Jim Bunning’s one-man filibuster of a temporary extension of unemployment benefits (which actually may not have been a one-man filibuster at all) has drawn fire from Congressional Democrats today, even while leaders today introduced a broader measure, including a one-year extension of UI and the COBRA subsidy, along with dozens of other tax extenders and additional measures.
Democrats are certainly trying to make a political point over Bunning’s rejection of unanimous consent to move a short-term extension on several items which expired on Sunday. Bunning continued his refusal this morning.
Not only have hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans lost their unemployment benefits (14,000 in Bunning’s home state of Kentucky) and 65% subsidy to pay for COBRA health benefits. In addition, doctors just received a 21% pay cut for Medicare patients, as per the so-called “sustainable growth rate” (SGR). Congress typically patches the SGR to avoid the cut, known colloquially as the “doc fix,” but the patch elapsed, leading to the immediate reimbursement cut. As a result, doctors may refuse to accept millions of Medicare patients. Likewise, an expiration on highway funding means that thousands of construction workers just got furloughed for construction and infrastructure projects.
Also, in perhaps the greatest suffering you can extend to any American, millions of satellite TV subscribers in rural areas could lose access to local TV channels, as a result of an expiring mandate on satellite providers.
McClatchy actually had a good breakdown of all the expired deadlines triggered by Bunning’s action.
Said Bunning: “I’m not talking to anybody.”
When producers asked him to stay and talk on camera, Bunning “walked toward the elevator and shot the middle finger over his head.”
A video clip shows Bunning kicking correspondent Jon Karl off the elevator, yelling “Excuse me! This is a Senator’s only elevator!”
(That’s not actually true.)
Even Jon Kyl, a member of the Republican leadership, said this weekend that the Senate would pass a temporary UI extension over Bunning’s objections, though he clearly hasn’t lifted a finger to get Bunning to relent.
Even while Democrats pressure Bunning to lift his objection to a temporary extension, however, Harry Reid and Max Baucus have readied a bill that would extend unemployment benefits and the COBRA subsidy to the end of the year, and offer retroactive payments to anyone who lost their benefits. The American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act has a number of provisions beyond that, however, including SBA loan programs for small businesses, disaster relief and flood insurance provisions, an important extension of federal assistance for state Medicaid programs that states with struggling budgets sorely need, retroactive extensions of highway funding, the doc fix and the satellite TV mandate, and a series of “tax extenders” that provide tax cuts which expired late last year.
You can access the bill at the Senate Finance Committee website. The tax extenders are a very mixed bag, with some important credits for renewable energy companies, teacher expenses (so they don’t have to shell out for their own classroom supplies) and others, but also corporate giveaways like the R&D credit and many others. Basically these are many of the measures Reid stripped from an earlier jobs bill, which passed last week.
But this bill would cost much more than that $85 billion dollar measure – $150 billion, to be exact. There are only about $37 billion in offsets in the bill.
So while Bunning feels the heat from Democrats, the bill that would cover unemployment and COBRA till the end of the year, along with a multitude of other measures, could get a vote as early as this week, overriding Bunning’s UC objections.
UPDATE: Looks like we could see an estate tax change attached to this bill as an amendment. Keep in mind that the changes sought to the estate tax could deprive the government of at least $233 BILLION in revenue over ten years, all of it going to super-rich heirs to family fortunes.