Congressional reporter Carl Hulse took the Democrats' side in a running controversy over federal spending involving Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Until Tuesday night Bunning, a Republican not running for releection, had flummoxed and angered the Democrat majority (and the media) by employing a legislative tactic to block a new spending bill that would have extended funding on a variety of fronts, including unemployment benefits.
Instead, Bunning insisted the spending first be paid for by other spending cuts and that to pass the bill as is would violate legislation passed by the Democratic majority a month ago known as pay-as-you-go (PAYGO).
Hulse, who usually sides with Democrats in such tactical battles, quickly got off-Trek in his Sunday coverage:
In the original "Star Trek" series, a popular episode centered on two planets that fought a bloodless war through computer simulation but then delivered real casualties. The partisan conflict in the Senate has been waged in a similar fashion.
While the legislative toll has been high, the struggle has been conducted in a genteel, decorous manner. Senators routinely initiate filibusters, lodge objections to votes and impose "holds" on White House nominees and then go about their business as they await make-or-break procedural votes.
Now things are threatening to get a little messier. Incensed over a decision by Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, to stand between jobless Americans and extended unemployment benefits, a group of Democrats took to the floor in a late-night session Thursday to hold Mr. Bunning's feet to the political fire.
They castigated him, forced him to repeatedly affirm his objection and reminded him of bleak unemployment numbers in his home state. Mr. Bunning, a gruff 78-year-old baseball Hall of Famer, was aggravated to the point where he was overheard swearing on the Senate floor and complaining he had been ambushed.
He did not budge on his objection. But Democrats said that staying late was well worth the effort since they were able to put a face -- Mr. Bunning's -- on what they called a case of Republican obstruction and show in a more graphic manner how business was being conducted, or not, in the Senate.
Hulse portrayed the confrontation as Democrats helping both themselves and the Senate's reputation:
The situation with Mr. Bunning has yet to be resolved, but the showdown has already gotten plenty of attention. As they mixed it up on the Senate floor, Democrats said they found the airing of their grievances with Mr. Bunning cathartic and beneficial to the Senate.
Hulse returned to the fray in his Tuesday story, with the loaded headline "2,000 Furloughs Linked to Impasse in Congress."
The United States Department of Transportation said it furloughed 2,000 workers on Monday as a politically charged impasse over unemployment benefits interrupted spending on a handful of federal programs and escalated tensions in Congress.
Senator Jim Bunning says he will withdraw his opposition to the jobless aid legislation if stimulus money is used to pay for it.
With no quick resolution in sight, Democrats characterized the decision by one Republican to block the jobless aid and highway construction financing as an example of the practical consequences of regular opposition by Senate Republicans.
Hulse at least quoted Bunning's insistence that new spending should be paid for, but never focused in on Democratic hypocrisy on embracing pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budget rules just last month at Obama's behest, yet avoiding enforcing them by characterizing any kind of spending as "emergency."
Hulse's online filing on Tuesday, before Bunning retreated in the face of pressure from his own party, includes some self-fulfilling prophecy -- that the G.O.P.'s reputation was being damaged by scathing press coverage.(Some of the wording remains in different form in Wednesday morning's print edition story by Hulse, "Senator Ends His Objection to Extending Jobless Benefits.") From Hulse's Tuesday online report:
Senator Jim Bunning, who chose not to run for re-election, appears willing to take the heat for holding up unemployment benefits and shutting down highway construction projects around the country. Other Senate Republicans, who are hoping for big political gains this year, are not so eager.
With Mr. Bunning's objection to extending jobless aid quickly becoming a national cause célèbre, his colleagues were trying to find a quick resolution to an impasse that was not only having direct consequences on some of their constituents, but also doing some political damage to the Republican brand as well.
With help from the mainstream media, as the MRC's Brent Baker has amply documented. Hulse continued:
Republicans were not just unhappy that the fight was allowing Democrats, editorial writers and activists around the country to portray them as heartless, denying jobless aid to struggling Americans while Mr. Bunning complained that late-night debate was preventing him from watching a college basketball game.
(The print edition helpfully added a noun and other verbiage to that previous sentence, so that it read "heartless curmudgeons.")
Hulse didn't spend much time on Democrat hypocrisy regarding paying for new spending:
[Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs also defended not applying the pay-as-you-go rules -- the Congressional rules that usually require spending to be offset by revenue or cuts elsewhere -- to the extension of benefits, saying "this is an emergency situation."