March 1st, 2010
03:33 PM ET
13 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. Gary

    What can you expect from the Party of No? Now if it were Bunning's family that would go hungry or lose his home, the bill would pass in a heartbeat. This guy has held up progress on both sides of the aisle. Glad to see him go!

    March 1, 2010 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  2. haren

    You guys gave us 8 years of Bush, now we can not stand this heart less hypocrite republicans worried about deficit when we have worst economy.

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

    The poster child(grumpy old man) for hypocrisy.
    Find a way to pay for the perpetual wars or brings the troops home now!

    March 1, 2010 03:51 pm at 3:51 pm |
  4. Mike in MN

    Obama, Pelosi and Reid continue to attack any Republican, conservative or Tea Party activist who points out that the deficit spending has got to stop, that the deficits have grown so large they are now dangerous and not sustainable.
    But it is not just Repuplicans, conservatives and Tea Party activists who are pointing out that the spending and deficit levels are not sustainable. The CBO has been saying the same thing for over a year now. When the CBO did it's ten year projections on Obama's first budget a year ago, they said the deficts were dangerous and not sustainable. The CBO did not say that about the deficits under Bush becasue even though they were larger than anyone would have wanted, they were in fact sustainable. And Ben Bernanke has been saying for months now that Congress can not keep up the deficit spending, it is dangerous.
    And what do Obama and Pelosi and Reid do about it? They grandstand on pretending they will really use pay as you go and grandstand on creating commissions to reduce the deficit. And then apparently thinking they have fooled everyone, keep trying to pass new spending bills that are not paid for or, as Obama recently just did, submit a new budget which increases spending by another 300 billion over the previous budget without paying for it.
    The American people are not stupid, we are not fooled.

    March 1, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  5. Angie in PA

    Sen Reid is right all these Republicans crying and whining about spending but it was ok to Fund 2 wars pass a huge tax cut for the wealthy not to mention the billions of dollars perscription drug plan not paid for AND ALL OF THESE THINGS HAPPENED UNDER REPUBLICANS But once again when it comes to helping Americans REPUBLICANS ARE THE PARTY OF NO Shame on this scum!

    March 1, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  6. Sgt. USMC

    This is why we need to get rid of as many repugs as possible in November. The way they have behaved for the past decade can only be described as childish and dangerous. We need to make it clear that we will not stand for this.

    March 1, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  7. sonny chapman

    Objecting to fighting two wars by deficit spending & refusing to repeal tax cuts for the wealthy who aren't fighting in those wars, emboldens the "enemy" & demoralizes the troops.

    March 1, 2010 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  8. james

    The GOP are a piece of work, they really are. They refuse to own up for the things that happened during the 12 years they had the majority and now are whining about the spending. The so-called Louisiana Purchase that they are bashing the La. Senator was requested by the REPUBLICAN governor and yet Landrieu is the one being blamed for it. Almost all of the Red States are getting more federal money than they pay in tax revenues. SO WHEN are they going to stop spending?

    Why is it that they will give the money to Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, or Haliburton; but, they strenously object to giving it to the actual people who are paying the bills????

    March 1, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  9. rice, bryan

    bunning the deifintion of screw the little guy!

    March 1, 2010 03:53 pm at 3:53 pm |
  10. rice, bryan

    bunning the definition of screw the little guy!

    March 1, 2010 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  11. tom

    Why should the President keep running up the defecit higher. When President Bush was in office the defecit was was 2 trillion and the public complained, so they voted President Obama in and a bunch of democrats. Now that the defecit is 13 trillion what do you suggest, borrow more money from China, or stop running up bills.
    When you get laid off from a job you look for another job, you just don't sit home and look for a gov't hand out because someone has to pay it back.

    March 1, 2010 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  12. coreywalker

    I just don't understand how the party that got us in this won't to complain about their mess.

    March 1, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  13. Michael

    We Need To Bring Our Troops Back Start Taxing Companies Like Half Of There Earnings If They Wanna Leave The US For Jobs Over Seas And The People Who Dont Deserve Social Security And Disability Need To Lose Them Because If We Dont Do Anything About All This The US Is Going To Hit Rock Bottom And We Will Not Be Able To Get Back On Our Feet As Long As We Got Crooked People In The House And On The Senate Floor

    March 1, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  14. Marc

    The worst part of this story?
    What are the odds of this dude, the one who blocked the extension, of getting reelected in November?
    Check it for yourself!!!

    March 1, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  15. Michael

    These repuglican hypocrites, are addicted to neocon narcissism that leaves out the poor and needy! For 8 years, repuglicans passed bills, Child medicare disability, 2.7 trillion dollars in tax cuts, 2 Wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), and domestic spending programs without paying for them! Due to non-paying for their programs, repuglicans left a burden of over 8 trillion dollar debt for President Obama and 1.3 trillion yearly deficit! Now, they want to play politics with the unemployed! I HAD ENOUGH WHEN REPUGLICANS PLAYED POLITICS WITH HEALTHCARE (DEATH PANELS, KILLING GRANDMA ETC)!

    March 1, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  16. Four and The Door

    It's delightful to see someone in the Senate standing up for the American taxpayer. The Democratic leadership in the Senate, the House and the Administration has no idea what fiscal responsibility is all about. It's time to learn!

    March 1, 2010 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  17. Mark

    Good for you Bunning.
    Ask yourself people, do we need an unemployment extension or a speed rail from Oregon to Wshington?

    March 1, 2010 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  18. B.K.M.

    What would he care he is retireing anyway and should, being they do nothing for the normal working class. If It doesn't make them money they beat it to death. America has a resolution to all this political stupidity. They will be voting each and every incumbant out of office come election time. It is time to clean the House and Senate and spray the disinfectant when they leave.

    March 1, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  19. michael

    Betcha Bunning continues to draw a salary. Probably even voted to give himself a raise.

    March 1, 2010 04:00 pm at 4:00 pm |
  20. RS

    wow a GOP senator that doesn't care about the less fortunate...big surprise there

    March 1, 2010 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  21. Molly Weasley

    Of course, Sen. Jim Bunning voted AGAINST the pay-go legislation. When the GOP was in charge, he also voted FOR funding many, many items - including two wars - without having any idea how to pay for them.

    Bunning is mad about everything. He's mad that he can't run for re-election because he knows he would lose. He's mad that the GOP leadership made him drop his re-election bid.

    It's not just poor folks not getting unemployment benefits. He put a few thousand people out of work today because the federal money that funded their construction projects froze.

    Why did the good people of Kentucky ever elect him, anyway? Just because he once pitched a perfect game and is in the Baseball Hall of Fame?

    This should be a lesson to voters, no matter what side they're on: Look at your candidates much more carefully. Do your homework.

    March 1, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  22. Rich

    That is absolutely terrible. What a heartless response. In many ways it appears that some Republicans are akin to the Pharisees of old. The make heavy burdens and are unwilling to lift them with their little finger. There is a religious fervor from many who portend to be religious but ignore compassion and care for those who need help.

    March 1, 2010 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  23. Robert

    Unemployment benefits should never have been "extended" in the first place. It's unfair to those who are unemployed yet don't qualify for unemployment benefits. If congress is going to give a handout, they should give it to everyone who is unemployed, not just those who were lucky enough to have jobs in the first place.

    March 1, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  24. jake

    this is what your good republicans do for the working middle class...................... give em hell harry

    March 1, 2010 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  25. al in memphis

    Well, this country is in a pickle. We have no money and plenty of debt. I wish it was a simple as shutting the government down until we paid off some of the debt, but it is not. Who is going to be brave enough to do the right thing.
    Beside we got wars to fight so the big corporations can get their money.

    March 1, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
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