Last month, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) and a handful of his Republican allies caused quite the controversy by obstructing for days an extension of unemployment benefits that were set to expire. Bunning himself said “tough sh*t” to Democrats seeking a unanimous consent agreement to extend the benefits. He was subsequently hailed as a “national hero,” by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and earned the praise of Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). “I respect him for the courage he’s showed,” said Sessions.
When Bunning finally relented, a 30-day extension of enhanced benefits was successfully passed. But now those 30 days are coming to a close, and Republicans are “lining up” to play the same game again, and “leading the charge this time around will likely be” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK):
Coburn said it’s “highly doubtful” he’d let Democrats quickly pass an extension this week to keep benefits going until May 5 — if the $10 billion isn’t offset with spending cuts…At a closed-door lunch Tuesday, Coburn and several other GOP senators said they’d battle the Democrats if they pile the costs of the bill onto the deficit, several attendees later said…[P]ublicly — from moderates to GOP leaders to the hard-core conservatives — Republicans told POLITICO Wednesday that they agree to fight the efforts this time.
Various senators, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. George LeMieux (R-FL), have hinted that they will help Coburn oppose the extension, unless an offset is found. “At some point, enough is enough,” LeMieux said.
Of course, as the National Employment Law Project’s Judy Conti explained, offsetting unemployment benefits is just bad economics. “Every economist from every side of the political spectrum will tell you that unemployment benefits are most stimulative when they are not offset,” she said. “In the history of the unemployment program, we have never off set these programs.” If the GOP was honestly concerned about finding offsets, then they should advocate paying for the extended benefits over the long-term (10 years, for instance). But instead, they favor redirecting stimulus spending, defeating the whole purpose of taking steps like these.
Obstructionism is not really surprising coming from Coburn — who is called “Dr. No” — as he has openly admitted “I love gridlock.” But the extent to which the rest of the Republican caucus has embraced procedural tricks to prevent Congress from functioning is quite appalling. For instance, this week the GOP stopped two days of hearings, including those on national security matters, just because they were upset that health care reform passed.
Coburn confirmed this afternoon that the answer to the question posed in this post’s title is yes.