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Republican senator foils unemployment benefits. House Democrats block jobs bill. Call it gridlock.

February 26, 2010 |  8:49 am
Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning

Jim Bunning used to be a hero. In fact he's in the Baseball Hall of Fame -- only the second pitcher in history to get 1,000 strikeouts and 100 wins in both the American (Detroit Tigers) and National (Philadelphia Phillies) leagues.

This week he proved the goat, the only one of 100 senators to block a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits. Without it, for an estimated 1.2 million Americans, benefits expire Sunday.

Actually, some think Bunning has a point -- he wants the Senate to pay for the $10-billion, 30-day band-aid by dipping into the $400 billion in unspent stimulus funds -- instead of adding to the federal deficit.

But Bunning's reputation as a loose cannon precedes him, and he had few defenders even among Republican colleagues. A loose-lipped maverick who once accused an opponent of....

...resembling one of Saddam Hussein's sons, Bunning was forced to announce his retirement after his colleague, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, refused to endorse him for re-election.

To pressure Bunning, Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin took to the floor to read stats from Kentucky, whose unemployment rate stands at 10.7%, with Magoffin County at 21.4%.

Unmoved, the two-term senator did not exactly endear himself to colleagues. When Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley begged him to reconsider, Bunning said, "Tough ...," a violation of Senate decorum even in these tough partisan times. Merkley said he is “deeply disturbed” that Bunning can be so “disconnected from the challenges” of working Americans.

Maybe he should tell it to Democrats in the House. There the Congressional Black Caucus is threatening to block a $15-billion jobs bill -- you know the one pushed by President Obama and in a rare moment of bipartisanship embraced by freshman Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown.

But black lawmakers argue that with most of the funds in the bill earmarked to a tax credit for small businesses that add new workers or increase salaries, the measure as more a tax gimme than a boon to the unemployed. They want more direct aid.

Still, you'd think with the national unemployment at 9.7% and unemployment among African Americans at 16.7%, they would accept compromise. Apparently not.

"In no way does $15 billion, a tax-cut bill, create jobs for the chronically unemployed," California Democrat Barbara Lee, who chairs the CBC, told reporters.

That's why they call it gridlock.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo credit: Associated Press

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