Jim Bunning pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1964. Now nearing the end of a 33-year political career, Bunning, a Republican U.S. senator from Kentucky, is still throwing zingers.
Last week, he singlehandedly blocked several legislative extensions that would have kept federal funding flowing to the umemployed and to transportation programs, causing a small firestorm.
It didn’t help when he was overheard telling a Democratic colleague who appealed to him to change his mind: "Tough s***," a comment that some news organizations portrayed as a message to the jobless.
At another point in the debate, Bunning complained about missing a televised basketball game.
Mr. Bunning was able to be a one-man roadblock because Senate rules required unanimous consent for the extensions. And he said he wasn’t joining the chorus unless Congress found a way to pay the $10 billion cost without adding to the national debt.
"I have got too many young grandchildren that want America to be the same America that I grew up in. And I’m worried to death that that’s not going to be the case," he said.
U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said Bunning’s maneuver would freeze nearly $190 million per day in federal payments to states for various transportation programs and cause the furlough of 4,000 government employees.
Oozing scorn for the upper chamber, he said that in the Senate "one person gets their nose out of joint about something, and it brings the whole place to a halt … It’s much more civilized over here."
NBC News’ Washington affiliate reported that a group representing the unemployed wants to have Bunning, who won 224 games as a pitcher, kicked out of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
"One United States Senator, Jim Bunning, is adding a ton of pain to America’s jobless," said Rick Sloan, acting executive director of Ur Union of Unemployed. "His heartless actions mean millions will not receive their unemployment checks. For his stance, he should be ejected from the Hall of Fame and installed in the Hall of Shame."
Of course, the root of the problem is that Congress chronically doesn’t meet its deadlines. The transportation money is shut off because the nation’s long-term transportation authorization law expired in September and Congress hasn’t passed a replacement, preferring instead to keep extending the old law — three times already.
It needed 12 extensions before passing the last one in 2005, nearly two years after the deadline. So to revise and extend Bunning’s comments, maybe his grandchildren want America to be the same one he grew up in, but they might want a better Congress.