Bunning filibuster ends, jobless benefits will be extended

The Senate late Tuesday ended Sen. Jim Bunning’s (R-Ky.) two-day filibuster of unemployment benefits and highway projects across the country, although nearly two dozen Senate Republicans voted to support the blockage.

Senators voted 78-19 to pass a $10 billion package of long-term job benefit extensions, Medicare payment improvements and highway projects in 17 states. The vote came after an unsuccessful, 43-53 vote on a substitute amendment by Bunning.

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The 19 ‘no’ votes included GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Robert Bennett (Utah), Bunning, Richard Burr (N.C.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.), John Cornyn (Texas), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Ensign (Nev.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Mike Johanns (Neb.), Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and John Thune (S.D.).

Not voting were Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.). Lautenberg was in the Senate on Tuesday but had been recently diagnosed with cancer; Hutchison was in Texas on the night of her primary election battle for governor, and Byrd had been ill during much of last year although he has attended critical recent votes.

Bunning, who is not running for re-election, had been blasted by Democrats and even criticized by some Republicans for his stand. The Kentucky Republican said he blocked the benefits because he wanted the bill funded by unspent stimulus money. GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), a moderate, joined Democrats in pressing Bunning to relent, and many Republicans — including McConnell, Bunning’s Kentucky colleague and the Republican leader, declined to defend him strongly although McConnell eventually voted to support him.

As the Senate stalled, 2,000 federal transportation workers were furloughed and work projects were stopped in 17 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Kentucky was not one of the states affected.

In the end, Bunning was forced to take the same deal he rejected last week — an amendment on how to pay for the bill. Bunnign will also receive two extra amendments to a one-year extension of the benefits that Democrats plan to pursue later.

Democratic press aides had a field day with Bunning’s filibuster, blasting out several press releases calling attention to the situation, including distributing an editorial criticizing Bunning in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Among Bunning’s few Republican defenders: DeMint, who took to the Senate floor to complain that the bill’s cost will add to the federal deficit. In response, Democratic aides circulated an article from the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier that reported 23,000 South Carolina residents had their benefits stopped by Bunning’s filibuster.

Bunning also appeared likely to drop a sweeping, blanket hold on all federal agency nominees by the Obama administration, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office. GOP Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.) tried the same tactic this winter to force a federal project to be built in his state, but eventually gave in to pressure.