The Senate failed to pass a $10 billion measure that would extend unemployment benefits that are set to expire for 1.1 million Americans this weekend.
Late on Thursday and again Friday morning, Kentucky's Republican Sen. Jim Bunning managed to stop passage of a measure that includes a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits. Bunning demanded that the Senate find $10 billion worth of cuts to pay for the larger package of government programs that includes loans for small businesses, money for highway projects, an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program and subsidies for health insurance premiums made through the COBRA program.
The House passed the 30-day extension for the programs on Thursday, leaving Bunning as the sole obstacle to the measure's passage. He has has vowed to fight the extensions as long as they add to the deficit. Bunning has suggested that the government should pay for the extensions with unspent money from the economic recovery package enacted a year ago, but Democrats did not approve.
"I believe we should pay for it," Bunning said in an Associated Press report. "I'm trying to make a point to the people of the United States of America."
Holding the Senate Hostage
If Bunning continues to successfully make his point, 1.1 million workers whose benefits expire after this Sunday will have to wait until Congress passes a more significant extension -- which is on the Senate calendar for March 2. Considering that it took months to pass the last long-term extension of unemployment benefits, millions of Americans may be left without vital financial resources for weeks or even months while Congress debates the measure's passage.
Bunning, who announced that he will retire at the end of this year, can afford to stick to his principles since he has no fear of being ousted in a campaign. While he has conceded that the measure will probably pass anyway, it seems he's trying to go out with a bang.
With November elections looming, Democrats fear Republicans are willing to use a lapse in unemployment benefits as another reason for voters to oust incumbent Democrats. Democratic Senator Dick Durbin noted that Republicans have supported extending unemployment benefits in the past without offsetting the costs with cuts.
"We are in a serious recession, millions of Americans are out of work," Durbin told AP. "It is simply unfair for one senator to attempt to hold the Senate hostage on this issue."