Members of Congress frequently tell stories about regular people from their home districts, real folks whose real problems illustrate the need for such and such policy.
On Tuesday, for instance, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) talked about Dan from East Greenwich, who will be evicted if he loses his unemployment benefits. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich. talked about Judith from Taylor, who is facing foreclosure. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) talked about Adrian Keyser, who was one of 200 people to apply for a job at a nursing home in Burlington.
The senators talked about those people to make a case for reauthorizing extending unemployment benefits, which lapsed on June 1 because of conservatives' concerns about the deficit. To Democrats' stories about hard-luck families, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn responds, "What about Madeline?"
Madeline is a little girl from Maryland who was photographed at a Tea Party protest with a pacifier and a sign that read, "I'm already $38,000 in debt and I only own a dollhouse."
Coburn has spoken about Madeline no fewer than six times since December, most recently on June 17, using the photo to illustrate the national debt (and updating the amount Madeline owes according to www.usdebtclock.org). Every time the Republicans prevent speedy passage of an unemployment bill that would add to the deficit, Madeline has been there.
"I've used Madeline's picture a lot, but I don't think you can over-utilize this picture," Coburn said. "Who will protect the Madelines of this world?"
Coburn and the Republicans are pitting long-term deficit reduction against the immediate demand to help the jobless on an emergency basis. One consequence of this battle is that by the end of this week, 1.2 million people who've been out of work for longer than six months will have missed checks as the Senate struggles to finish a bill to reauthorize the benefits and other domestic aid programs.
Coburn told HuffPost on Wednesday that he met Madeline and her family a few months ago when they came to Washington."She's quite a little lady. Her family's pretty neat, too," he said. "The whole deal is, we want to take care of the people that are unemployed, but we also ought to do it by not hurting the ones who are gonna be unemployed in the future."
HuffPost asked if Madeline's picture will be coming back to the Senate floor in the future.
"There will be more Madeline, Coburn said.
Here's a clipreel of Coburn's Madeline speeches:
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