Bunning Throws Stabenow a Curveball

Posted March 5, 2004 at 5:28pm

It’s not often that Republican and Democratic Senators in the highly partisan chamber help each other’s re-election efforts.

But that appears to be what unfolded last Thursday during behind-the-scenes discussions on the order in which amendments to a corporate tax bill should be brought up.

Despite general Senate floor debate guidelines calling for Republicans and Democrats to take turns offering amendments, Democratic leaders wanted two of their top message amendments to follow each other in order.

Republicans agreed to the plan, with one caveat. A GOP Senator would have to be named chief sponsor of one of the Democratic amendments.

With Sen. Chris Dodd’s (D-Conn.) amendment prohibiting federal contractors from outsourcing jobs going first, it was up to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) to step aside for Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), who expects a tough reelection fight this year.

“They said, ‘Instead of the Stabenow-Bunning amendment, now it’s the Bunning-Stabenow amendment,’” said a Senate Democratic aide of Democratic leadership conversations. “They wanted it to go as early as possible. … It was the Republicans’ choice of who to put on the amendment.”

The previous day, Stabenow had stood with several other Democrats at a press conference touting her amendment to accelerate the tax cut for manufacturers. Though she presented it as a Democratic alternative to the GOP bill, Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the corporate tax bill’s chief sponsor, signed off on the amendment Thursday.

With Republicans generally supporting the thrust of Stabenow’s proposal and the conundrum of how to preserve the back-and-forth between GOP and Democratic amendments, Bunning was chosen by the Republican leadership to take the lead on the amendment.

Despite having voted for slower implementation of the tax cut during the Senate Finance panel’s deliberations, Bunning said on the floor Thursday that, “My amendment reaffirms our commitment to American manufacturing and will attract jobs to the United States.”

The whole episode might have gone unnoticed, if not for Senate Minority Whip Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) exasperation over the incident.

Complaining on the Senate floor that Republicans were throwing up roadblocks to Democratic amendments, Reid noted of Stabenow’s proposal, “It was her amendment and it has not changed at all. It is just who has their name on it first.”

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Finance Committee, also seemed to surprised by Bunning’s apparent leap-frogging over Stabenow.

Baucus explained on the floor that Stabenow came to him “many times” saying, “‘I have an amendment to accelerate the deduction.’”

He continued, “I compliment the Senator very much for her terrific work. … And the same with the Senator from Kentucky, Senator Bunning. I have heard from him, but I must be honest and seek a full disclosure and say the Senator from Michigan has been very consistent and done a superb job.”

Stabenow, however, was more demure on the floor.

“I am pleased today to be sponsoring this amendment with my colleague,” she said.

Meanwhile, it seems the Stabenow amendment appeared to be such a good idea that Bunning wasn’t the only person to claim authorship.

Bunning noted on the floor that Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.) was an original co-sponsor, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) even went so far as to name the amendment after herself.

“I come to the floor today to support the Bunning-Stabenow-Feinstein amendment,” she said in a floor statement.

Not surprisingly, the amendment is expected to pass overwhelmingly when the Senate returns to the corporate tax debate at the end of March.