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Sen. Bunning and the Unemployment Benefits Debate Revisited; Update: Senate Votes 78-19, UI/COBRA Extension/Govt Benefits Bill Passes, No Pay-Go; Update: Roll Call Vote Added
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Scroll for updates…2:37pm Eastern reported deal reached on two amendments…bomb threats reported…vote set for tonight…78-19, unemployment benefits/COBRA extension, other government benefits extensions pass…$10 billion bill not paid for…roll call vote added

I’ve praised GOP Sen. Jim Bunning many times over the last two years for taking unpopular stands against massive, government entitlement expansions. He was the lone dissenter in April 2008 on a massive mortgage boondoggle. He was one of 25 Senators to vote against the TARP crap sandwich in October 2008. He voted against the UAW/auto bailout in December 2008. He was one of the fiscally responsible 14 GOP Senators who voted against the $6 billion GIVE/SERVE national service entitlement expansion in March 2009. And he has consistently grilled wrong-headed Fed chairman Ben Bernanke over his spectacularly wrong assessments of the housing bubble and the state of the economy.

As you all know, Sen. Bunning is now leading a lone filibuster effort against a Senate $10 billion jobless benefits/COBRA extension bill. (Good point: Ed Morrissey points out the inaccurate characterization of Bunning’s effort as a “filibuster.”) And the Dems are going bonkers.

GOP Sen. Susan Collins is trying to stop Bunning:

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) took to the floor Tuesday morning to ask that the Senate vote within hours on the bill so that thousands of furloughed federal highway workers could go back to work and the unemployed could see a resumption of their jobless benefits. Bunning’s filibuster, which he kicked off Thursday, caused those provisions to expire Sunday night. The retiring Kentucky Republican wants the measure paid for.

Bunning objected to Collins’ request, as he has to nearly a dozen requests from Democrats for similar rapid resolutions to the standoff.

Collins said she was proffering the request on behalf of herself and “numerous” other GOP Senators with whom she had spoken…

…But in objecting, Bunning took a shot at his own party and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he read a letter from a constituent who praised his stand against the bill. McConnell and Bunning have a frosty relationship — it hit a low point last year as Bunning was deliberating over whether to seek another Senate term.

“It’s too bad Sen. Mitch McConnell and some of the elected officials on your side of the aisle do not have the backbone or your sense of decency when it comes to keeping their promises to the American people,” Bunning quoted his constituent from Louisville as writing.

Bunning is still insisting that the 30-day extension be paid for from stimulus funds before he allows a quick vote on the House-passed measure. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has offered to hold a vote on a Bunning amendment to offset the bill, but Bunning refused on the basis that his proposal would likely fail.

Video via C-SPAN from yesterday on the Senate floor:

Some weak-willed Republicans don’t want the GOP to be cast as the heartless Scrooges taking away “temporary” unemployment benefits that have become enshrined permanently.

You’ll remember that the Left went nuts when I made standard economic arguments last summer on “This Week” on ABC News when the issue came up:

The panel was dismissive of standard economic arguments against extending unemployment benefits (which I’ve been blogging about since last January, when the Bush administration embraced expanding the entitlement). Cynthia Tucker made the common error of mistaking my simple argument about incentives for some sort of moral judgment.

Question: Where do we draw the line? Laid-off workers can collect up to 79 weeks of unemployment in half the states. Democrats want to extend the benefits another 13 weeks:

Representative Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support, said he would introduce a bill in September to provide yet another 13 weeks of coverage in states with unemployment rates of 9 percent or higher. “Legislators will line up quickly when they start getting calls from desperate constituents,” he said in a telephone interview.

The cost would be $40 billion to $70 billion, but the expense would be temporary, Mr. McDermott said.

Treasury Secretary Geithner told Stephanopoulos the administration is open to such proposals. Well, hell, why not extend the benefits indefinitely?

There is no such thing as a “temporary” entitlement in Washington.

A reminder of the Heritage backgrounder I posted in January 2008:

“Temporary” Extended Unemployment Benefits?

History Tells a Different Story

The House on January 29, 2008 passed a bipartisan economic stimulus bill that did NOT include provisions to extend unemployment benefits. However, the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) has decided to add a “temporary” extension of unemployment benefits to its version of this legislation.

But does “temporary” really mean this program will operate only “through the end of 2008,” as the legislation’s proponents suggest? Looking back at the history books reveals a different story – of past “temporary” unemployment benefit programs that were repeatedly extended, operating for years and costing tens of billions of dollars more than originally expected.

Unemployment benefit program 1991-1994

Original proposed program length: 8 months

Original estimated cost $7 billion

Actual length: 29 months

Actual cost: $39 billion

Number of extensions: 5

Unemployment rate at start of program: 7 percent

U rate at end: 6.4 percent

Unemployment benefit program 2002-2004

Original proposed program length: 10 months

Original estimated cost $9 billion

Actual length: 29 months

Actual cost: $26 billion

Number of extensions: 2

Unemployment rate at start of program: 5.7 percent

U rate at end: 5.8 percent

Unemployment benefit program 2008

Original proposed program length: 11 months

Original estimated cost $10 billion

Actual length: ? months

Actual cost: ? billion

Number of extensions: ?

Unemployment rate at start of program: 5 percent

U rate at end: ?

1. SFC documents suggest the “temporary” extended unemployment benefits program would operate only through CY 2008 and cost $10 billion. But these sorts of programs never work out that way.

a. CRS reports that no “temporary” extended benefits program created since 1970 has expired without being extended.

b. Programs created in the 1980s and 1990s were extended 6 and 5 times, respectively.

c. The prospects a temporary program created today will expire at the end of 2008 as the SFC proposes – with the window of eligibility shutting two days after Christmas – is both dubious and would be without precedent in the last generation.

2. Even if it operated only as long as the “average” program created since 1980, a “temporary” program created now will be paying extended benefits in mid 2010.

a. The average duration of extended benefits programs created since 1980 is 30 months.

b. If a program started in February 2008 and paid benefits for 30 months, the final payments would be made in July 2010.

c. The total cost of such a program would likely be $30 billion or more.

3. If prior extended benefits programs began when the national unemployment rate was as low as 5.0%, these “temporary” programs would have operated for decades.

a. The U.S. unemployment rate was 5.0% or higher in every month between January 1974 and April 1997 – more than 23 years in a row.

b. Today’s 5.0% rate is below the average of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.

c. During the Clinton Administration (1993-2000), the average unemployment rate was 5.2%.


d. According to a 2007 report by the Congressional Budget Office, today’s 5.0% unemployment rate is the same as the “natural rate” CBO will use “both currently and for the 10-year projection period through 2017.” Put another way, according to CBO today’s unemployment rate is “normal” not “high.”

e. Creating an extended benefits program now will create a precedent to repeat this action every time the unemployment rate reaches this historically modest level. That will cost billions of dollars and encourage more and longer unemployment.

Sen. Bunning’s move to unmask pay-go hypocrisy has been dismissed by the White House as “irrational.” His GOP colleagues are backing away.

But if Republicans can’t stand up and question the permanent Nanny State and can’t point out the unintended consequences of liberal intentions without folding like card tables, what good are they?


Update: Bomb threats reported at Bunning’s Kentucky offices…

Friday afternoon state police took a phone call from the FBI after a threat had been made at the William D. Gormam Educational Center in Hazard.

The center houses the offices of U.S. Senator Jim Bunning and Congressman Hal Rogers.

According to officials working the investigation, the threat was that an explosive device or devices had allegedly been placed at the educational center.

A threat had also been made at Senator Bunning’s Office in Louisville.


Update: Bunning reportedly relents vote scheduled for tonight…

A Republican that had been stubbornly blocking a stopgap measure to extend help for the jobless relented on Tuesday under withering assaults from Democrats and dwindling support within his own party.

Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky had been single-handedly blocking the $10 billion measure, causing federal furloughs and threatening the unemployment benefits of hundreds of thousands of people. He was seeking 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 has subjected Republicans to withering media coverage and cost the party politically.

The bill is now slated to come to a vote Tuesday night. It passed the House last week and is likely to be signed into law immediately by President Barack Obama so that 2,000 furloughed Transportation Department workers can go back to work on Wednesday. They’re likely to be awarded back pay once the program is revived.

A law that provided stopgap road funding and longer and more generous unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless expired Monday. Without the extension, about 200,000 jobless people would have lost federal benefits this week alone, according to the liberal-leaning National Employment Law Project.

The measure to be voted on tonight would extend through the end of the month several programs that expired on Monday, including the jobless aid, federal highway funding and help for doctors facing cuts in Medicare payments.

It would provide a monthlong extension of the programs to give Congress time to pass a yearlong fix that’s also pending.

Will it be an all-nighter?

From The Hill: “Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) appears set to release blanket hold he had placed Tuesday on all of President Obama’s nominees, according to Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) office.”


9:19pm Eastern.The Senate bill extending unemployment insurance and other govt benefits passes, 78-19. No pay-go provided for as pushed by Bunning.

Here’s the roll call vote:

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Fiscal Stimulus, GOP, Pork