Last month, Sen. Jim “tough sh*t” Bunning (R-KY) was joined by a cohort of Republicans in blocking an extension of unemployment benefits. And last week, the GOP decided to put together a sequel, with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) stepping into Bunning’s role. While Bunning was eventually worn down last time, Coburn had enough support for his stand that the Senate adjourned without extending benefits, which means that, for at least one week, some recipients of benefits will see them run out.
That their obstruction is actually going to have a concrete effect has triggered some introspection among Republicans. However, it hasn’t led them to rethink their current position. Instead, as Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) revealed, it’s made them decide that they should have lent more support to Bunning last time around:
“We didn’t give [Bunning] as much help as we probably should have,” Kyl said at a press conference…”I think the sentiment [over the growing deficit] has been there for a long time,” Kyl said. “It took an act of courage like Sen. Bunning’s to perhaps jolt people into the awareness of how bad it had really gotten.“
Kyl added that, while he’s not sure the entire GOP caucus will agree to continue blocking the benefits after Congress returns from recess, “the sentiment will be much stronger going forward than it has been in the past.” Coburn added that people whose benefits run out will actually appreciate the GOP’s obstruction. “Hopefully they’re not going to stay unemployed, and when they’re reemployed, one of two things is going to happen: Either we’re going to cut spending or somebody’s going to raise their taxes,” he said.
Of course, it’s not like support for Bunning was in short supply when he took his stand. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) called him a “national hero,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said that he respected Bunning’s for standing “like a solid rock,” and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) added that he admired Bunning’s “courage.”
According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), one million people will see their benefits expire in April without an extension, while 212,000 are going to lose their benefits over the Congressional recess. “It is unacceptable that Congress has, for a second time, failed to extend the existing federal benefits programs with so many people counting on this assistance. We have been down this road already and seen the turmoil it caused. Congress cannot continue to play games with people’s lives,” said Christine Owens, Executive Director of NELP.
Of course, these numbers may not mean anything to Republicans, since they seem to believe that unemployment benefits create “hobos,” and “turn the ‘safety net’ into a hammock.” Earlier this month, 16 Republican senators from states with double-digit unemployment voted against an extension of unemployment benefits.