Bunning, Dems trade shots over expired jobless benefits

Bunning (R-Ky.) laid the blame on Democrats for not paying for the cost of extending benefits by either cutting spending elsewhere or raising taxes.

Democrats said helping the unemployed should qualify as “emergency spending” that doesn’t have to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases.

At issue are hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers who will lose the benefits without action by Congress.

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Congress left for a two-week recess without extending the unemployment insurance program that provides up to 99 weeks of jobless aid, meaning roughly 200,000 people each week will go off the program until an extension is signed into law, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

Democrats on Monday appeared to welcome Bunning’s reappearance as a player on the issue.

The Kentucky Republican, who is retiring at the end of this Congress, became Democrats' favorite target last month for single-handedly blocking an earlier extension.

On Monday he re-entered the debate with a statement blaming Democrats for the gap in coverage.

“Before the Senate adjourned for the Easter Recess, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats had agreed to pass a one-week extension of unemployment benefits that was fully paid for,” Bunning said in the statement. “Unfortunately, the House Democrat leadership said no, and then Congress left town knowing the benefits would expire.”

Democrats quickly returned fire.

“Families across the country are looking for some help as they try to make end meet and he wants their unemployment benefits to be paid for?” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Tax cuts for the wealthy are okay, but now all of sudden the budget needs to be balanced on the back of the working men and
women of this country.”

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine said Republicans were again putting “partisan politics ahead of the needs of American families.”

“By actively working against an extension of those benefits, Senate Republicans have cut a gaping hole in America’s social safety net, and now hundreds of thousands of American families are falling through,” Kaine said. “This isn’t the first time Republicans in Congress have blocked such an extension, and it likely won’t be the last.”

Bunning had held up an earlier extension for a week in March before allowing a vote after he came under pressure not just from Democrats but from centrist Republicans. That measure eventually passed with bipartisan support and was signed by President Barack Obama.

The latest push for an additional extension stalled when Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) objected, again because the bill's $9.2 billion cost wasn't offset. Coburn has said the Senate shouldn’t add to the country's $12.8 trillion debt. Unlike Bunning, he has received backing from Republican leaders and the rest of the Senate GOP Conference.

 A Senate GOP aide said Senate Democrats wouldn't be able to land clean attacks on Bunning and other Republicans this time around, since both sides in the upper chamber had nearly struck a compromise.

“No matter how they try to spin away the blame, the simple fact remains that after [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi rejected a bipartisan Senate agreement, Democrats alone voted to leave town before benefits could be extended,” the aide said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has attacked Reid and other Democrats in Senate races this year for refusing to compromise on extending the jobless aid, which Republicans said they support as long as they're paid for.

“For Harry Reid, this debate isn’t about helping the unemployed or trying to put people back to work – it’s about the Democrats trying to score cheap political points on an issue that will critically affect workers across America,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said in a release last month. “Voters can see through Harry Reid’s partisan hypocrisy and they understand that he is a big spending liberal whose shame knows no bounds.”


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