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Published March 04 2010

Forum editorial: Bunning’s fastball was a dud

In his playing days, Jim Bunning was a very good Major League Baseball pitcher. He’s a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. But as Republican Sen. Bunning of Kentucky, he’s been throwing wild pitches.

Bunning’s latest bad toss was an attempt to block legislation that renews the National Flood Insurance program. He was making a statement, his staff said, about federal spending. The bill he tried to block also included an extension of unemployment benefits and funding for some 40 highway projects already under way. Late Tuesday a bipartisan majority of the U.S. Senate put Bunning in his place and overwhelmingly passed the legislation. The president signed the bill shortly thereafter.

Bunning might have a point about deficit spending, but he chose the wrong vehicle to vent his ire. For example, the importance of flood insurance to the Red River Valley cannot be underestimated. Bunning’s block came at a time when Valley property owners are either purchasing new policies or renewing existing ones. There’s a 30-day wait for new policies to take effect. Had the senator’s action stood, it might have meant a flood would have hit before insurance was in force. He added an unnecessary worry to an already worrisome time.

Flood insurance is vital to the Valley, but the unemployment benefits extension in the bill is vital to nearly every other part of the nation. Bunning apparently was willing to heap additional hardship on out-of-work Americans to make his point. It doesn’t get more callous, more selfish than that.

Standing on principle usually can be admired, but not this time. The senator’s ill-timed condemnation of federal spending was more stunt than principle, more grandstanding than effective strategy.

If he didn’t know what was in the bill, but just wanted to make a statement, shame on him. If he did know what was in the bill and still proceeded to block it, more shame on him. He ignored both a promise and a contract – a promise because the flood insurance program is a renewal, not a new spending program; a contract because homeowners who have renewed policies might have found the insurance they purchased in good faith was useless.

A subplot in the Bunning episode had more to do with politics than the merits of the bill: a Republican squabble in Kentucky. He’s not running for another term because, he said, his party undermined his campaign. His Kentucky colleague, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, is credited with pushing the Hall of Famer out of the race. Bunning is not happy. Blocking the legislation could be seen as an attempt to embarrass McConnell.

Cooler heads prevailed. The bill passed and was signed into law. Flood insurance and unemployment benefits are funded.

For his part, Bunning maintained his reputation as obstreperous, volatile and often thoughtless. Good pitcher, lousy senator.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.