WASHINGTON (AP) - To the increasing discomfort of his fellow Republicans, Sen. Jim Bunning on Tuesday again blocked the Senate from extending unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless.
The Kentucky Republican objected to a request by Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a fellow Republican, to pass a 30-day extension of jobless benefits and other expired measures. The measure would also extend highway programs and prevent a big cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
Bunning has been single-handedly blocking the stopgap legislation since Thursday, which is frustrating Republicans like Collins. She said some 500 people from her state alone would lose their unemployment benefits this week, while doctors will soon have to absorb a 21 percent cut in their Medicare reimbursements.
Frustrated Democrats have been lobbing attacks at Bunning and his fellow Republicans for days. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., implored Bunning to relent and allow a vote.
But Democrats are also reaping political gains by attacking Bunning and his fellow Republicans. All three major cable news networks carried Tuesday's proceedings live, and two other members of the Democratic leadership, Charles Schumer of New York and Patty Murray of Washington, came to the floor to attack Republicans for blocking the legislation.
"Today we have a clear cut example to show the American people just what's wrong with Washington, D.C.," Murray said. "That is because today one single Republican senator is standing in the way of the unemployment benefits of 400,000 Americans."
"He's hurting the American people," Collins said when asked Tuesday if Bunning was hurting the Republican Party.
Bunning said again Tuesday that he opposed the extension because it would add $10 billion to the budget deficit, and he attacked Democrats for abandoning promises to pay for legislation instead of contributing to a budget deficits projected to hit almost $1.6 trillion this year. Bunning proposes to pay for the extension with unspent money from last year's massive economic recovery package, but Reid objected.
Democrats want to pass the measure with the unanimous permission of all senators, a common tactic to speed non-controversial measures through the notoriously balky Senate. Otherwise it could take almost a week to slog through the procedural steps required to take up the measure and defeat Bunning's filibuster.
Instead, Reid has called up a longer-term extension of unemployment benefits that would last through the end of the year, along with a full-year extension of higher Medicare payments to doctors, help for states with their Medicaid budgets, and a continuing a variety of expired tax breaks for individuals and businesses.
Bunning is retiring from the Senate at the end of the current session, which gives fellow party members little leverage to try to force him to change his mind. Bunning has been feuding with his home state colleague, GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, who privately urged him to retire rather than risk losing the seat to Democrats.