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GOP Sen. Jim Bunning backs down on jobless bill

Pressure on Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning had intensified with Monday’s cutoff of road funding and extended unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless.

Associated Press

Pressure on Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning had intensified with Monday’s cutoff of road funding and extended unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless.

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed a $10 billion measure to maintain unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and provide stopgap funding for highway programs after a holdout Republican dropped stalling tactics that had generated a Washington firestorm.

Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning had been holding up action for days but conceded after pressure intensified with Monday's cutoff of road funding and extended unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless.

He wanted to force Democrats to find ways to finance the bill so that it wouldn't add to the deficit, but his move sparked a political tempest that subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically.

The bill passed 78-19. It passed the House last week, and President Barack Obama is likely sign it quickly so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work today.

Doctors faced the prospect of a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments, and federal flood insurance programs had lapsed with Monday's expiration of an earlier stopgap bill that passed late last year.

Tuesday's action will provide a monthlong extension of the expired programs to give Congress time to pass a yearlong — and far more costly — fix that's also pending.

Without the legislation, about 200,000 jobless people would have lost federal benefits this week alone, according to the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project. Jobless people normally get 26 weeks of unemployment benefits and 20 more weeks in states with higher unemployment rates. The legislation extends several additional layers of benefits added since 2008 because of the stubborn recession.

Bunning had blocked the stopgap legislation since Thursday. His payoff for finally stepping aside was a vote to close a tax loophole enjoyed by paper companies that get a credit from burning "black liquor," a pulp-making byproduct, as if it were an alternative fuel. The amendment failed.

A raucous and divided crowd of about 150 people gathered in front of the embattled Sen. Jim Bunning's Lexington offices Tuesday. One woman waved a placard that read: "Stand Tall Sen. Bunning. You Are Pitching a Perfect Game." Nearby, another sign read: "Sen. Al Franken is a comedian. Jim Bunning is a bad joke." GOP Senate candidate Bill Johnson yelled into a bullhorn, "Bunning for president!" But Lexington businessman Andy Davis, also a Republican, said, "Bunning has been nothing but a disgrace."

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Kentucky protest

A raucous and divided crowd of about 150 people gathered in front of Sen. Jim Bunning's Lexington, Ky., offices Tuesday afternoon. One woman waved a placard that read: "Stand Tall Sen. Bunning. You Are Pitching a Perfect Game." Nearby, another sign read: "Sen. Al Franken is a comedian. Jim Bunning is a bad joke." GOP Senate candidate Bill Johnson yelled into a bullhorn, "Bunning for president!" But Lexington businessman Andy Davis, also a Republican, said, "Bunning has been nothing but a disgrace."

GOP Sen. Jim Bunning backs down on jobless bill 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 11:14pm]
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