The blockade is gone, but it’s not forgotten

THE BLOCKADE IS GONE, BUT IT’S NOT FORGOTTEN…. OK, so Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) tantrum came to a rather pathetic end last night. Will the fiasco now quietly slip from the political world’s mind? Not if congressional Democrats can help it.

I spoke to a Senate Democratic leadership aide last night who said, “Bunning lifted the curtain on the great lengths that Republicans go to drag out every single action taken by the Senate, no matter how routine. This is why we need to return to an era of more up or down votes and fewer filibusters. It’s why all options are on the table moving forward, including reconciliation.”

Right. The “Bunning Blockade” was principally about benefits for unemployed workers, but the timing and larger context relates directly to the health care debate.

Salon‘s Mike Madden noted, for example, that this bizarre stunt “couldn’t have come at a better time for Democrats,” since reconciliation will be part of the process for completing health care reform.

[T]he specter of Bunning leading an angry one-man effort to keep the chamber from doing anything makes for a pretty good backdrop from which to argue that the Senate’s rules — including the filibuster — are easily abused. Reconciliation would let Democrats pass fixes to the healthcare bill with a 51-vote majority.

Late Tuesday night, Salon obtained a set of talking points circulating among Senate Democrats, laying out the way they’ll use the Bunning mess to push back against Republican efforts to paint reconciliation as some nefarious conspiracy to gut the institution’s rules. After all, if the rules let Jim Bunning hold up unemployment benefits for 200,000 Americans just because he feels like it, maybe voters won’t get so outraged when the GOP talks about how important the filibuster is.

Bunning, in other words, has made it a little easier for congressional Dems to make the argument they were planning to make anyway.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.