WASHINGTON - The Department of Transportation furloughed nearly
2,000 employees without pay Monday as the government began to feel the
impact of Republican Sen. Jim Bunning's one-man blockage of legislation
that would keep a host of federal programs operating.
Bunning's "hold" also affects jobless benefits for thousands of
unemployed workers, rural television customers, doctors receiving
Medicare payments and others.
wants the $10 billion price of extending the programs offset by
reductions in spending elsewhere in the budget to not drive up the
that, his objections to proceed with the legislation deny the Senate
the "unanimous consent" that Senate rules require for going forward
under expedited procedure. The Senate can overcome his objection if 60
of its 100 members vote to do so. So far they haven't, and doing that
would take at least four days under Senate rules.
families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly
disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important
construction projects around the country," Transportation Secretary Ray
LaHood said in a statement. "This means that construction workers will
be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be
Federal projects shut down include more than $38
million in project funding for Idaho's Nez Perce National Forest and
Fernan Lakes Idaho Panhandle National Forest and $86 million for bridge
replacements in the Washington, D.C., area. Bunning's home state of
Kentucky has no projects affected by his action.
1.2 million unemployed workers, including 14,000 in Kentucky, would
lose federal jobless benefits this month if Congress doesn't extend
them, according to the National Employment Law Project, a
liberal-leaning research group. The U.S. Labor Department estimates
that about a third will lose benefits in the first two weeks of the
Letting the highway program lapse could mean an estimated
90,000 jobs lost. As many as 2 million families could lose access to
local television because a copyright law expired overnight.
hardest hit by the Monday cutoff, according to the law project, would
be California, where an estimated 201,274 people could lose help, and
Florida, where the total is an estimated 105,016. Other potential state
totals: Georgia, 48,284; Texas, 82,850 and Illinois, 65,431.
Bunning defended his action Monday on the Senate floor:
we can't find $10 billion to pay for it, then we're not going to pay
for anything. The debt that we have arrived at, even the head of the
Federal Reserve Bank, chairman (Ben) Bernanke, said it's
Bunning's encounter with ABC News
weeks ago, Congress passed legislation requiring that most new programs
must be paid for rather than adding to the budget deficit. Asked why
supporters of these programs don't find a way to pay for them, Sen. Amy
Klobuchar, D-Minn., said "This is an emergency stopgap."
Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky's senior senator, whose
relationship with Bunning hasn't always been warm, was unhappy that
unemployment benefits were allowed to lapse.
supports extending unemployment benefits and is disappointed they have
expired," said Robert Steurer, a McConnell spokesman. " . . . However,
he hopes this issue is resolved quickly so that Kentuckians who are out
of work will have their benefits restored soon."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voiced similar sentiments.
hard to argue with a senator who wants to become fiscally responsible,
and we should be paying for as much as possible. I respect the right of
each senator to hold up major legislation," Graham said. "However, when
it comes to unemployment benefits, I don't think it's fair to punish
people who've already lost their jobs. You have to be realistic
sometimes. The money is running out.
"For people who have lost
their jobs, unemployment benefits may be the only income they've got. .
. . I'm willing to move forward to help them."
White House Press
Secretary Robert Gibbs said Bunning's latest maneuvering is part of a
broader problem in recent years in the Senate. "We can't even get an
emergency extension of health and unemployment benefits for those whose
benefits expired at midnight," Gibbs said Monday.
The Senate will
act Tuesday at the earliest, but approval is likely to be delayed until
later in the week. The Senate is now considering a different version of
the extension, one that's expected to attract several amendments that
could slow it down. Once the Senate passes the measure, it still must
pass the House of Representatives.
Democrats pounced on both
Bunning and his party for "obstructionist politics." Bunning, 78, a
former Hall of Fame pitcher, isn't running for a third Senate term.
Kentucky Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, a Democratic candidate for
Bunning's seat, pledged to hold a protest rally if unemployment
benefits aren't restored. Mongiardo also encouraged Kentuckians to call
Bunning's offices to complain.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Republican
Rand Paul's Senate campaign will hold a supportive rally Tuesday
afternoon in front of Bunning's Lexington, Ky., office.
(James Rosen and Margaret Talev contributed to this article from Washington.)