- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2010

”Have you no sense of decency?” Those words rang out through the halls of Congress 56 years ago when Army attorney Joseph Welch hit back at Sen. Joseph McCarthy. The same words could be directed at today’s Congress by Sen. Jim Bunning, who discovered that the Senate is composed of cowards and hypocrites who piously say one thing and cavalierly do something else entirely.

Last week, Mr. Bunning found himself at the center of a political storm, albeit unwittingly, because he had dared to assume his colleagues had meant what they had said. The issue: federal spending. Outraged by this year’s unprecedented $1.4 trillion deficit with additional $1-trillion-plus deficits as far as the eye can see, a national debt of nearly $13 trillion and climbing, the latest $3.5 trillion Obama administration budget, a proposed $2.5 trillion new health care entitlement, and trillions more in omnibus and bailout funding, the American people are yelling at the top of their electoral lungs: “Stop!”

The Senate, pretending to hear this plea, adopted “pay-as-you-go” budgeting, formalized by executive order by a posturing President Obama just four weeks ago. “Now, Congress will have to pay for what it spends, just like everybody else,” Mr. Obama said, straight-faced.

Mr. Bunning took them at their word, which was his first mistake. His second mistake was attempting to enforce “pay-go” on the first big spending bill to come up, which was a $10 billion proposal to extend unemployment benefits and fund transportation projects. With a stubborn 9.7 percent unemployment rate, a staggering 16.8 percent total unemployment rate (including those who have given up looking for work and those working only part time), the issue of jobless benefits is highly emotional and politically charged.

Mr. Bunning did not filibuster the bill. He merely objected to the “unanimous consent” procedure by which “my good friend from State X” will go along with “my good friend from State Y” to get all manner of spending through, without debate. But the new pay-go rules forced the Senate to come up with a way to pay for the $10 billion bill without adding to the deficit. So Mr. Bunning asked how his “good friends” were going to fund it. No one had an answer.

That’s when the political body-slamming began.

Mr. Bunning was crucified by Democrats, some Republicans and the left-leaning press for being a heartless Scrooge.

But Mr. Bunning, to his great credit, fought back on behalf of the American people who want the out-of-control spending to end. A woman who didn’t know a lot about politics saw Mr. Bunning on television and asked why a politician was leveling with her. When told that he wasn’t running for re-election, she said, “Ahh. That’s why he’s telling the truth. I bet he’s scaring the hell out of those other senators.” He was, which is why they tried to demonize him.

Mr. Bunning took to the Senate floor to read a letter of support from an unemployed constituent in Louisville: ” ‘Politicians on both sides enjoy getting up in front of television cameras and talking about the support of the pay-as-you-go plan, but when it comes down to actually doing what they say, they all run for cover and vote for anything they think will win them another vote or another term.’ ”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s weak response: “So my friend just is throwing around words like hypocrite. People can make their own decision as to who is a hypocrite. I’m not calling anyone hypocrite, I’m just stating facts.”

Mr. Bunning hit right back: “Why would you vote for a bill when you know it’s not going to be honored? Why would you vote for a bill you knew was going to be violated in the first bill brought to the floor after you passed it?”

Mr. Bunning was making two points: one, that pay-go is a fraud, meant to show a dedication to controlling spending but with no intention of actually doing it and, two, that the Senate was dishonorable. Democrats predictably pummeled him, but most Republicans ran for the hills. Republican Sens. Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jim DeMint of South Carolina backed him up, but the rest - to their eternal shame - left the former Hall of Fame baseball star stranded on base.

Mr. Bunning eventually stepped off the pitcher’s mound, and the bill passed. But his point about personal and institutional integrity lives on. The American people have had enough of the “too clever by half,” big-spending outrageousness they see coming out of both parties. They want spending brought under control, and they want their leaders to be people of decency. He may have lost the battle, but he showed Republicans how to win the war - if only they could overcome their cowardice and stand for what they say they do.

It’s a sad shame that backbone and honor are characteristics that we only see in politicians who are leaving Washington. Come November, we might make most of our leaders fit that description.

Monica Crowley is a nationally syndicated radio host, a panelist on “The McLaughlin Group” and a Fox News contributor.

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