Bunning Takes Heat for Expired Funding, But Is Harry Reid to Blame?

The world may place the furloughing of 2,000 Americans on Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) “I object” last week, but it’s Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who decided the issue wasn’t important enough to discuss sooner.

Reid — who controls the Senate calendar — put off extending funding for Highway Trust Fund projects, unemployment benefits, and other programs to instead discuss two bills politically beneficial to him.

“Everybody knew when these benefits expired,” said Bunning’s communications director Mike Reynard. “It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming.”

Reid scrapped a bipartisan jobs bill last month that included three month extensions for some of these now-expired programs.  Reid then created his own, smaller jobs bill — which didn’t include the extensions. Reynard says he’s not sure why Reid’s office didn’t include the extensions in the smaller job bill.

After his jobs bill, Reid moved on to a tourism bill, a primary beneficiary of which is Nevada, the state he represents. The Senate voted on the tourism bill (which passed with 78 votes) Thursday, the same day Bunning filibustered the extensions.

When Bunning shouted his “I object,” Reid had several political cards he could have played to get the extensions through — Reid could have filed cloture or kept the Senate in session over the weekend.

“He has the tools at his disposal if he really wanted to bring it up and get it passed,” Reynard said, and borrowed a quote from his boss: “If we can’t find $10 billion dollars to pay for something that all 100 senators support, we will never pay for anything.”

Reynard says all that Bunning is objecting to is the spending and that Democrats shot down opportunities to work with Bunning on making sure these programs extensions don’t add to the debt.  All told, these extensions — had they passed Thursday– would have added $10 billion to the deficit.

One of Bunning’s suggestions was to pay for the extensions out of stimulus funds that haven’t been spoken for, but the Democrats haven’t let that provision reach the floor.  

“He believes we should pass these extensions, but they need to be paid for,” Reynard said of Bunning. “It’s very simple: all he’s asking is for the bill to be paid for.”

The buzz on the Hill appears to be that the needed program extensions will be include in a more comprehensive bill the Senate is currently working on and that the provisions will be retroactive.