Senate Republican Leader Won't Say Whether Bunning Was Right or Wrong to Insist Congress Pay for New Spending by Cutting Spending Elsewhere

By Edwin Mora | March 4, 2010 | 10:12 PM EST

Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., heads for the weekly caucus lunch on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, March 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg)

Washington ( -- Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wouldn’t say whether his fellow Republican colleague  from Kentucky -- Sen. Jim Bunning -- was right or wrong in arguing that a $10 billion unemployment extension bill should not be passed unless it is paid for without adding to the national debt. 
“Well, we moved on to a new bill,” Sen. McConnell told on Wednesday. “We had that vote yesterday (Tuesday),  and you know how everybody voted both on the amendment he offered and on final passage.” had asked McConnell: “Sen. Bunning insisted that the $10 billion extensions bill needed to be paid for by cutting spending elsewhere rather than through new debt. Was he right or wrong?” 

On numerous occasions after the extensions bill passed, McConnell has ducked questions from reporters about Bunning’s position, maintaining that Congress has moved on.
Sen. Bunning persisted with his legislative maneuvering to block the $10 billion legislation that extends jobless benefits, COBRA health benefits, highway funding, and other programs arguing that it would add to the national debt. 
Bunning offered to reverse his stance if the Democrat-controlled Senate opted to pay for the bill using unspent funds from the $787 billion stimulus package, but Senate Democrats declined.
Sen. McConnell has butted heads with Bunning in the past. The GOP leader shriveled Bunning’s funding in Kentucky – a move that forced him to resign rather than engage in an uncertain re-election campaign. Bunning is leaving the Senate this fall.
Not all Republicans in the Senate agree with Bunning’s position on blocking the jobless extension bill until it includes means to pay for it.
Speaking to reporters outside the chamber yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who originally supported Bunning’s move said, “You know, this is one Senator. It doesn’t represent the Caucus.”
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who was named “number one conservative” by the National Journal magazine, has indicated he is concerned about the possible political backlash from Bunning’s actions.
“I am concerned about that,” said Inhofe when asked about the whether or not he was worried about the public perceiving Republicans as obstructionist because of Bunning’s move.
On the other side of the divide among Republicans, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), supported Bunning’s call.
“You know he is making a point; it is a valid point,” Hatch said. “I don’t revel in anybody suffering without unemployment compensation; you know my heart and feelings are with the people.”
Echoing Hatch’s sentiment on Bunning, the minority leader of the U.S. House, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), defended Bunning’s argument calling it “legitimate.”
During a press conference today on GOP actions in the Senate, Democrat House members and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) again blasted Bunning for “stalling” the extensions bill.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), during the briefing called Bunning the “poster child” for Republican obstructionism.
Despite Bunning’s attempt to block the $10 billion dollar extension, the bill passed Tuesday night. Democrats used a procedural move to oppose his amendment.
"Democrats tonight showed their true colors by going back on their word on the agreement I had reached with Majority Leader Reid to have an up-or-down vote on my amendment to fully pay for the unemployment extension and other federal programs," Bunning said in a statement on his Web site.