Over the weekend, approximately 400,000 laid-off workers may have lost their unemployment benefits, COBRA subsidies to help defray health care costs expired, and loans for small businesses ran out of time — all because of Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY).
Last week, the House passed an extension of these benefits. Bunning, however, blocked the Senate from moving forward over “a dispute over how [the bill] should be funded,” and complained that the Democrats’ insistence on trying to ensure that unemployment benefits not expire had caused him to miss a college basketball game.
Several Republicans have defended Bunning’s destructive tactics, although Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) called on him to move aside. Inhofe pointed out that since the bill also contained transportation funding, an expiration could lead to furloughs of employees of the Federal Highway Administration. Indeed, today, 2,000 federal transportation workers have been furloughed without pay. From a Department of Transportation press release, which lays the blame directly on Bunning:
The action comes as a result of Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning’s decision to block key legislation that would have extended several critical priorities for middle class families. [...]
Because of the shutdown, federal inspectors will be removed from critical construction projects, forcing work to come to a halt on federal lands. Projects span the country, including the $36 million replacement of the Humpback Bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia, $15 million in bridge construction and stream rehabilitation in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, and the $8 million resurfacing of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi. [...]
At the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the furloughs will disrupt safety programs that operate in partnership with the states and advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). [...]
Assistance to consumers whose goods are held hostage by rogue moving companies will be unavailable during this period. And work addressing texting while driving for commercial truck and bus drivers, electronic on-board recorders and hours of service will also be suspended.
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) also pointed out that 1.5 million people may also “be unable to watch local TV stations” beginning today — also because of Bunning’s block on the bill, which includes a “satellite television extension” allowing rural residents to watch local TV stations via satellite. According to MultiChannel news, without the extension, “satellite operators will not be allowed to import distant affiliate TV station signals to viewers who cannot receive a viewable version of their local affiliate.”
The top two Republicans hoping to replace the retiring Bunning applauded his obstructionist tactics.