Dana Bash: It Could Take a Couple of Weeks for Democrats to Work Around Bunning's Obstruction
This is just maddening. It looked like the Democrats could have stopped this guy in his tracks last week when they had him shouting obscenities on the Senate floor and as Susie noted, they caved and let him go home. I would love to hear an explanation of what went on and why they didn't force him to continue to filibuster.
Now Dana Bash is reporting that it could take a couple of weeks for them to fix this unless Bunning caves in. Given his behavior today I don't see much hope of that happening.
Two thousand federal transportation workers will be furloughed without pay on Monday, and the Obama administration said they have a Kentucky senator to blame for it.
Federal reimbursements to states for highway programs will also be halted, the Transportation Department said in a statement late Sunday. The reimbursements amount to about $190 million a day, according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
The furloughs and freeze on payments were the result of a decision last week by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning to block passage of legislation that would have extended federal highway and transit programs, the department said. Those programs expired at midnight Sunday.
The extension of transportation programs was part of a larger package of government programs that also expired Sunday, including unemployment benefits for about 400,000 Americans. Read on...
Transcript below the fold via CNN.
BLITZER: It's the last thing hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans need right now -- even more stress. Their desperately needed unemployment checks are in jeopardy because federal funding for their benefits now has run out.
They're not the only ones feeling the pinch right now in a dramatic example of government gridlock. And one U.S. senator -- one senator alone is to blame.
Let's go to our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.
She's had a chance to check in with that United States senator.
What's going on here -- Dana?
BASH: Well, Jim Bunning didn't really answer our questions. In fact, he's somebody, Wolf, who has been known to have a short fuse. And, again, not only did he not answer our questions, which you'll see in a few minutes, he actually waved an obscene finger gesture at a producer for ABC News.
It just shows you how tempers are flaring here on what has become political brinksmanship with a real world effect.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH (voice-over): Construction workers started the morning on the job -- rebuilding a bridge outside Washington. But as the clock ticked toward noon, workers on this $36 million project were told to stop and leave -- the site locked up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The senator told everybody to go home at 12:00. He told everybody to go home.
BASH: The Department of Transportation says it furloughed 2,000 workers here and around the country because Congress failed to pass legislation to extend funding for the projects -- part of a $10 billion package being blocked by one senator, Kentucky's Jim Bunning, who angrily refused to answer questions about why.
BUNNING: Excuse me.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) about these people who are unemployed?
BUNNING: I've got to go to the floor.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, can you just explain to us why you're holding this up?
I'm sure you have an explanation (INAUDIBLE)...
BUNNING: Excuse me.
QUESTION: OK, are -- are you concerned about those that -- that are going to lose their benefits?
I guess we have our answer.
BASH: The $10 billion measure Bunning is blocking also includes unemployment benefits for some 400,000 people, COBRA health subsidies for laid off workers and small business loans. Bunning did go to the Senate floor and did explain. He is for extending benefits, but he wants to pay for them -- not add to the deficit.
BUNNING: If we can't find $10 billion to pay for something that we all support, we will never pay for anything on the floor of this U.S. Senate.
BASH: Bunning even formally offered a measure to pay for the benefits. Democrats objected.
REID: But where was my friend from Kentucky when we had two wars unpaid for during the Bush administration, tax cuts that cost more than a trillion dollars -- unpaid for?
Where was my friend and the Republicans objecting to that?
BASH: Democrats immediately saw the political benefit in playing up a GOP senator blocking legislation helping hard-hit Americans. The Department of Transportation's press release carefully detailed for reporters examples of popular projects halted because of Bunning. And the vice president jumped in, too.
BIDEN: It will mean that state and local governments won't get paid for projects they've already done. It means furloughing 2,000 people this week alone.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Now, Democrats in the Senate do have some legislative tools to work around Senator Bunning. It could take a couple of days, but they have those tools. But Democratic sources say they have no plans to use them right now -- at least not yet -- Wolf.
A spokesman for Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, told me point blank this is emergency spending that, from their perspective, does not need to be paid for and -- and get this, Jim Manley also said, what do these guys -- Republicans -- have against the poor in this country?
They go for tax -- tax cuts for the wealthy and now they want to stick it to the poor.
And you see tempers are flaring, as I said at the beginning.
BLITZER: And do they think -- let's just recap.
Do they think they can get this resolved in the coming days?
BASH: Well, right now, there's a standoff. I mean there really is. What Democrats are saying is it's up to Senator Bunning to back down. So that's probably going to be what we're seeing, unless there's some change in dynamics, for the next couple of days.
At the end of the week, there already was in the works a larger bill to deal with the jobs issue that would have included most of these benefits. That probably will, you know, getting moving at the end of the week. But by the time it passes the Senate -- and then, of course, it's got to go to the House -- if that's the path they take, that could take a couple of weeks.
BLITZER: All right, Dana.
You'll stay on top of this story for us.
Right now, about 11.5 million people depend on jobless benefits in this country. Almost half of them -- a record 41.2 percent -- have been laid out -- laid off of work for at least six months. Most states fund 26 weeks of jobless benefits and in this economic turndown, Congress has dramatically extended federal funding. But -- so in some states, you could get up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits -- in some states.