Do you throw a slider with your middle finger, Jim Bunning?

Senator Jim Bunning (R – Kentucky) (Photo: Wikipedia)

There was a time when Jim Bunning was feared. As the star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers (1955-1963) and Philadelphia Phillies (1964-1967), the big right-hander would rock back and fire his sidearm fastball and slider at overmatched hitters. For a pitcher with excellent control, it is telling that he hit more batters with pitches than any other hurler in the 1960s. In his mind, the plate belonged to him. If a batter dug in too close, they were going to have to dodge a bullet. In baseball parlance, he was “filthy” in more ways than one.

From the mound to the Senate floor

Jim Bunning’s work on the mound earned him a big pay day into baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1996. After his playing career ended in 1971, the big Kentuckian worked his way into politics. By 1986, he was a state Representative, and in 1998 he secured a spot in the U.S. Senate. If Bunning’s approval ratings are any indication, the fear he once commanded on the mound have permanently been replaced by loathing.

Which leads us to his recent Senate elevator caper

As he was preparing to head to the Senate floor, ABC News caught up with Senator Jim Bunning and asked him about his recent decision to block a bill that would extend unemployment benefits to long out-of-work Americans who need cash now. Not only did Jim Bunning refuse to answer the question, but he screamed at reporters “Excuse me! This is a Senators only elevator!” Then, when asked if he was concerned about unemployed Americans losing their benefits, he reportedly made an obscene gesture.

His conservative colors don’t run

Apparently, Senator Bunning was not in favor of the bill because it would add to the national debt rather than be paid for out of existing funds. His preference, according to ABC, is to use unspent stimulus funds.

“I support extending unemployment benefits, cobra benefits, flood insurance, highway bill fix, doc fix, small business loans, and distant network television for satellite viewers. If we can’t find $10 billion to pay for something that we all support, we will never pay for anything on the floor of this U.S. Senate,” he said.

Ideally, I agree with Bunning’s reasoning

While I do not support letting people twist in the wind when they have children to feed and the American job market remains unresponsive, I also would like to see such a program paid for at the outset, rather than creating more debt. Such a thing simply gets passed on to each successive generation, with no end in sight. But how long can the unemployed whose funds are dissipating wait?

Needless to say, Jim Bunning isn’t popular these days

His record of Senate votes is rather conspicuous by the amount of absenteeism. According to Wikipedia, Jim Bunning was “the only senator to miss the Senate’s historic Christmas Eve 2009 vote on the health care reform bill.” Furthermore, his tally of 21 missed December votes is “one more than the 20 missed by 92-year-old Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who is ailing and in a wheelchair.” Maybe Jim Bunning subscribes to an old baseball adage applied to position players the Dominican Republic: “You can’t walk off the island.” In Bunning’s case, however, he can seem to walk to his seat on the Senate floor.

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