Washington (CNN) - Top Democrats tore into one of their Republican counterparts Monday for blocking an extension of unemployment benefits that would provide assistance to millions of jobless Americans.
The Senate adjourned last week without approving extensions of cash and health insurance benefits for the unemployed after Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, blocked the measure by insisting that Congress first pay for the $10 billion package.
Bunning, who is retiring at the end of this year, said he doesn't oppose extending the programs - he just doesn't want to add to the deficit. Democrats claim the bill is an emergency measure that should not be subject to new rules requiring that legislation not expand the deficit.
As a result of the Senate's inaction, many jobless people starting Monday were no longer able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy.
"The irony of all this is we're out trying to fill that (financial) hole created by the (recession) which cost 8 million people" their jobs, Vice President Joe Biden said. "At a time when so many families are in so much pain we shouldn't be shutting the few valves of relief. ... We should be opening that spigot a little wider not shutting it down."
Bunning, in turn, took to the Senate floor to bemoan what he characterized as a growing lack of fiscal responsibility.
"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 the U.S. Senate," he said.
Bunning's remarks prompted an immediate response from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada.
"Where was my friend from Kentucky when we had two wars that were unpaid for during the Bush administration?" he asked. Reid also mentioned the Bush administration tax cuts, which Democrats have said are unpaid for.
"We don't need lectures here on debt" from the GOP, he said. "There are poor people all over America who are desperate today."
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Bunning had "frustrated a lot of people ... across the spectrum."
Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.
These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.
Because the Senate did not act, the jobless will now stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.
That could be devastating to the unemployed who were counting on that income. In total, more than a million people could stop getting checks next month, with nearly 5 million running out of benefits by June, according to the National Unemployment Law Project.
Lawmakers repeatedly tried to approve a 30-day extension this week, but each time Bunning has prevented the measure from passing.
Several other programs aside from unemployment and health benefits are affected by the legislative spat, including federal flood insurance, satellite TV licensing, and small business loans.
The stalled bill also would provide a short-term extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which is a federal fund set up to pay for transportation projects nationwide.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Monday that up to 2,000 employees at the Transportation Department will be sent home without pay as a result of Bunning's decision to hold up the bill.
"As American families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important construction projects around the country," LaHood said in a news release. "This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed."
According to two Democratic aides on the Senate floor Thursday night, Bunning muttered "tough s-" as Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, criticized Bunning's stance on the package.
CNN's Dana Bash tried to get Bunning to comment more extensively on the controversy on Monday. But the senator "got very angry," she said.
"Excuse me," the agitated senator told Bash while entering a Senate elevator. "I need to get to the (Senate) floor."
Jim Bunning is a fool. Who is he to decide whether or not people can feed their children or pay for a roof over their head. I'm a conservative on Federal Unemployment benefits right now. I live in Michigan so it's even harder to find a job. That guy needs to get thrown out of office. Pathetic!!!!!
There is probably more to this story than CNN is reporting. I heard one of the provisions in this bill is that California is getting a much larger share of the money than other states, proportionally more than they should. How about a more detailed discription of who is getting the money CNN.
He should have his pay stopped until the Congress finds a way to pay fund it without borrowing..
Yet more evidence that the Republicans care more about money than they do about people. Selfish hypocrites.
Sen. Burning, I mean Bunning, is "burning up about fiscal responsibility" while America is burning out of jobs which he and the Republicons orchestrated along with Corporate America. The Republicons are good for one thing and that is "exporting"! America's export of jobs that is!
Tyranny of the minority at its finest.
There is money to send to Chile 30Billion, but there is no money for Americans out of work.
Sen. Bunning is nothing but a domestic terrorist...and should be dealt with accordingly.
Senator Bunning, why now? And, why did all Republicans vote NO on PAYGO? You seem to be adding proof that Republicans only care about the wealthy and are the party of NO. This bill is a small pimple on the huge spending that the Republicans approved without any consideration of paying for the spending. Where were you then?
@ Zaggs March 1st, 2010 4:51 pm ET
So now democrats can pick and choose what bills will add to the deficit? How hard in a 3.something trillion dollar budget is it to find 10 billion?
Really?? That's funny . . . it seems that Republicans got to "pick and choose" who would get a cut in their taxes when Bush was President! THAT WOULD BE THE TOP 2% WEALTHIEST AMERICANS THAT GOT THE TAX CUT UNDER BUSH AND NO WAY TO PAY FOR THE INCREASE IN THE DEFICIT! So you and your Republican brethren can get on your high horse all you want. HISTORY IS HISTORY, ZAGGS.
Democrats passed the Pay as You go bill,now they do not want to pay as you go? The benefits will run out sooner or later,time to be fiscal responsible. STAND YOUR GROUND JIM, Time someone did. Make them pay for it as they wanted before they spend it.
As I said many times before (but never got published):
Masses elected a black man as first POTUS but will a handful of elite (hint: hint: a handful of middle aged rich white men) let a black man govern?
I just don't get Sen. Bunning. He is doing all of this just to "make a point". It is so easy to try to make a point when you aren't starving...pass the bill, help the needy. period.
I would bet that EVERY person commenting on this article who support what Bunning is doing is fully employed and insured!
Senator Bunning should be charged one Month's pay for each day this bill is delayed. It's People like Senator Bunning that has divided this Country of ours not only Politicians but all Americans in General. This is all Politics by Senator Bunning and America is SICK of it.
Make them find the money,before they spend it,The Government does not owe them a pay check. We need fiscal responsibility Now before it is too late. Stand your ground JIM,They passed a PayGo Bill and Obama touted it as great now see if he is man of his word,Or a sniveling politican just out for the votes.
What would Jesus do?
It was pretty easy for Obama, Pelosi and Reid to give $60 billion to the unions for endorsing ObamaCare. They gave $50 billion to bail out GM and Chrysler who did not even deserve it. Why can't they find this money to take care of people who are not working?
All you unemployed GOPers from Kentucky with concealed/carry license ... do your nation a favor ... you've now got the time and a good reason ...
We all are upset that the deficit is rising, but what is the alternative? When we are talking about putting millions of people (children included) out onto the street because they have no income anymore, it becomes a "moral" issue. And why do people assume the unemployed are too lazy to work. This is simply not true. There may be a few out there like that, but I believe the majority would give anything to have their steady job back. Unfortunately, those jobs are not coming back because of globalization. They are all in China, India, etc., now. That extra money is in the pockets of Wall-Street now because these big companies are moving their operations overseas to save money, thus increasing their profits. No wonder Wall-Street is doing better. Too bad for all the rest of us middle and lower class! We all knew that globalization would hit america very hard, and it has. We cannot allow our people to be out in the streets, starving to death. So while I agree it is a shame to have to raise our deficit, what happens to the unemployed and their families if we refuse to help? What kind of a nation are we if we allow this to happen? Same thing with healthcare–which should be a moral issue.
Yes, that's right Dan, "absolutely despicable". Now that you have stated your position on fiscal responsibility and those that do not practice it, name me ONE thing, ONE bill, that YOUR [R] congress and admistration paid for between 2001 and 2007. You neo-tards need to remove your head from your nether-regions, and get some oxygen to that shriveled organ that you call a brain.
It is a testament to the LIBERAL nature of our constitution that you uber-partisan, under-acheiving airheads are even allowed to participate in the public debate at all. The rightwing underbelly of this nation embarrasses itself daily by spewing its drivel over FuxNews, while its genetically shallow lemmings posture on blogs like this one.
Wisconsonite – End the Anti-Trust Exemption for Insurance Companies!"
I get so sick and tired of you Libs souting off about Bush's "tax cuts for the wealthy". ALL tax-paying citizens got the benefit of that. If you didn't YOU WEREN'T PAYING TAXES TO BEGIN WITH!
You people need to stop making stuff up and deal with reality.
I see now that Bunning decided to give all Americans the finger. When asked a simple question about why he decided to block funding, all he could do was make an obsene gesture at the reporter and his producer. Of course, whay he was really doing was GIVING THE FINGER TO ALL AMERICANS!