Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) is widely understood to be one of the upper chamber’s crankiest members. But his latest episode could keep thousands of out of work Americans from receiving unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits. And it comes at a time when joblessness is through the roof.
Here’s what’s happening. Ninety-nine of the Senate’s 100 members have agreed that people whose benefits are set to run out should be allowed to continue receiving them past the February 28 deadline. One senator–Bunning–disagrees. He says the benefits should only be extended if they’re paid for with stimulus dollars. Democrats don’t like that at all.
If Bunning were to relent, the extensions would be granted automatically. But, per the Senate rules, any single member can throw a wrench into an otherwise universal agreement.Unsurprisingly, Bunning couldn’t care less about any of it: “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.
At one point in the discussion, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), asked Bunning to drop his objection. Bunning, according to Politico, had a two word answer for his colleague: “Tough shit.”
Under normal circumstances Bunning’s obstruction would be a minor headache. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could force a vote to end the debate and the extensions would pass within a couple days. But February 28 is fast approaching, and most Senators are already back in their home states, meaning the benefits will likely not be renewed until the middle of next week.
Bunning’s objections led to a series of unusually angry exchanges on the Senate floor late into the evening last night–and Senate Democrats have been blasting Bunning for depriving his own constituents of needed assistance. But so far, to no avail.
Republicans, for their part, may not have given Bunning their blessing. But they’re not doing anything to stop him, and instead are blaming Democrats for not scheduling a vote earlier.