Republicans on Capitol Hill are starting to realize they may have blundered by not backing Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning in his stand against a $10 billion deficit-financed unemployment insurance bill last week. Most Senate Republicans squirmed in response to the Kentucky Senator’s obstructionism and the heat he took from Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the media for holding up the welfare bill.
But now Mr. Bunning is being celebrated as a taxpayer hero by many voters and word is circulating that he may say “I object” to future debt-laden spending bills, including the $85 billion jobs bill that may be finalized this week. One Bunning staffer tells me that other Republican offices have inundated him with calls and emails saying, “Your boss is definitely doing the right thing.” For much of last week, Mr. Bunning’s phone system was nearly shut down thanks to a blizzard of calls from around the country. “At first the calls were against us,” the Bunning staffer says, “but the last few days the support from around the country has been overwhelming.”
Another indication that Mr. Bunning has captured the public mood with his one-man Senate stand comes from a new Fox News poll. The poll asked: “Is it wrong for Sen. Jim Bunning to hold up a $10 billion bill that contains jobless benefits because it will be paid for with deficit spending?” More than 79% of those questioned agreed with a statement suggesting Mr. Bunning was standing up for fiscal discipline when other legislators weren’t.
Mr. Bunning, who will retire at the end of this year, lost his crusade to force Democrats to pay for their spending bill with offsetting cuts, as the White House and congressional Democrats have repeatedly promised to do. On the Senate floor last week, Mr. Bunning protested: “I have offered them three different ways to pay for these bills and they’ve rejected all of my suggestions. It has become obvious to me that the Democrats are not serious about getting our fiscal house in order and will continue to spend our country deeper and deeper into debt with no regard for our children and grandchildren who are going to be stuck with the tab.”
Mr. Bunning has one of the most obstinate and prickly personalities in the Senate, but expect him to wage more battles against out-of-control spending in the weeks ahead. The big question now is whether other Republican senators who claim to be equally outraged by runaway deficits will join his effort, as he puts it, to “cut up the federal credit card.”
‘Stephen Moore is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal’