Monday, March 1, 2010

Lone Republican Senator blocking a million-plus Americans from receiving unemployment benefits

Sarah Palin stormed the bestseller list last year with "Going Rogue"-a political memoir whose title coyly referenced the former GOP vice presidential nominee's supposed defiance of the consultants running the McCain campaign. But this year we have a new poster boy for the Going Rogue playbook: GOP Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky. For the past week, Bunning has been single-handedly blocking more than a million Americans from receiving unemployment and COBRA health insurance benefits, as of today, when their benefits funded under the 2009 stimulus law run out. The suspension of benefits affects everyone from doctors to government employees.

Since cutting health and unemployment benefits isn't the most popular thing to do in a job-starved recession, the Senate had reached near unanimity on extending these programs. But near-unanimous isn't enough when senators are looking to stretch out the lifespan of benefits about to lapse-they need to reach unanimous consent. And that requirement has delivered a great deal of power into Bunning's hands-- power that has allowed him to block the extension until the Senate find $10.3 billion in spending cuts elsewhere to fund the safety-net spending.

"I believe we should pay for it," Bunning said. "I'm trying to make a point to the people of the United States."

Bunning has long been something of an outlier, even within his own caucus. Last year, he announced his plans to retire, having received de facto votes of no confidence from most Senate campaign strategists. And now that he's got nothing to lose next November, he's bucking all kinds of pressure from GOP leaders, who argue that Bunning's quixotic stand has done nothing to improve the party's "party of no" image.

And indeed, Bunning has seemed oddly cavalier about the broader fallout from his one-man crusade -except that is, when it comes to his own college hoops-viewing schedule. "I have missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9:00 and it's the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina since they're the only team that has beat Kentucky this year," he said on the Senate floor last Thursday night. Later, when a Senate colleague pleaded with him to drop his objections to the extension, Bunning reportedly responded by saying, "Tough sh*t."

Many on the right and the left have weighed in on Bunning's stance in recent days. The Atlantic Monthly's Megan McArdle called it "political poison," as she says that even conservatives are sympathetic to the needs of the nation's jobless right now. She added that Bunning's efforts would probably be better served if he found "some useless defense appropriations to complain about" instead. And well before this latest flap, blogger Matt Welch wrote in a review of Bunning's odd, belligerent career that the lawmaker has obviously "lost his marbles."

Still, some conservative writers are hailing Bunning's efforts., for instance, praised the senator for "standing strong for the American people," adding that Bunning showed courage in daring "to ask the simple question of how these extensions would be paid for."

One thing is quite clear: Senator Bunning is not backing down. When questioned today by ABC reporter Jonathan Karl in the hallway of the Hart Office Building, Bunning refused to answer any questions about his actions. When Karl attempted to follow him into the elevator with a cameraman in tow, Bunning yelled "Excuse me! This is a Senator's only elevator!" And to drive the point home, Karl writes, the senator "walked toward the elevator and shot the middle finger over his head."

h/t yahoo news

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