March 1st, 2010
03:33 PM ET
5 years ago

Dems rip GOP senator for blocking jobless benefits extension

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."


Filed under: Jim Bunning • Senate
soundoff (123 Responses)
  1. Obama the Arrogant Liar

    I'm really going to miss that twit Robert Gibbs.

    March 1, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  2. liberal wingnut

    He just wanted unemployment paid for NOT borrowed! A concept that the left wing idiots do not comprehend.

    March 1, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  3. Dan

    Politics as usual from the Democrats. Instead of finding ways to pay for something that everyone agrees on, they instead try to paint their opponents in a bad light. Absolutely despicable.

    March 1, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  4. sifto77

    they need to pay-go this as Obama promised-he lied again and the dummies keep believing him...

    March 1, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  5. Georgie

    Another proof that Republicans don't care about the have-nots. Just as W once joked at a fund raiser that they (the Republicans) are the "have-mores." But even the have-nots vote these hypocrites into office again and again. Humans are a curious species indeed.

    March 1, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  6. Irma in North Carolina

    This senator should be thrown out right now. He should be stripped of his wages, retirement and health insurance. This is about as low as a person can get. Of course he is a republican what else do you expect from them.

    March 1, 2010 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    Republican hypocrisy at action once again. And republicans are optimistic about picking up seats in November? HA!!

    March 1, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  8. Sniffit

    This is what happens when ideology trumps pragmatics. Bunning, quite sure he will score more political points with more people than the number of people he will either make angry or who will get totally shafted into bankruptcy and maybe homelessness, played the ideology card. Kudos, jack-ss. Couldn't wait until we're out of this crisis? Oh wait, that's right, he's not in the majority party now, so he thinks he can luxuriate in the freedom to pretend none of it is his fault come re-election.

    This is like your wife refusing to get out of the car and yelling at you that she told you to fill the gas tank when you've stalled on the train tracks crossing instead of getting out to push. Sure, pushing sucks, but it's better than sitting there waiting for the Amtrak to run you down.

    March 1, 2010 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  9. If I was crazy, I'd be a conservative too

    Pay as you go would have saved us from the trillion dollar mistake war in Iraq. Someone in the GOP needs to tell Bunning he is out of line.

    March 1, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  10. Stacie

    Every unemployed person who has just lost their benefits should show up at his front door asking for a job.

    He should have to answer for his votes on the wars and the Bush tax cuts. He didn't seem to have a problem with the debt back then. What changed? Oh yes, his party's not in power anymore.

    March 1, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  11. GI Joe

    Where was this jerk on two unfunded and undeclared wars?

    March 1, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  12. NC

    Bunning does not care what happens to people out of work or anyone but himself. I know the citizens of Kentucky can use the jobless benefits he is denying them. Bunning has health insurance and a nice pension when he retires. What exactly is he trying to prove that he cares about cost, TOO LATE HE SHOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING DURING 2000-2008.

    March 1, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  13. Me

    How quaint, somebody actually demanding we have money for things we pay for.

    March 1, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  14. Cindy

    Bunning needs to resign. And cancel his government health care coverage while he's doing it. What's good enough for us, is good enough for Bunning.

    March 1, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  15. Bedtime for Obonzo

    I guess that paying for something that's doled out has become a completely alien concept to Democrats.

    I have a client, a small plumbing business in Whitehall, Michigan. It's trying to expand its operations, but can't find any plumbers willing to take a full time job. All of the applicants say they want part time work, only, for cash, because they can sit back for two years and collect unemployment, so why work? I'm looking out my office window at 25-30 guys ice fishing right now, at 3:45 in afternoon on a Monday. Most appear to be in 30s or 40s. Probably plumbers.

    March 1, 2010 03:43 pm at 3:43 pm |
  16. Dano

    I'm sure if the Dems would throw in some tax cuts for those making over a million a year Senator Bunning would be able to support it!

    March 1, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  17. Karen

    It must be nice that you are not financially suffering Senator Bunning. Why don't we just hold up YOUR retirement until at least 50% of the affected Americans are re-employed!!

    March 1, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  18. Broken

    "We don't need lectures here on debt" from the GOP, he said. "There are poor people all over America who are desperate today.
    ______________________________
    Never really considered myself poor however have spent nearly everything it took me a lifetime to earn trying to maintain an existence in this economy for the last two years. Thanks to both Republicans and Democrats, 2010 will be your payback and 2012 there had better be a fiscally responsible candidate on the ticket that knows you can't spend us out of what spending created! Get ready for some tough love America!

    March 1, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  19. Sniffit

    "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. "

    Of course he did. He has no real justification for what he's doing, just rhetoric. And you know what? bash didn't do us any favors by not calling him out on it. But hey, this is what happens when you attack mindless conservative positions: they start getting angry and eventually yell things like "soshulizms!" and "sesseshun!" and "where my gun at, Maw?" and then the media, afraid of actually upsetting the establishment, moves on to something else like pretend arguments about whether climate change is real or whether evolution should be taught in schools.

    March 1, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  20. Mike

    Please stop trotting out the "where were you when Bush did XXXX". Just because we made mistakes in the past doesnt mean we should not learn from those mistakes

    March 1, 2010 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  21. mboyett

    My question to ALL of Congress, Dems and Reps alike, would be why was this allowed to become an issue of "crisis" proportions? Why did Congress not know that these benefits were expiring over this past weekend and do something WELL IN ADVANCE of the crisis to head it off? Don't they (or their staff) have "reminder" or "todo list" capability on their PC's that should have popped up a month or so ago that said "Need to renew Fed portion of expiring unemployment benefits as of 2/28. Don't put off until it becomes a crisis!". Shame on each and every Senator, Congressman, and White House Admin staff member for allowing our country's highest governing body operate with such irresponsibilit y and lack of common sense. Is just an ill-timed ideology issue on Jim Bunning's part? Or, even worse, is it a Democratic party grandstanding issue? Regardless, we need a complete new set of elected officials running our country.

    March 1, 2010 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  22. Ben

    Biden needs to clam up. What a yahoo!

    March 1, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  23. Roger McKenzie

    While I regret, as I’m sure Sen. Jim Bunning does, that so many people are being affected negatively, I think he is very courageous in what he is doing and I support his efforts, if not the results. I also suspect that much of the outrage by legislators is for the benefit of voters. After all, long before Sen. Bunning’s action, there were poor people all across American who were desperate and have been for a long time.

    But what Sen. Bunning has done has prompted me to wonder if all or most of this could have been avoided if the Congress could simply vote on everything separately instead of lumping bills that might garner opposition with bills that everybody wants to pass.

    Also, if workers A and B are unemployed and hurting financially, why is worker A limited to a certain number of weeks by law simply because when he becomes unemployed and worker B gets the same number of weeks of unemployment compensation as work A, PLUS a number of extra weeks compensation because his unemployment happened at a different time? In other words, how can Congress decide to abide by its unemployment compensation legislation for some and decide to provide benefits for a longer time for others? Both families in this case are hurting, but worker A gets treated worse by the government than worker B.

    Also, if the President and Democrats are planning to make political hay with Jim Bunning for holding up things, I think that would be a big mistake. Instead, they should be applauding him for standing up and hopefully forcing Congress to find an answer to two issues that need answers—paying for projects instead of charging them for future generations to pay and passing legislation that stands on its own (not combining it with vastly different but widely supported legislation just so our legislators will forgo their consciences).

    March 1, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  24. Fuhgeddaboudit

    I am a Democrat, but technically Bunning is right on this. Pay-Go is the law, they did it to themselves, and I'm sick of reps and senators on both sides of the aisle thinking they should be able to just suspend the rules whenever their constituents start raising a ruckus and it's politically expedient for them to invoke a crisis situation. If they wanted exceptions, they should have built them in to the legislation to begin with. If congress weren't so consumed with piling unnecessary pork into every piece of legislation, maybe they'd have time to evaluate and debate the more basic items more carefully and get it right the first time around.

    March 1, 2010 03:48 pm at 3:48 pm |
  25. Stallion

    It sounds like the democrats are printing more money that they don't have. What good is the bill if it cannot be paid for. The first stimulus package was a flop and that money is still unaccounted for. Face the TRUTH Dems.....stop all your immature political manipulations and CREATE some JOBS. Your show now Dems....we are sick and tired of your blame game......

    March 1, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
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