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. harvey

    Senator Bunning is my hero! BUNNING FOR PRESIDENT!

    March 1, 2010 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  2. Jim

    I commend the actions of Senator Bunning. I am glad someone is finally willing to stand up to this spending orgy in Washington. The only "political games" being played here are those by the Democrats. Bunning has an excellent point that has gone unaddressed – if we all agree to this bill, why can't we cut something to pay for it? It is a simple but telling question. Democrats are spending unchecked and it is out of control. They refuse to apply even the smallest amount of fiscal restraint. Harry Reid's position that "Bush did it so it's ok" is getting old. Bush was just as wrong then as Reid is today. Thank you, Senator Bunning for stepping up to the plate. If it takes some people not getting their government cheese next month, then so be it.

    March 1, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  3. seebofubar

    You do need a lecture from the GOP! Your president signed the pay as you go bill, if you want to spend 10 billion, cut 10 billion, that simple.

    March 1, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  4. Laverne

    What is so sad and so ridiculous is that these republican folk are being obstructionist just because they can. They don't care how it is going to affect the American people, just as long as they can make some kind of sick point. But what is even more sickening is that the American people seem to be siding with the republicans who got us in this mess in the first place. Democrats have been in charge for 1 year to dig out 8 years worth of mess and all of a sudden the republicans have all the answers. I am sorry, but the American people need more than a paycheck they need a reality check FIRST! Senator Bunning is a mad, resentful man who is trying to make a statement by halting a very important piece of legistration. WAKE UP AMERICA, OBAMA IS NOT THE ONE WHO IS THE ENEMY!

    March 1, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  5. David in Texas

    And all this from a man who has no problem stealing 75% of all proceeds from his own charity (Jim Bunning Foundation). Yes, that's correct...look into it.

    T*me Magazine was correct when it named this man one of "America's Five Worst Senators"!

    For shame...

    March 1, 2010 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  6. buckwheat

    it is funny that we can get any politician, Democrat or Republican, to stand for what is right unless they are about to fall on a government sword made out of cream puffs and perks these crooks have taken from taxpayers.There is not but one politician up there that is not taking a pension when he leaves and he has been there since the beginning of time and that is Congressman Howard Coble from North Carolina. He has had a touch of the Potomac flue when he was undecided about supporting the war in Iraq but he has come around when flak started to get close to him here in his district.

    March 1, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  7. The Calabash Kid

    If the Continental Congress had had the courage of modern Democrats, there would be 13 colonies on the east coast today and the rest of North America would be speaking French and Spanish. If Abraham Lincoln had had the courage of modern Democrats, the Confederacy would be alive and well and slaves would be serving their white masters in California and Oregon. If Franklin Roosevelt had had the courage of modern day Democrats, we would all be speaking German and troops would be goose-stepping around Washington DC today. If Harry Truman had had the courage of modern Democrats, we would all be speaking Russian (Europe too) and standing in line seven hours for a can of pork fat and a bottle of oil.

    As near as I can tell, all of the Democrats in Congress suffer from charactophobia, which is fear of growing a spine.

    March 1, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  8. Chris

    This is why we need term limits on all members of Congress!! These guys are just too old to be in office!! I mean can you believe the nerve of this guy to hold up money that is needed for everyday people!!
    I hope America is listening and come November VOTE THE GOP OUT OF CONGRESS PERIOD!!!

    March 1, 2010 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  9. Jaxson

    Republican Bunning can take his finger, stick it where the sun don't shine and twirl on it....he'll probably get a real turn-on from it!

    March 1, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  10. Russell Everson

    Senator Jim Bunning is just one of both parties holding the nation hostage on every major issue that comes before them. Each one of the current members of Congress is interested in his own self interest or the interest of the party. Not one has the TOTAL interest of the americam people. Each american is sitting home in his living room hurting over one isue or another while our representatives are sitting, comfortably, in a conference room planning how to close down the other party.

    It has been said that "democracy is self correcting." Is it time that we call for a total recall of all members of congress with a movement similar to the efforts of the "Tee Party?" Where can we get some national leadership to pursue the possibility?

    March 1, 2010 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  11. Olivia

    Republican Bunning's grave will be saturated with piss someday.

    March 1, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  12. lamar

    typical, im an independent, both sides(d,r)need to get their heads out of sand and remember they work for the american people.

    March 1, 2010 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  13. Jeff Baker

    Mr. Bunning has never needed help in his life. There are Americans out of work who try everyday to find work that's not there. With the money the government waste daily you think we could justify cutting these programs to keep people from becoming more desparate to survive. Let's help out of work families before anyone else! Mr. Bunning you should be ashamed. I know you will never have to answer for your slight of these needy families while your on earth. But there will be a more divine judge someday

    March 1, 2010 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  14. Repugnants are Taliban

    Every American should remember this as the sign of a sure Repugliban this Fall as they go to elections, then we wont have to deal with these slithering snakes any further.

    March 1, 2010 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  15. Annie

    I hope this reallllllllly hurts the GOP. Unemployed Americans need to unite and hold the party accountable. The GOP chose Sen. Bunning to do their dirty work. Behind the scenes, they're laughing their heads off and the chaos they've created.

    March 1, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  16. Janie

    What are people going to do! My husband and I are both unemployed and scared to death of losing everything> We have always worked.
    I do not want to be homeless!!!! I am rally SCARED. I wish we could find jobs but we have not yet. And the older you are the harder it is.

    March 1, 2010 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  17. Vincent Petrosino

    What do you expect from a 77 year-old white angry fool who is not running again because his party will not back him. This is a spite tactic on the part of this old, useless GOPer from Kentucky. HIs colleague from Kentucky, McConnell, needs to talk to him as well as other GOP obstructionists. This is hurting many Kentucky families as well. WOW! What a way to exercise your responsibilities!

    March 1, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |

    Jim Bunning is right, he is perfect in Politics as he was in baseball.

    March 1, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  19. D.

    Fiscal responsibility first, my friends!
    Do not make the "good" look "bad," it is not 1984 all over again!!
    Yes, and Pelosi telling house members to vote against the people's will is something "good" too (under a "sacrifice" agenda)! And Obama telling McCain "campaign is over" (essentially saying: so we can be corrupt now, ignoring our promises) is also "good".

    Start to understand that a lot of the democratic agenda "sounds good" but is inherently "bad" (even under the press cover), and the people are watching!

    March 1, 2010 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  20. Everyone's Child

    Speaking as one of those unemployed Americans, a 47 yr-old with 25 years of solid work experience I can certainly tell what the Republicans think about the working class. They are treating us like pawns.

    Each day without benefits, benefits that cannot be paid retroactively, puts American families already living on the edge closer to real disaster. But hey, there is always the food pantry right? Oh I forgot Bunning eats at our expense every day.

    I used to vote for Republican candidates, as recently as 2009, never again. I say used to because I will never again even consider a Republican the rest of my life.

    When you intentionally disrupt my ability to feed my family you become my enemy. You hear that Republicans?

    March 1, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  21. The lonely Libertarian of Liverpool NY

    Excuse me! What is the difference between these two parties? All I know is both have had a monopoly on my freedom for my entire lifetime (53YRS), and year after year I work and struggle and get no where. Every year the taxes and fees to feed the massive Government go up and the value of the Dollar goes down.
    How can you folks continue to vote for these people who refuse to represent you? How can you vote for these two parties who have done nothing to your right to individual Liberty?
    Vote Congress out, “you are fired” if they are in. Vote them out this fall no matter what party they belong to and in the next election and every election going forward until they become the servants of the people once more.

    March 1, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  22. jerseylou

    IT'S about time you people stop take prisoners.

    March 1, 2010 04:19 pm at 4:19 pm |
  23. Repugnants are Taliban

    Just like Repugliban Dick Cheney, a typical Repugliban action this, no big surprise at least he is acting the way the whole party feels about the American citizens, they disgust Repuglibans unless they have a pants load of cash.

    March 1, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  24. Mitch

    Now if it was a big bank tax relief bill...Bunning would have raised his hand, not his finger to vote yes. but since it's the poor folk of America...well, that's not what the GOP wants to help.

    March 1, 2010 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  25. Sue

    The money for the unemployment extensions should be coming from the unspent stimulous money-–NOT print/borrow even more money.

    March 1, 2010 04:21 pm at 4:21 pm |
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