Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) promised that he’d be the next Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) if he had to be. And last night, he made good on his threat.
Coburn is blocking unanimous consent on extension of unemployment benefits, just as Bunning did a few weeks ago. Only this time, Coburn’s not alone — the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of the Republican caucus have joined with Coburn, promising to block billions in unemployment benefits just as the Senate is set to leave on a two-week recess.
Due to the timing of the blockade, benefits could expire on April 5, a situation that would not be remedied for a week while the Senate is out of town. Senators will return from their Easter break on April 12.When Bunning blocked the benefits extension in early March, government programs funded by the money — which includes everything from construction work, unemployment payments and doctor’s fees — were only shut down for a matter of hours. This time, with the expiration coming on April 5 while the Senate is in recess, the shutdown could last for days.
Coburn and the Republicans are making the same argument this time that Bunning made back on March 1: if Democrats want to extend the benefits, they need to find a way to pay for them. On the Senate floor, Coburn said he was blocking the benefits on behalf that old political standby, the average Joe.
“You see it is easy to spend other people’s money,” Coburn said on the Senate floor, according top the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Especially if you’re sitting up here with a good pension, drawing a good salary.”
Defending his blockade on the floor today, Coburn turned to the other political stand by, placing a giant photo of an adorable little girl from Oklahoma on an easel next to him as he went on and on about how he was blocking the benefits extension for her.
Democrats have said that the $9 billion benefits extension is emergency spending, and therefore should be funded with deficit spending. They have pledged to pass a new permanent jobless benefits bill that will fund the process through normal spending channels.
Though the situation for unemployed workers and the government programs funded by the blockade is the same this time as it was with Bunning, there’s a bit more Capitol Hill intrigue this time around that makes the process a little different.
Last time, Bunning took action on his won, catching everyone by surprise when he stood and blocked unanimous consent on a bill most expected to sail through without compromise. This time, Coburn gave Democrats warning that he was preparing to do the same thing, which reportedly led to some deal making behind the scenes that fell apart at the last moment.
As Politico reports it, Senate Democrats came to an agreement with the Republicans to shorten the extension from 30 days to two weeks and fully pay for it. But Democrats in the House balked at the plan and said no. Democrats say that Republican plans to pay for the extension with stimulus funds is counter-productive — that money is designed to create jobs, they say, so spending it on unemployment benefits could keep the government from creating more jobs that could get people off jobless rolls for good.
With the hours ticking down until the Senate leaves for its break, it seems less and less likely that another deal will be reached, meaning that the benefits will expire on April 5.