# Jim Bunning



Iowans split on party lines as House passes scaled-back jobs bill

The House of Representatives approved a jobs bill today containing about $15 billion in tax incentives and a $20 billion allocation from the Highway Trust Fund to support infrastructure projects. (The Senate had approved the legislation on February 24.) Iowa Democrats Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Leonard Boswell (IA-03) voted for the bill, while Iowa Republicans Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05) voted against it (roll call here). Six Republicans joined 211 Democrats in supporting the bill, while 35 Democrats opposed it along with most of the GOP caucus. The Democratic opponents were mostly members of either the Progressive Caucus or the Congressional Black Caucus:

Congressman [Raul] Grijalva, one of the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, had dismissed the tax-credit focused bill as not "dealing with job creation." [...] The CBC's position during the month long debate on the $15 billion jobs tax credit package was fairly straightforward - CBC members don't want to back a bill that was composed of tax breaks for business which they don't believe will necessarily create jobs when other job-creating programs the CBC supports, such a summer youth jobs program, face an uncertain future in the Senate.

Braley had introduced a separate bill last month containing language similar to part of the jobs bill approved today:

Braley's language in the HIRE Act provides small business owners with greater incentives to hire workers for long-term positions, providing $1,000 in additional tax incentives for businesses that retain employees for 52 consecutive weeks. The payroll tax cut provides greater incentive for employers to move quickly to hire new workers because the credit expires at the end of the year.  The sooner employees are hired, the more time small business owners have to benefit from the credit.

The [Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment] Act also includes the following provisions:

o       Tax cuts to spur new investment by small businesses to help them expand and hire more workers

o       Extension of the Highway Trust Fund allowing for tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure investment

o       Provisions -- modeled after the Build America Bonds program - to make it easier for states to borrow for infrastructure projects, such as school construction and energy projects

Earlier this week, Republican Senator Jim Bunning ended his filibuster of a bill including a temporary extension of unemployment benefits and other measures. The Senate then approved the bill by a 78 to 19 vote. Both Democrat Tom Harkin and Republican Chuck Grassley voted for the bill. However, Grassley defended Bunning's efforts to demand that the bill be paid for, while Harkin said Bunning had abused Senate procedures in blocking the bill for several days. I do agree with one point Grassley raised: the unemployment benefits should have been included in the jobs bill the Senate approved on February 24.

Obama signed the bill right away on March 3. Not only did that extend unemployment and COBRA benefits, it also allowed furloughed Department of Transportation workers to come back to work and prevented a big cut in Medicare payments to physicians from going into effect.

Speaking of jobs-related legislation, Roxanne Conlin's campaign blasted Grassley this week for announcing that some Dubuque workers are eligible for a retraining program that he voted against. After the jump you can read the press release, which includes background information on the program and Grassley's voting record.  

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Long-term unemployed pay the price for Senate dysfunction

As long-term unemployment continues to rise, unemployment benefits for many Americans will run out tonight because the U.S. Senate failed to pass a bill extending the benefits late last week. An estimated 1.2 million Americans, including about 75,000 Iowans, stand to lose unemployment benefits during the month of March if Congress does not act. For reasons I don’t understand, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid left the benefits extension out of the jobs bill approved by the Senate on February 24.

The following day, the House of Representatives approved a separate bill containing a one-month extension of unemployment benefits, federal subsidies for people on COBRA health insurance plans, current Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors, and a few other programs. Democrats tried to bring this bill up for a Senate vote right away, but retiring Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky repeatedly objected to motions for unanimous consent. Democrats promised to keep filing motions until Bunning broke down, but instead they adjourned near midnight on Thursday night.

Democrats have been slamming Bunning in public statements and e-mail blasts. Here’s an example from Senator Tom Harkin’s office on Friday:

“We need to act quickly to extend the safety net and make sure laid-off workers have access to unemployment benefits through the end of the year, at least,” said Harkin.  “It is heartbreaking to see political games being played with the lives of hardworking people who are struggling to find a job, particularly when there has been strong bipartisan support in the past to extend unemployment benefits and other vital safety net programs.  

“Unfortunately this is emblematic of the larger issue plaguing the Senate today: abuse of Senate procedure.  We saw it in November as well.  While Senate Republicans play games, families are sitting around their kitchen tables wondering how they will make ends meet.  

“I intend to do everything in my power to fight this and hope other Senators will join me in this effort.”

[…] In November, Senate Republicans used a similar delay tactic to filibuster a motion to proceed to a bill to extend unemployment compensation.  After delaying and grinding Senate business to a halt for nearly a month, the bill passed 97-1.

Bunning’s behavior is inexcusable, and he even had the gall to complain about missing a college basketball game while staying on the Senate floor to block this bill.

At the same time, it is pathetic that Democrats adjourned instead of standing and fighting Senate Republicans all weekend long. Apparently one or two other Republicans showed up Thursday night to back up Bunning, but so what? Democrats should have refused to leave until the unemployment benefits bill passed. At the Congress Matters blog, David Waldman explained other ways Democrats could have handled Bunning’s procedural roadblock. Chris Bowers looked at the big picture here:

Democrats are in charge, and they are going to get blamed for this.  Democratic attempts to blame this on Senate procedure will ring utterly hollow.  Not only do people not understand, or care about, those rules, but it simply sounds wimpy and pathetic for the people running the United States Government to throw their hands up in the air and say “our procedural rules prevented us from doing anything to solve this huge problem. Sorry.”

Democrats did not have to adjourn.  They could have kept fighting Bunning.  Further, they all agreed to the rules under which the Senate operates, and most of them are still defending those rules.  Blaming Senate procedure is not going to extend anyone’s unemployment or COBRA benefits, and its not going to win many hearts around the country.

Sure, Jim Bunning is currently the biggest asshole in the country right now.  However, if you think that procedure is a problem, then start working to change the procedure.  If you think that unemployment benefits need to be extended, then don’t adjourn for the weekend when those benefits are slated to run out.  

Sometime this week, or perhaps later in March, Senate Democrats will break the Republican obstruction. But when that happens, “state governments will still have to deal with the extra administrative costs of shutting down and restarting the extended benefits programs.”

Some Republicans, like Representative Steve King, are philosophically opposed to extending unemployment benefits, but they fail to acknowledge that extending unemployment benefits has tremendous “bang for the buck.” The Iowa Fiscal Partnership recently calculated that that the unemployment benefits extension contained in last year’s federal stimulus bill “produced $501.7 million increased economic activity and $112.1 million in income in 2009, while creating or saving 3,727 jobs” in Iowa alone.

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Grassley to vote no on Bernanke

Senator Chuck Grassley said today he will vote against giving Ben Bernanke another term as chairman of the Federal Reserve. According to the Des Moines Register,

“I’ll vote no because of concerns of inflation and a pattern of resistance to accountability,” Grassley said. […]

Grassley dismissed the argument that defeating Bernanke would throw the financial markets off course. […]

“The Fed takes action once a month that affects the stock market,” Grassley added. “And we’re still going to have a Fed chairman. So, what’s the big deal?”

I find it odd that Grassley is concerned primarily about inflation in the current economic environment, and as Bleeding Heartland user PrairieBreezeCheese pointed out, even 1970s-like inflation is very different from the “hyper-inflation” Grassley warned about yesterday. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, the only Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee to vote against confirming Bernanke last month, has laid out a stronger case against giving him another term. I am also in rare agreement with Republican Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, who has called for all senators to have a chance to review some unpublished Federal Reserve documents before voting on Bernanke’s nomination.

I’ve seen many different “whip counts” on Bernanke. It appears he will have little trouble gaining the support of at least 50 senators, and I doubt his nomination will be filibustered, because some Democrats who plan to vote against confirming him will vote for cloture.

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IA-Sen: Chuck Grassley Exhibits Symptoms of Frontotemporal Dementia

{Originally posted at my blog Senate Guru.}

First thing’s first.  I’m not a doctor.  I’m not suggesting that Republican Chuck Grassley has any particular illness.  Simply, I have noticed that Chuck Grassley, over the last many months, has been making increasingly bizarre, aggressive, explicit, and violent remarks – and that such comments coincidentally happen to be early symptoms of dementia, particularly frontotemporal dementia.  It stands out to me because, as a political junkie, I have long considered Grassley to be among the most mild-mannered denizens of the Capitol.  2009 has apparently become the year that the 75-year-old Grassley (he turns 76 next month) has shed his mild-mannered image, perhaps by choice, perhaps not.

In response to the story this Spring about AIG executives receiving exorbitant bonuses after the company was rescued by a massive infusion of public dollars, Grassley said on March 16, 2009:

“I suggest, you know, obviously maybe they ought to be removed, but I would suggest that the first thing that would make me feel a little bit better towards them [is] if they would follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say I’m sorry and then either do one of two things: resign or go commit suicide.”

Grassley added, “In the case of the Japanese, they usually commit suicide before they make any apology.”

The comment was rude, racist, and extremely aggressive, even violent.

The next day, still critical of AIG executives, but in an attempt to tone down the violent “suicide” comment from the previous day, Grassley went the more sexually explicit route:

“From my standpoint, it’s irresponsible for corporations to give bonuses at this time when they’re sucking the tit of the taxpayer,” Grassley explained.

When talking about government spending, “sucking on the teat” is not in and of itself bizarre rhetoric, but that Grassley used the more sexually explicit “tit” instead of “teat.”  In fact, such a nuanced difference might have flown under the radar entirely if not for a sexually explicit comment Grassley made at a budget hearing toward the end of the same month as his earlier comments, on March 26, 2009:

But yesterday he [Grassley] regained his bounce on the Senate floor, livening up an otherwise dull budget hearing with a joke about banging another senator’s wife. His opening came after he pressed Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad to include an amendment of his to a budget resolution by bringing up the fact that Conrad owed him a favor.

“Oh, you are good,” Conrad responded.

To which Grassley replied: “Well, your wife said the same thing.”

Sure, this comment, in a vacuum, could be one Senator good-naturedly ribbing a colleague.  But a joke intimating sex with a colleague’s wife, told, again, at a budget hearing, seems like bizarre behavior.  Further, when you add up these comments, what you have is a pattern of behavior.

Last week, Grassley’s pattern of behavior was reinforced by his take on health care reform:

We should not have a government program that determines if you’re going to pull the plug on grandma.

In fairness, this one comment has become a sick talking point of many Republicans shilling for corporate interests.  Nevertheless, it particularly stands out for Grassley given that, when he is not flying off the cuff, he is one of the GOP’s key negotiators on health care reform.  He should have had the self-control to avoid such aggressive rhetoric.  But that’s been Grassley’s pattern lately.

So what we have seen from Grassley in 2009 – and this is just in public; no telling what his comments and actions are in private – is a pattern of bizarre, rude, physically aggressive, sexually explicit, and even violent remarks.  Such a pattern even led The Iowa Independent to the headline: “Grassley: Strategic or just eccentric?”  Eccentric may be putting it mildly.

Grassley is not the first Republican Senator in recent years to have his mental health questioned.  During his 2004 re-election bid, the Kentucky media began openly questioning Jim Bunning’s mental health after a similar pattern of bizarre comments and actions.  Also, in 2006-2007, Pete Domenici’s mental health was questioned after a pattern of erratic behavior including reportedly walking around the Capitol in his pajamas.  Subsequently, in late 2007, Domenici revealed that he had a degenerative brain disease and opted against a 2008 re-election bid.  Domenici was 75-years-old at the time of his 2007 diagnosis, the same age Grassley is now.

Now for the coincidental symptoms.  If you hop over to WebMD.com, best friend of the armchair hypochondriac, you can find a page that lists symptoms of dementia.  Such symptoms include “having trouble finding the right words to express thoughts,” “having trouble exercising judgment,” and “having difficulty controlling moods or behaviors” while noting that “agitation or aggression may occur.”  What especially caught my eye was the following passage:

The first symptoms of frontotemporal dementia may be personality changes or unusual behavior. People with this condition may not express any caring for others, or they may say rude things, expose themselves, or make sexually explicit comments.

Agitation or aggression?  Check.  Personality changes or unusual behavior?  Check.  Saying rude things?  Check.  Making sexually explicit comments (again, at a budget hearing!)?  Check.  Lack of inhibition?  Check.

Again, I’m not suggesting that the 75-year-old Chuck Grassley has frontotemporal dementia.  I am, however, noting that Grassley’s pattern of behavior over the last six months coincidentally happens to match the early symptoms of frontotemporal dementia.  With Grassley turning 77-years-old before Election Day 2010, it would not be unfair or unwise for Iowans to get a clean bill of health from Grassley before signing him up for another six-year term (at the end of which he will be 83-years-old).

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