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Bunning's block: Politics at its best, or worst?

Mark Mardell | 20:55 UK time, Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Traffic flows freely for once along the busy George Washington Memorial Parkway linking the US capital and the Virginia suburbs.

Some drivers may have reason to bless Senator Jim Bunning for making their commute less fraught with delays.bunning_ap.jpg

For the roadworks that have been going on for two years are at a standstill. Huge earth movers lie idle in the middle of the road, and the workers have all been sent home.

As we filmed one truck turned up, loaded up some ladders and locked up the construction site. The repairs to make the hump back bridge fit to carry 75 vehicles a day have stopped.

It is all the work of one man - Senator Jim Bunning - who has stopped a routine bill to continue payment for this and more than 40 other projects. He's done it on his own, against the wishes of his 99 Senate colleges - both Republican and Democrat.

Payments to doctors, the unemployed and even money to allow rural viewers see cable TV will be hit.

He's using a process called unanimous consent. According to the Senate's own website:

A Senator may request unanimous consent on the floor to set aside a specified rule of procedure so as to expedite proceedings. If no Senator objects, the Senate permits the action, but if any one Senator objects, the request is rejected.

As a baseball star Jim Bunning was known for his "brush back pitch" - essentially throwing near the head of the batter to get them to move off. In old age he's lost none of his taste for aggressive play.

The White House has called him "irrational" and Democrats are delighted if people get the impression Republicans are out to wreck plays to help the jobless.

That's hardly fair as some of Mr Bunning's own Republican colleagues urged him to back off and none have supported him.

But he has yet again used the procedure to block money being spent.

Mr Bunning's objection is partly based on procedure but also because the $10bn payment is unfunded. He didn't want to defend his view to reporters, backing into a "senators only" lift to make his escape.

But he has explained himself to his colleagues. His objection is party based on procedure but mainly on his objection to adding to America's ballooning deficit by extending a $10bn payment without saying where the money is coming from.

He read out a letter from a sheet metal worker from Kentucky who said he hadn't worked a full week for two years but "fully supported" the senator for standing up to those who wanted to spend taxpayers' money they do not have.

This country is sooner or later going to implode because of the massive amount of debt built up over the last 40 to 50 years. Selling the country's soul to countries like communist China in order to finance our lifestyle... is sheer lunacy.

The letter went on.

As far as I know there is no connection between the senator and the Tea Party movement. But surely these are sentiments they would admire?

They have been lauded by some for being the authentic voice of America, angry about the ways of Washington. It will be interesting to see how they view this piece of Capitol gridlock.

I am eager to hear if the senator has admirers out there.


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