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McConnell Tries, but Can’t Seem to Duck Bunning Questions

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wanted to use his weekly Tuesday afternoon news conference to talk health care reform, and even trotted out Senate Budget ranking member Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) to discuss the perils of Democratic plans to use reconciliation to pass a final reform bill.

But much to his frustration — and Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) delight — all reporters wanted to ask about was Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) continued blockade of legislation to extend federal unemployment and health care benefits and transportation funding. McConnell said he expects an agreement to be reached “in the very near future” on the extension, but for the most part declined to answer questions on the matter.

“Are there any questions on any other subject?” McConnell asked, although he added: “We’re working on this, and we believe we can reach a consent agreement that will allow some amendments and will allow us to approve the short-term measure and move ahead.”

Bunning last Thursday refused to grant unanimous consent to move the 30-day benefits extension forward because the measure wasn’t paid for. Bunning offered to grant unanimous consent if Senate Democrats would offer to pay for it, but Reid declined, arguing that it was up to Republicans to grant consent to advance the legislation.

Bunning’s one-man filibuster — opposed by the GOP leadership and many of his Republican colleagues — has resulted in the expiration of unemployment and health care benefits for thousands of Americans and forced furloughs of hundreds of Transportation Department workers.

The Republicans, Reid said, “have followed now for a year and a half a strategy of blocking everything. They’ve gone too far — they’ve gone too far in blocking these unemployment benefits.”

When asked why he wouldn’t agree to cut other programs to pay for the extension, Reid responded by saying the legislation is one of the routine emergencies the federal government has paid for over the years without providing an offset. He also lashed out at Bunning for being duplicitous in demanding that the pay-as-you-go laws be followed in this instance.

“It’s interesting the person that’s caused all the trouble for the Republicans is now out there lecturing the country on PAYGO, something he didn’t vote for. He’s lecturing the country on deficits,” Reid said. “He wasn’t too worried about them during eight years of the Bush administration; two wars were unpaid for, all these tax cuts to the tune of trillions of dollars. And, it’s interesting, he voted against establishing a debt commission.”

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