Senate Republicans sought Tuesday to insulate themselves from the damage caused by Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) filibuster of a bill that would extend unemployment and health benefits and highway programs.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) took to the floor Tuesday morning to ask that the Senate vote within hours on the bill so that thousands of furloughed federal highway workers could go back to work and the unemployed could see a resumption of their jobless benefits. Bunning’s filibuster, which he kicked off Thursday, caused those provisions to expire Sunday night. The retiring Kentucky Republican wants the measure paid for.
Bunning objected to Collins’ request, as he has to nearly a dozen requests from Democrats for similar rapid resolutions to the standoff.
Collins said she was proffering the request on behalf of herself and “numerous” other GOP Senators with whom she had spoken.
“There are 500 Mainers whose benefits expired on Sunday. The COBRA health insurance benefits subsidies for the unemployed, important flood insurance, highway funding, small business loans” expired, Collins said on the floor. “If we don’t act, physicians all across this country are going to have a 21 percent cut in their Medicare reimbursements. Madam President, I hope that we can act together for the American people, and again I want to emphasize that this issue is so important to Senators on both sides of the aisle.”
But in objecting, Bunning took a shot at his own party and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he read a letter from a constituent who praised his stand against the bill. McConnell and Bunning have a frosty relationship — it hit a low point last year as Bunning was deliberating over whether to seek another Senate term.
“It’s too bad Sen. Mitch McConnell and some of the elected officials on your side of the aisle do not have the backbone or your sense of decency when it comes to keeping their promises to the American people,” Bunning quoted his constituent from Louisville as writing.
Bunning is still insisting that the 30-day extension be paid for from stimulus funds before he allows a quick vote on the House-passed measure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has offered to hold a vote on a Bunning amendment to offset the bill, but Bunning refused on the basis that his proposal would likely fail.