Back in February, Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican, held up a vote on a 30-day extension of unemployment insurance benefits for as long as he could. He wasn't against people receiving the benefits, he said at the time, he just didn't like the fact that it was not paid for and would add to the deficit.
It was a lonely battle. Under tremendous pressure from his fellow Republicans, who were getting hammered on the issue, Bunning relented and gave up his fight.
Five months later, Bunning's position is now the unofficial position of the Senate Republican Conference.
For weeks, that position also had the upper hand in the Senate. Carve out savings in the federal budget for the $34 billion that this extension would cost, Republicans said, and we'll support the bill. Otherwise, forget about holding a vote.
Democrats were in a box. The 59-member Dem caucus had lost not only the vote of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who died in June, but that of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) as well, who agreed with the GOP view. That put their number at 57.
They did have two Republicans on board — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.
But that got them to only 59 — one short of the number needed to beat back the GOP filibuster.
That changed today, when Carte Goodwin (D), appointed by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to replace Byrd, was sworn in, giving the Dems the magic 60.
And not long after he was sworn in, the Senate voted 60-40 to end debate on extending the insurance benefits through early November. It will affect 2.5 million people who have been without such benefits since the last extension ended June 2nd.
The Senate is now expected to pass the measure later today. The House will follow tomorrow, from where it will then go to President Obama for his signature.