to be followed by Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. This week the turn fell to Jim Bunning, the Senator from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, whose blockade of the ship of state set new lows in the politics of the shameless cowardice.

In a Congressional session marked by stunts including the first ever all-encompassing hold on all executive nominees, Senator Bunning's actions stood out for his utter and complete disregard for the plight of unemployed Americans. As the Lexington Herald-Leader noted, it was an act of "callous grandstanding." Indeed while the Senator grandstanded, some 2,000 contract employees of the Department of Transportation were furloughed. Another 200,000 plus were at risk of losing the only social safety net available to them in the first week alone. By May, Bunning's disregard for his fellow citizens would have deprived 4 million Americans of some modest assistance in these troubled times. 

Tonight the Senate lifted Bunning's blockade voting 78 to 19 in favor of extending unemployment benefits after Senator Bunning dropped his objections in exchange for a largely symbolic vote on paying for the aid. 

The story from Roll Call:

Under increasing pressure from Democrats and members of his own party, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) Tuesday night abandoned his one-man filibuster of a one-month extension to unemployment benefits and other programs.

In the end Bunning agreed to a deal allowing him one vote on an amendment to pay for the bill’s $10 billion cost. That proposal was offered by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last Thursday at the start of his filibuster, but Bunning rejected it because he feared his amendment would not pass.

Reid has also agreed to give Bunning two votes on amendments to a larger, one-year extension bill that is currently under consideration in the Senate.

Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he was pleased a deal could be reached.

“Bunning is coming back now, he has accepted our offer to have one offsetting amendment, which is an offer we made last week, and now he’s accepted it. I think it’s a new offset, we’re waiting to see. So, we’ll see where it goes,” Durbin said. “So it would give us two votes: offset amendment and final passage of the short-term [unemployment insurance].”

The Senate is expected to vote Tuesday night on the short-term bill, which also includes payments for doctors and highway spending as well as other items.

Thousands of federal highway employees who had been furloughed as a result of Bunning’s filibuster will likely be able to return to work later this week, and unemployment insurance checks will be sent to recipients after several days of delay.

To ensure the deal is enforced, Bunning has placed a hold on all the items included in the nightly “wrap up,” which normally entails a unanimous consent agreement to pass noncontroversial nominations and bills, a GOP aide said. Once the votes have taken place that hold would be lifted, the aide explained.

Like Senator Shelby before him, Senator Bunning has now placed a hold on all executive branch nominees. Senator Bunning is letting go by holding on, will the madness that reigns in the Senate ever cease?

The Senate Democrats on the "Bunning Blockade"

Members of the Democratic caucus speak out on Senator Bunning's blockade of extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called it "immoral" while Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the GOP's actions were "unconscionable."

Today, in an editorial in Senator Bunning's home state of Kentucky the Lexington Herald-Leader described Senator Bunning's actions as "callous grandstanding."

As long as Republicans were in charge, Sen. Jim Bunning was OK with trading a surplus for a deficit. He voted to put two wars, tax cuts and a Medicare drug benefit on the nation's credit card.

Now that Republicans are no longer in charge, Bunning is drawing the line on deficit spending. He's doing it in a way that shows callous contempt for the more than one in 10 working Kentuckians whose jobs disappeared in the economic meltdown.

We've become accustomed to bizarre, egocentric behavior from Bunning. So it wasn't all that surprising when he single-handedly blocked an unemployment benefits extension for a million people, including 119,230 in Kentucky, whose benefits run out this year. About 14,000 Kentuckians will exhaust their benefits in two weeks without the extension.

Bunning's filibuster also denies newly laid-off workers help paying for health insurance. It halts road and bridge projects around the country by furloughing 2,000 federal transportation employees, stops reimbursements to state highway programs and cuts Medicare payments to doctors.

To those who know him, it's not surprising that Bunning answered a Democratic colleague's complaint with a crude profanity. Or that he joked about missing a basketball game while pushing some unemployed Kentuckians into homelessness or bankruptcy.

The Lexington Herald-Leader also chastised Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, the leading Republicans to succeed the retiring-at-the-end-of-term Bunning, for jumping on Senator Bunning's one-man band wagon of obstructionism.

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The Definition of Moral Hazard

Rarely has a Senate Banking committee hearing been so entertaining. I have listened to this clip now three times and in it I have a new found respect for Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. To call Chairman Bernanke the living definition of a moral hazard is long overdue. Some highlights:

Chairman Greenspan’s attitude toward regulating banks was much like his attitude toward consumer protection. Instead of close supervision of the biggest and most dangerous banks, he ignored the growing balance sheets and increasing risk. You did no better. In fact, under your watch every one of the major banks failed or would have failed if you did not bail them out.

Rather than making management, shareholders, and debt holders feel the consequences of their risk-taking, you bailed them out. In short, you are the definition of moral hazard.

Senator Bunning now joins Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in trying to block Bernanke's reappointment by putting a "hold" on it when it reaches the Senate floor. Essentially that means the Senate would need 60 votes to approve the nomination, rather than a simple majority.

Let's just cut to the chase, as a regulator Chairman Bernanke has been a dismal failure.

The full comments of Senator Bunning are below the fold.

Update [2009-12-3 21:41:43 by Charles Lemos]: Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, has also placed a "hold" on the nomination of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Unlike Senator Bunning and Sanders, however, Senator DeMint's hold is conditional upon an audit of the Fed. More at the The Hill.

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The Definition of Moral Hazard

I have a new found respect for Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. To call Chairman Bernanke the living definition of a moral hazard is long overdue. Let's just cut to the chase, as a regulator Chairman Bernanke has been a dismal failure.

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