DARLING: Bunning’s $10 billion bean ball

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Sen. Jim Bunning has thrown some 90 mph heat at the head of liberal big spenders. And they’re angry. Mr. Bunning, Kentucky Republican, is blocking a bill that would extend unemployment benefits, health insurance subsidies (COBRA), certain highway funding, a temporary “flood insurance” program and aid for small-business programs temporarily through the month of March. It would also increase Medicare reimbursement rates for physicians (the Doc Fix). Here’s why this matters:

H.R. 4691 was introduced and passed on the same day in the House of Representatives by a voice vote. Any House member could have stood up and said the magic words “I object,” so as to force a recorded vote in the House, yet not one member would do so. Members of both parties seem terrified to stand up against big-spending bills when the bill involves extensions of unemployment benefits.

The bill went to the Senate, where liberal leadership requested unanimous consent to take up and pass the bill. This is necessary because a bill usually has to lay over on the Senate calendar for a day before the Senate can move to pass it. Mr. Bunning was the only member to say “I object” to the waiving of numerous rules.

Many on the left have dropped the “f-word” - accusing Mr. Bunning of engaging in a filibuster. Yet Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, had to waive numerous rules to get this bill passed in the Senate, and it’s incorrect to term this objection to the waiver of Senate rules a filibuster.

Mr. Bunning has publicly stated that he wanted the bill’s estimated $10 billion cost to be offset. Mr. Bunning observes that, “if we can’t find $10 billion to pay for it, we’re not going to pay for anything.” And just a month ago, Congress passed something called pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budgeting. Ironically, this spending restraint measure was attached to an increase in the statutory limit of allowable national debt $1.9 trillion. The problem with PAYGO is that Congress waives rule any time it has to offset any new spending.

Brian Riedl has written this for the Heritage Foundation: “When PAYGO was a law from 1991 through 2002, it was never enforced. Over those 12 years, Congress enacted $700 billion in non-offset entitlement expansions and tax cuts, and then canceled every single required spending cut that would have enforced the law. As a result, entitlement spending actually grew faster after PAYGO’s implementation.” That trend continues today, because in H.R. 4691, Congress waives the new version of PAYGO. The bill explicitly declares the new spending an emergency, allowing Congress to sidestep the law it passed.

Liberals in Congress say they love the idea of paying as you go, yet they hate it in practice. They have never seen a social program they don’t love and they will designate new spending as an emergency for purposes of running big spending bills through a PAYGO loophole. This is feel-good politics at its worst.

Mr. Bunning originally proposed an offset of spending to pay for the one-month extension of benefits. This would consist of “the unobligated amounts appropriated or made available under divisions A of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5; 123 Stat. 115). $10,267,000,000 is rescinded on a pro rata basis.” Mr. Bunning has asked that the Obama administration cut $10 billion of unspent stimulus monies out of a $787 billion dollar proposal. That would allow the administration to continue to pay benefits to unemployed Americans without adding to federal spending. Mr. Bunning is presenting other programs to cut to pay for this proposal.

Liberals would have you believe that Mr. Bunning is causing Americans to be furloughed from jobs and draining their savings accounts. Instead, liberals should abide by their own laws and find ways to pay for all new spending. America is carrying more than $12 trillion in debt, the president’s 2011 budget is predicted to impose well over $1 trillion in new debt, and this one tiny bill would cost you, the taxpayer, $10 billion.

Americans should give Jim Bunning, a Hall of Fame baseball player, a standing ovation for his work to strike out a few liberals on this issue.

Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate relations at the Heritage Foundation.

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