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."
Dems, didn't you just pass a bill which requires no further expenditures without IDing the source of funds to pay for it?
Well, I'm sure the republicans will find a way to turn this around as if it's the democrats fault. Mark my word. They've mannaged to do it to the president. Keep an eye on this story as it developes and watch the masters of deception do what they're best at...manipulation and deception. They'll point they're finger at the dems.
A safety measure that helps economic flow to stay in place while the job recovery starts to fill in the gaps. Any sap knows that!
didnt the dems just pass some BULL about PAY GO? uhhhh pay as you go? whats up with that? another way to keep americans under control as long as the government pays my way i aint workin a day
I WANTS MINES ILL sit home on the sofa collecting my check letting the government take care of me
Another Party of No member at his best....."Just Say No" to the America people, those who elected you to office Bunning.....I never wish anything bad on anyone but this time I wish Bunning to lose his job, benefit and insurance all at one time!!! I bet he would definitely have a change in heart rather playing politics with other people lives in your hand/vote? The whole dam republican party has lost it and only care about their own freaking selves......
While I agree with Reid's assertion about war funding, it is not an excuse to CONTINUE to deficit spend.
Pay for it first.
This is also another reason why bills should not be a cluster if different initiatives.
This is why many good projects get shot down.
They keep stuffing unrelated projects together in one bill in hopes that one good idea in the bill will outweigh the half a dozen or so bad ideas and get the bill to pass.
Keep each bill focused and on point.
Let them pass or fail on their own merits.
Good point...during the Bush Administration it was OK for the lack of fiscal responsibility when there were 2 wars unpaid, but because of the Greed and Dysfunction of some of the senators and congress and the decisions they have made over the years, we are in a recession and many millions of people are out of work. Now it is very sad and pathetic that this republican senator wants to make life even worse for those folks that are already down in the dumps from being laid off. So when he retire's the american people should stop all the taxes that have been paying his salary, pension, healthcare and many more benefits that he has had the luxury over the years. SHAME SHAME SHAME ON YOU jim bunning. You are not for the people.
I beg your pardon Mr. Biden – but there are many of us in the U.S. that don't believe the Government should ever be a 'spigot' for anyone. I think that's the bigger problem facing this country.
How did Senator Bunning vote on the auto bailouts and all the money that went to AIG? Funny that the first time he decides to take a stand, it's at the expense of the American working people not a war(s) or bailout money for his buddies.
Good thing he's retiring because the same people he's turning his back on are the ones that employed him!
So the only Pub willing to fall on the sword was the one retiring at the end of this year. Man those Republicans have a set. They're only brave when they have nothing to lose. What a bunch of cowards. It will be nice to see if one of them ever does something honorable even though it means they will have be willing to make a sacrifice.
This is what we get when we reward the fear/hate/obstructionist/purity Republicans with reelections.
Say no to them by voting for either a true Democrat or Independent in 2010 and not reward a single republican with a win. Maybe by 2012 they will have gotten the message and run people who will do for the people not the special interest.
It is truly a shame that in this country, one pompous bitter old man can bring real economic uncertainty to 400,000 unemployed adults.
Not to mention the children of these adults that now have no security in many cases where the next meal is coming from. What if this causes them to miss a rent payment, and they are on the street? Plus, the private sector employees that will lose at least a day's pay at a time when many are barely hanging on.
Getting unemployment benefits via the heavily burdened government offices are tedious enough without this hitch in the process.
Now, Bunning’s latest response is the finger?
If Bunning is a “living example of Christ”, then Jesus would say FU to the unemployed and their kids, all just waiting for a "guvmint handout"!
I can't be blamed for this mess. My Senators are Cornyn and Hutchison, despite my votes against both of them on every possible occasion. I was happy when other states showed more sense than Texans and sent a Democratic majority to both Houses of Congress. It never occurred to me that all sixty Democratic Senators (59 now) would have the courage of a sparrow, the determination of a butterfly, and the will power of an empty paper sack.
When one old man threatens a filibuster, all Democrats run to their offices gulp down a valium, and press a cold cloth to their foreheads. Is there not one drop of American blood in any of them? Can they not say, "Pack a lunch old man. You're going to be talking non-stop, 24 hours daily, until December or until we have a vote. And we're going to call for the vote every four hours, 24 hours a day. Let the people hear your foolish arguments and let them decide for themselves who is gridlocking our nation."
It is time to draw a line in the sand. If Sam Houston had had the courage of modern Democrats in the Senate, I'd be living in Northern Chihuahua right now.
Bunning is right and should give the finger to Biden as well. Why vote a pay as you go provision in and turn around 2 weeks later and say an exception to the unemployment benefits should be made. That bill as well as all the others the dumbocraps have put in are not followed. He isn't and neither am I against continuing unemployment benefits but come up with the money somewhere else. Use part of the stimulus money. Don't add to the deficit anymore.
It appears Mr. Bunning has some serious mental health issues.
Where was this clown when bush and the republicans were increasing the deficit faster than all the previous presidents combined? This sudden fiscally conservative epiphany is a joke.
Apparently republican legislators don't have much concern for the working class and the unemployed – many of whom are unemployed because of the abysmal republican administration that posted the lowest job growth in history.
The republicans have no shame.
Bunning is holding the unemployed people of America as "hostages" . He wants a huge piece of pork for his state before he retires. The words about the deficit ring hollow considering his silence on the republican spending in the past. All he has left is pathetic swearing and obscene gestures.
Thank you Bunning for not helping the middle class who have already lost their jobs and will now lose their cobras and supplemental income. All because you want to pay for it first. Why didn't you open your big piehole when your boy Bush decided to start a war on a lie which has cost us $1,000,000,000 and going up. I guess that expenditure is OK. What fools you republicans and tea-baggers are. And so cold-hearted.
I am not against helping those that are out of a job but one thing that must be addressed is that some people will make it a wefare scheme where they say, "The ecnonmy is bad and lose my job so let me sit home if I can get money until the economy really picks up full steam". Will not look for a job because they were making $50,000.00 per year so they are not taking one that pays $35,000.00. The government can use the money to expand the job subsidy program. Let people go and work and susidize part of the wage for a time after which the employer picks the full cost. Also, the government could lower the income tax for everyone but add a National Federal Value Added Tax of about 4% to 6%. This would wipe out the deficit in two and a half years, reduce the national debt by 30% in ten years and help to cover the cost associated with having a public option as part of health care reform. Yes these initiative might seems like political suicide but in two years the country would see the benefit. Crime, corpoate and personal bankcruptcies and the national debt would be significantly reduced. What Americans have to realized is that to cure an ailment sometimes requuire painful measures. No one wants to feel pain. Yes there was the worst recession since the great but do you want to start prospering in the next two years. Work with the President and He and his administration need to be bold. Even health care need to be pass and yes, use reconcilliation to get it done if necessary. The deficit to be eliminated and the national debt reduced. Mr. President Obama and Democrats do not cry about the Republican stance in the Senate in blocking the extension of Cobra payments. This is an opportunity for you to be creative. I agree that it should be paid for before another penny is added to the deficit. Make bold creative moves to get matters under control. If the Republicans again will not support it then use the Reconciliation process at your disposal. You may pay a price in the short term but you will rebound when the people see the benefit. Also, President Obama you are one of the best PR personnel. Sell your ideas to the people who sent you to Washington, don't leave communication up to others unless you get someone who is adepth as you are in communicating.
As usual the Republican leadership proves that it cares more for corporate CEO's in the Defense industry than the little guy on the street.
The lies and misinformation that the Republican leadership are spewing these days is disgraceful.
Pass a bill that looks and sounds good, but then say the rules don't apply to us.
This is what I forgot he didn't do either. The man needs to be set up in a tent for the rest of his life without any of all that money and goodies ex-senators get.
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?
The depths to which Republicans will sink to execute their political game against the Obama administration is shameful. It's a despicable example of what is wrong in America today.
Bunning is retiring to the nut house, this man is mentally ill.
Well t.s. these people need to get off their asses and get jobs. This is America and if they really wanted to work they could find work. They are lazy S.O.B's looking for a free ride. (Just kidding) I wanted to give a repuklican answer.