Last week, as Jason pointed out, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky) single-handedly blocked the extension of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans left jobless by the Great Recession. Bunning defended his action as one of fiscal conservancy, a determination that the cost of unemployment benefits not be added to the deficit. Bunning’s claim is at best disingenuous.
Absent from the conversation last week, though, was any discussion of the impact Bunning’s tactics would have on those people with jobs. It turns out, the bill that Bunning blocked included highway funds. Not only is Bunning denying unemployment assistance to Americans who desperately need it, he’s killing jobs. According to the New York Times, 2,000 workers from the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were furloughed (without pay) on Monday. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (Republican) says that these furlough will also halt 40 major projects.
Even though Bunning isn’t running for re-election, his job-killing misstep may do some lasting damage to the Republicans. In light of the unemployment rate and the apparent concern of the American people that the government isn’t doing enough to improve the economy, a Republican obstructing a bill that simultaneously extends unemployment and keeps other individuals employed, may give resonance to the Democrats’ recent embrace of a jobs-focused, populist message. This is more than inside baseball, stories about Bunning causing furloughs appear today on A-2 in the Washington Post, on A-15 in the New York Times, and on the front page of at least several small, local papers.