The filibuster started Friday by Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) not only has halted a desperately needed unemployment insurance (UI) extension for millions of America’s jobless workers. By blocking the UI bill, Bunning has caused the furlough of 2,000 transportation workers, halted construction on 41 economic recovery projects in 17 states, forced doctors to take big cuts in Medicare payments and left 1.2 million jobless Americans without COBRA.
And Bunning doesn’t seem to care about who suffers because of his move. This morning, when another Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, asked for unanimous consent to extend the unemployment benefits, Bunning objected again.
Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that 2,000 employees are being furloughed in four agencies. John Gage, president of AFGE, which represents Transportation Department employees, says in a statement:
Clearly it is another example of the flawed filibuster system, which allows one senator to hold hostage the fate of thousands of unemployed Americans with a phony claim of wanting fiscal responsibility.
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Bunning says Congress must abide by rules requiring that new spending be paid for, but as David Waldman reports in Daily Kos, Bunning voted against the very provision requiring that back in January.
Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department (TTD), says:
Sen. Bunning’s actions are not only irresponsible, but they are downright dangerous. In this economy, to purposefully put people out of work is cold-hearted. But it’s even worse that these workers perform essential functions to expand and build our nation’s transportation system and ensure it is safe for all its users.
Bunning’s action has outraged workers across the country. One of Bunning’s constituents, John Bernard of Louisville, told the Louisville Courier-Journal he’s been receiving unemployment since November 2008, when he was laid off from a construction job. He called Bunning a hypocrite for taking his congressional salary.
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He’s getting his check every week, no matter how it gets paid.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Bunning a “one-man wrecking crew” and said:
Sen. Bunning embodies everything that is wrong with the U.S. Senate today: the ability of individual small-minded, selfish politicians to single-handedly prevent the majority from helping people who need help and solving our country’s problems.
Bunning’s move on Friday blocked a vote on a House bill (H.R. 4691) that would have provided a short-term extension of the federal highway bill, extended the unemployment benefits for 30 days after they expired on Feb. 28 and stopped a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. According to Politico, when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who was on the floor, urged Bunning to relent, his response was, “Tough sh*t.”