Media Erroneously Charge Sen. Bunning with Filibustering; He Simply Wanted Debate and a Vote

Some faulty memes get repeated so often they get burned in the media's collective memory as fact, even though they are myth. Perhaps the most notable example of that in 2009 was the myth that the New York 23rd congressional district had been solidly Republican since the Civil War until Doug Hoffman's third-party challenge of the liberal Republican Dede Scozzafava ensured a Democrat's victory in a special election. We've a lot of 2010 left to go, but perhaps history will record the greatest political myth of this year as Jim Bunning's "filibuster" that was anything but.

Hot Air's Ed Morrissey took on the media's Bunning filibuster meme yesterday, noting that even inside-the-Beltway publications like Roll Call tagged Bunning's objection to unanimous consent a filibuster even though it "should know better" (emphasis mine):

This is not a filibuster, which is a specific procedure in which Senators force debate to continue indefinitely as a means to block a final vote, denying “cloture” to the majority party.  Alternatively, and now somewhat archaically, it also describes an effort by one Senator to just continue talking to stall action.  Bunning is using another mechanism altogether, one that won’t block a final vote, although it will delay it:

As I noted in a previous post, and as is increasingly well known to those who actually are capable of comprehension, Senator Jim Bunning – for the simple reason he wishes it to be paid for – is objecting to a repeated unanimous consent request by Senate Democrats to call up and pass a bill that would temporarily extend unemployment benefits, transportation funding, medicare reimbursement, COBRA subsidies and other expenditures to the tune of another $10 billion or so. Again, Democrats are requesting that each U.S. Senator agree – that is, effectively vote “yes” – to said extension without full consideration or debate on the Senate floor.

Yet, news account after news account of his continued objection to this unanimous consent request report his actions as a filibuster. Politico, Roll Call, Fox News, CNN, and the list goes on and on. And the accusation of filibustering is even worse among Senators and Congressmen, as exemplified by the DCCC Chair, Chris Van Hollen and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. But it simply is not the case that what Mr. Bunning is doing is a filibuster under the rules, as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. Senate fully comprehends. …

A filibuster is one of two things. One, an actual filibuster where a Senator gets control of the Senate floor and will yield only for a question while continuing to speak, thereby delaying consideration of a measure. Picture Mr. Smith goes to Washington (if you haven’t seen it, do). Two, a “filibuster” under Rule 22 of the Standing Rules of the Senate whereby debate is continuous unless “cloture” is filed to shut off debate on a measure under consideration and the vote is 3/5ths or more of the Senate. Senate Democrats did not call this bill up to give it floor time. If they had thought it important enough, they could have. Instead, they simply asked for a “UC,” or unanimous consent to pass it. Senator Bunning simply does not wish to give his consent – i.e. he does not want to vote for it.

No one is required to give unanimous consent to any request for it.  Senators normally give it, though, in order to keep business moving.  Withholding unanimous consent simply means that the Senate will have to hold procedural votes that it would otherwise waive in order to finish its work.  That’s not a filibuster.

Bottom line: Bunning simply wanted debate and a vote rather than hurrying along and adopting without any consideration some $10 billion of the taxpayers' money. Apparently that little bit of dissent is too much for the liberal media to tolerate.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.