The Senate was getting ready to approve a jobs bill that extended unemployment benefits to jobless Americans. It would have increased the deficit a little, but under the circumstances, that was considered routine and uncontroversial.
Sen. Jim Bunning, the Kentucky Republican who has occasionally seemed mentally unstable, took a bold, lonely, ridiculous stand — there could be no jobs bill if it increased the deficit. Bunning launched what was, in effect, a one-man filibuster, which came to be known as the “Bunning Blockade.”
The right-wing Kentuckian soon became the subject of widespread ridicule, and a symbol of all that is wrong with the modern-day Senate. It didn’t help when Bunning flipped off a journalist who dared to ask the senator to explain his position, nor when Bunning told one of his colleagues, imploring him to be reasonable, “Tough sh*t.”
After about a week, Bunning ended his little tantrum, the bill advanced, benefits to the jobless were extended, and thousands of furloughed workers Bunning had sent home without pay were able to get back to work.
But let’s pause to appreciate what’s become evident since — Bunning’s absurd behavior has spread like a cancer, to the point that every single member of the Senate Republican conference, and one confused conservative Democrat, is taking the exact same position he took in late February and early March.
We’ve gone from one erratic senator flipping off a reporter to an entire party caucus flipping off millions of Americans. We’ve gone from a seemingly unstable lawmaker telling a colleague, “Tough sh*t” to the entire Republican conference telling the whole country, “Tough sh*t.”
In the late winter, Jim Bunning was something of a laughing stock. In the early summer, we have an entire Party of Bunnings.