For five harrowing days thousands of unemployed benefit claimants and government employees waiting awaiting pay, one man, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky, brought the United States’ federal legislation on a jobs support Bill to a grinding halt.
Widely regarded as the “angry Senator”, Mr. Bunning stalled the enactment of key legislation designed to extend financing for continued unemployment benefits and payments to federal employees and highway projects. Mr. Bunning said he objected to these schemes, costing $10 billion, not being paid for but simply being financed through an already skyrocketing federal deficit.
Due to the refusal of Senator Bunning to support the unanimous consent action required for passing these financing bills, around 2,000 federal workers in the Department of temporarily lost their insurance cover.
The full list of welfare measures left in limbo due to Mr. Bunning’s actions included unemployment compensation, ‘COBRA’ premiums, Medicare physician payments, Medicare therapy caps, surface transportation programmes, flood insurance programmes, retransmission of television broadcasts, federal poverty guidelines, and Small Business Administration loan guarantees.
Senate Republicans were quick to distance themselves from Mr. Bunning’s stance even as they watched Democrats gearing up to gain some political mileage from the episode. Senator Susan Collins was quoted as saying “Senator Bunning's views do not represent a majority of the Republican caucus.” It was important that the American people understood that there was bipartisan support for extending these vital programmes, she emphasised.
Mr. Bunning finally relented on Tuesday evening and dropped his objections after coming under fire from both sides of the partisan divide. A bipartisan vote of 78-19 then extended the financing for these policies and the President signed into law H.R. 4691, the “Temporary Extension Act of 2010,” providing short-term extensions to the concerned authorities.
Mr. Bunning’s suggestion that the scheme could be financed out of unspent funds under the stimulus bill would appear unlikely to be taken up by Congress in the near future.