The Senate Democrats on the "Bunning Blockade"
by Charles Lemos, Tue Mar 02, 2010 at 04:38:20 PM EST
Members of the Democratic caucus speak out on Senator Bunning's blockade of extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called it "immoral" while Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio said the GOP's actions were "unconscionable."
Today, in an editorial in Senator Bunning's home state of Kentucky the Lexington Herald-Leader described Senator Bunning's actions as "callous grandstanding."
As long as Republicans were in charge, Sen. Jim Bunning was OK with trading a surplus for a deficit. He voted to put two wars, tax cuts and a Medicare drug benefit on the nation's credit card.
Now that Republicans are no longer in charge, Bunning is drawing the line on deficit spending. He's doing it in a way that shows callous contempt for the more than one in 10 working Kentuckians whose jobs disappeared in the economic meltdown.
We've become accustomed to bizarre, egocentric behavior from Bunning. So it wasn't all that surprising when he single-handedly blocked an unemployment benefits extension for a million people, including 119,230 in Kentucky, whose benefits run out this year. About 14,000 Kentuckians will exhaust their benefits in two weeks without the extension.
Bunning's filibuster also denies newly laid-off workers help paying for health insurance. It halts road and bridge projects around the country by furloughing 2,000 federal transportation employees, stops reimbursements to state highway programs and cuts Medicare payments to doctors.
To those who know him, it's not surprising that Bunning answered a Democratic colleague's complaint with a crude profanity. Or that he joked about missing a basketball game while pushing some unemployed Kentuckians into homelessness or bankruptcy.
The Lexington Herald-Leader also chastised Trey Grayson and Rand Paul, the leading Republicans to succeed the retiring-at-the-end-of-term Bunning, for jumping on Senator Bunning's one-man band wagon of obstructionism.
The McClatchy News also provides an overview of the impact of the Bunning Blockade:
The Department of Transportation furloughed nearly 2,000 employees without pay Monday as the government began to feel the impact of Republican Sen. Jim Bunning's one-man blockage of legislation that would keep a host of federal programs operating.
Bunning's "hold" also affects jobless benefits for thousands of unemployed workers, rural television customers, doctors receiving Medicare payments and others.
Bunning wants the $10 billion price of extending the programs offset by reductions in spending elsewhere in the budget to not drive up the deficit.
Absent that, his objections to proceed with the legislation deny the Senate the "unanimous consent" that Senate rules require for going forward under expedited procedure. The Senate can overcome his objection if 60 of its 100 members vote to do so. So far they haven't, and doing that would take at least four days under Senate rules.
"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," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed."
Federal projects shut down include more than $38 million in project funding for Idaho's Nez Perce National Forest and Fernan Lakes Idaho Panhandle National Forest and $86 million for bridge replacements in the Washington, D.C., area. Bunning's home state of Kentucky has no projects affected by his action.
However, nearly 1.2 million unemployed workers, including 14,000 in Kentucky, would lose federal jobless benefits this month if Congress doesn't extend them, according to the National Employment Law Project, a liberal-leaning research group. The U.S. Labor Department estimates that about a third will lose benefits in the first two weeks of the month.
Letting the highway program lapse could mean an estimated 90,000 jobs lost. As many as 2 million families could lose access to local television because a copyright law expired overnight.
States hardest hit by the Monday cutoff, according to the law project, would be California, where an estimated 201,274 people could lose help, and Florida, where the total is an estimated 105,016. Other potential state totals: Georgia, 48,284; Texas, 82,850 and Illinois, 65,431.
Senator Sanders and Senator Brown were on the mark. Senator Bunning's hold is immoral and unconscionable. It's a blockade of government.