GOP’s Bunning relents, OKs action on jobless bill
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – A Republican that had been stubbornly blocking a stopgap measure to extend help for the jobless relented on Tuesday under withering assaults from Democrats and dwindling support within his own party.
Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky had been single-handedly blocking the $10 billion measure, causing federal furloughs and threatening the unemployment benefits of hundreds of thousands of people. He was seeking to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so that it wouldn’t add to the deficit, but his move sparked a political tempest that has subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically.
The bill is now slated to come to a vote Tuesday night. It passed the House last week and is likely to be signed into law immediately by President Barack Obama so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work on Wednesday. They’re likely to be awarded back pay once the program is revived.
A law that provided stopgap road funding and longer and more generous unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless expired Monday. Without the extension, about 200,000 jobless people would have lost federal benefits this week alone, according to the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project.
The measure to be voted on tonight would extend through the end of the month several programs that expired on Monday, including the jobless aid, federal highway funding and help for doctors facing cuts in Medicare payments.
It would provide a monthlong extension of the programs to give Congress time to pass a yearlong fix that’s also pending.
Earlier on Tuesday, Bunning objected to a request by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, to pass a 30-day extension of jobless benefits and other expired measures.
When asked Tuesday if Bunning was hurting the Republican Party, Collins said, “He’s hurting the American people.”
Bunning had blocked the stopgap legislation since Thursday to the frustration of Republicans like Collins. She said some 500 people from her state alone would lose their unemployment benefits this week, while doctors will soon have to absorb a 21 percent cut in their Medicare reimbursements.
Frustrated Democrats have been lobbing criticism at Bunning and his fellow Republicans for days. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., implored Bunning to relent and allow a vote.
Reid said that Republicans were pressing him for four votes related to the measure and ways to pay for it without increasing the deficit. Bunning wanted to use leftover money from last year’s stimulus measure, among other options.
Reid, however, would only grant Bunning one vote. Democrats didn’t want to be exposed to potentially difficult votes.
Democrats’ hardball tactics came as they made political gains by attacking Bunning and his fellow Republicans. Major cable news networks carried Tuesday morning’s proceedings live and returned to the topic frequently.
Democrat after Democrat came to the floor Tuesday to attack Republicans for blocking the legislation.
Meanwhile, Reid has called up a $100-billion-plus measure to provide a longer-term extension of unemployment benefits that would last through the end of the year, along with a full-year extension of higher Medicare payments to doctors, help for states with their Medicaid budgets and a continuing a variety of expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses.
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