WASHINGTON – Three Maryland congressmen on Wednesday berated Republicans for blocking important legislation, tying the recent maneuver by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky, to what they see as a larger pattern of procedural abuse.
In a news conference, Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, called Bunning’s one-man filibuster an outrageous misuse of Senate rules to stymie congressional action.
For days, Bunning blocked a $10 billion spending bill that included emergency extensions of federal unemployment benefits and highway funding. On Tuesday night, Bunning finally called off the tactic, which he characterized as a crusade for fiscal responsibility.
Bunning’s blockade was so unpopular that even some of his fellow Republicans were becoming concerned about the backlash it could cause for the party, according to a Reuters report.
With a bitter partisan fight looming over the use of a special parliamentary maneuver to pass health care reform, the Bunning episode gave Democrats a prime opportunity to ease the way for that strategy, called reconciliation, by portraying the Republicans as obstructionists.
And that’s the way the news conference played out.
Cardin said that Republicans don’t really want to start over on health care reform because they don’t want a bill at all.
“The Democrats believe it is time to act. I hear a lot of talk about the use of budget reconciliation,” said Cardin. “To me, democracy is voting on issues. Up or down votes. And that’s what we’re talking about.”
Hoyer used a history lesson about the two houses of Congress to make his point.
“What (the founding fathers) really wanted to do was to have that hot, immediate sentiment of the House cooled in the saucer of the Senate,” said Hoyer. “What they did not conceive was that it would be frozen in the saucer of the Senate, and that we would be frozen into inaction and non-productivity on behalf of the American people.”
Van Hollen called Bunning the “poster boy” for Republican obstructionism.
“It’s time that people throughout the country understand that what we saw in the last couple days is in fact a symptom of a much larger problem, and a very calculated and cynical strategy to try and bring the work of the American people to a halt,” Van Hollen said.
Bunning could not be reached for comment.
The Maryland representatives were joined by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Debbie Halvorson, D-Ill., as they pushed the pre-reconciliation message of majority rule.
“If the majority’s view, after thoughtful discussion, is arrived at,” Hoyer said, “in our democracy, that ought to make the difference.”
Questions at the news conference were limited in order to allow the legislators to listen to President Obama’s remarks on health care reform Wednesday afternoon.
“Everything there is to say about health care has been said — and just about everybody has said it,” Obama said in a White House speech. “So now is the time to make a decision about how to finally reform health care so that it works, not just for the insurance companies, but for America’s families and America’s businesses.”
Obama supported the use of reconciliation and urged the Congress to vote on the bill in the next few weeks.