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This Week In Congress - March 5, 2010

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I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson of Capitol News Connection. This Week in Congress.

If you didn’t know the name "Jim Bunning" before...that was about to change.

BUNNING There comes a time when 100 Senators are for something that we all support. If we can’t find $10B to pay for it, we will not pay for anything. We will not pay for anything!

At issue – temporary extensions of jobless benefits and short-term health insurance subsidies. The Republican Senator from Kentucky was on a mission to call out Democrats for failing to abide by their own "pay-go" rules. Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski was among the Democrats who blasted him for choosing this particular moment.

MIKULSKI I come to the floor of the Senate to say to my colleague from Kentucky, ‘Let the unemployment bill go!’

Bunning’s Last Stand lasted well into Tuesday. By that time he was also drawing heat for some rather un-statesmanlike behavior off the floor – namely a certain gesture involving his middle finger (and a journalist asking questions).

Bunning finally ended his de facto filibuster in exchange for an amendment agreeing to pay for the extensions. States that already had to furlough road projects or suspend benefits began the mad scramble to catch up.

This week, President Obama unveiled his newest – and last-est – directive regarding health care. And this plan included several provisions of Republican origin.

LIEBERMAN Therefore I’d hate to see us now rush to push it through by the so-called reconciliation process.

Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman.

LIEBERMAN I think out to take 2,3, 4 weeks and figure out how we can do something on a bipartisan basis.

Instead, this became the week that the Majority Party all but gave up any pretense of avoiding the reconciliation route.

On Wednesday Congressman Charlie Rangel agreed to step down as chairman of the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Thus ending a long-running standoff of his own. The 20-term Democrat from Harlem is the focus of a wide-ranging and intensifying ethics probe.

HINCHEY He’s doing I think the appropriate thing. And I think he was advised to do that by others here.

That’s Rangel’s fellow New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey.

HINCHEY He’s doing it as this process moves forward. And we’ll see how that works out for him.

In the meantime, a stage has been set for a showdown – and not between Democrats and Republicans. There was a taste of the growing tension between the chambers in what Congresswoman Louise Slaughter had to say shortly before the House voted on a jobs bill Thursday.

SLAUGHTER We did not follow our own rules on this bill. This bill was posted this morning at 9 o’clock. [Reporter: Are you ok with that?] No I’m not! But if I had to just characterize what happens here, it’s the House works far too fast and the Senate works far too slow.

Missouri congressman Emanuel Cleaver took it further.

CLEAVER Everything always hinges on what we can get out of the Senate. And almost always the answer is ‘very little.’ Over in this chamber Nancy Pelosi can say ‘I will get this done’ and it will get done. That’s not the case over there.

Next week, the jobs bill heads back once again to the Senate. With House Democrats watching closely to see whether certain promises are kept – namely on a highway fix and provisions for low-income and minority businesses.

That was This Week in Congress. I’m Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.

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