“Screwball” Bunning’s Obstruction Leads to DOT Furloughs, Halts Construction Projects

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post today wrote what a lot of people inside and outside DC are saying about former MLB pitcher and current Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning.

In his 17 years pitching in the big leagues, Jim Bunning was known for his graceful curveball, his rising slider and his sidearm fastball. Now 78 years old and about to retire from the Senate, the Republican of Kentucky is apparently down to only one pitch: the screwball.

Bunning’s solitary opposition to an extension spending bill has, among other things, resulted in nearly 2000 DOT employees being told to stay home Monday.

In a press release, the DOT said it “will furlough nearly 2,000 employees without pay Monday, temporarily shutting down highway reimbursements to states worth hundreds of millions of dollars, national anti-drunk driving efforts, and multi-million dollar construction projects across the country. The action comes as a result of Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning’s decision to block key legislation that would have extended several critical priorities for middle-class families. That legislation covered tax credits for COBRA health coverage, unemployment insurance for 400,000 people, as well as the short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund. The Fund supports all surface transportation programs for the nation—highways, bridges, transit and safety inspections.”

Here’s more of Milbank’s take on Bunning:

For four days, he has been on a one-man campaign to cut off unemployment benefits, kick the unemployed off of health insurance, cut Medicare payments to doctors, deny satellite TV to rural Americans, shut down federal flood insurance and highway projects, and furlough thousands of federal workers.

Democrats can hardly believe the gift Bunning has given them by single-handedly shutting down these popular programs. Bunning’s fellow Republicans are aghast. If this were baseball, the Hall of Famer would be on his way down to triple-A. But this is the Senate, where any one of the 100 members has the ability to bring proceedings to a halt, and Bunning continues to hurl his wild pitches.

The ornery Kentuckian said he was merely insisting that Congress find a way to pay for the $10 billion, 30-day extension, but that was difficult to square with his recent votes against attempts to rein in debt and spending.

This left people puzzling over Bunning’s motives. Was he taking revenge on his senior colleague from Kentucky, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who helped to push Bunning into retirement? Or was he just being, well, crazy? This second possibility cannot be dismissed out of hand. With the Phillies and the Tigers, he had enviable accuracy, boasting one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios. But since his reelection campaign, in 2004, Bunning has had some serious control problems.

He said his opponent looked like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. He suggested that he and his wife had been roughed up by “little green doctors” at a political picnic. He refused to debate in person, instead doing so by teleconference from Republican National Committee offices in Washington, where he used a teleprompter.

Just over a year ago, Bunning resumed his erratic form when he predicted in public that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would probably be dead from pancreatic cancer within nine months.

Yet, with the possible exception of that perfect game in ’64, the events of the past week have been Bunning’s most visible.

You can read the full column here.

The USDOT, including fellow Republican Ray LaHood, also didn’t hold back its criticism of Bunning:

“As American families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important construction projects around the country,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed.”

Because of the shutdown, federal inspectors will be removed from critical construction projects, forcing work to come to a halt on federal lands. Projects span the country, including the $36 million replacement of the Humpback Bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia, $15 million in bridge construction and stream rehabilitation in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, and the $8 million resurfacing of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. A full list of the FHWA construction projects affected by the furlough is below.

You can read the full release, including a list of affected projects, here.

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