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Bunning relents; jobless benefits deal reached

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Bunning relents; jobless benefits deal reached

Washington (CNN) -- Senators have reached an agreement to end Sen. Jim Bunning's filibuster of a $10 billion package that extends benefits for unemployed workers and pays for road projects, Bunning's office and Democratic officials said.
The agreement calls for senators to vote later Tuesday night on both the extensions and an amendment proposed by the Kentucky Republican to fund it.

"We cannot keep adding to the debt and passing the buck to generations of future workers and taxpayers, my children and your children and our grandchildren," Bunning said on the Senate floor after the agreement was reached. "Tonight, tomorrow and on every spending bill in the future, we will see if they (Democrats) mean business on controlling the debt or if it's just words. We will see if pay-go has any teeth or not."

Bunning blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for Bunning's almost week-long block of a vote on the 30-day extensions and said his amendment would remove "black liquor" -- a byproduct of the pulp and paper process -- from eligibility for a bio-fuels producer tax credit, saving $24 billion.

But Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said that very action is already part of a bill that will come up for a vote Wednesday -- the long-term extension of those jobless benefits.

"The senator from Kentucky, after one week, has decided to accept exactly what was offered to him last week," Durbin said. "The senator from Kentucky said 'No, I may lose. I am not going to offer an amendment, I am just going to object.'"

Durbin urged a rejection of Bunning's amendment, saying passing it would further delay benefits already delayed by Bunning's filibuster.

The short-term extension of unemployment benefits needed unanimous consent to pass because Democrats have labeled it an emergency spending measure. Bunning rejected a motion for unanimous consent again Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Reid's spokesman, Jim Manley, said that Bunning had put blanket holds on all nominations pending before the Senate, but a spokesman for Bunning said he was unaware of such an action by his boss.

"Right now the senator's number-one priority is trying to reach an agreement to get this bill paid for and passed," said Mike Reynard.

Last month, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, put a blanket hold on nominations in an attempt to secure lucrative deals for his state but later dropped his hold.

Bunning, who is retiring at the end of this year, said he doesn't oppose extending the programs -- he just doesn't want to add to the deficit. Democrats argued that because it is an emergency measure, the bill should not be subject to new rules requiring that legislation not expand the deficit -- the pay-go rules.

Bunning threatened to keep blocking votes if legislation isn't paid for.

"I will be back on future spending bills demanding that they be paid for so future generations of Americans will not be burdened with overspending," the senator said.

As a result of the Senate's inaction, many jobless people were no longer able to apply for federal unemployment benefits or the COBRA health insurance subsidy as of Monday. That includes residents of Kentucky, which has an almost 10 percent unemployment rate.

Bunning's action has created a political firestorm. On Tuesday morning, he pushed on the Senate floor for a measure that would pay the $10 billion tab out of the Democrats' previously passed $862 billion stimulus bill. He also dared Reid to hold a vote to cut off debate on the measure.

Reid rejected Bunning's motions.

"You have made your point ... (but) the majority of the Senate disagrees with you," Reid said to Bunning. The need to extend unemployment benefits is "an emergency. ... Our economy is suffering. (There are) long lines of people out of work."

Reid called Bunning's legislative maneuvering "terribly inappropriate" and "very out of line."

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, joined in urging Bunning to drop his objection and vote for the bill, saying the costs for Kentuckians were too great.

iReporter: Shame on you, Sen. Bunning

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reacted as well. "This is an emergency situation," he told reporters. "Hundreds of thousands have been left in the lurch. ... I don't know how you negotiate the irrational."

Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins quickly moved to separate herself from Bunning and side with the Democratic leader, noting that the issue is "so important to senators on both sides of the aisle."

She later told CNN that Bunning's views "do not represent the majority of the Republican caucus."

"Ideally, we would offset this" spending bill, she said. "But I would support it either way because the programs are emergency programs. It's a very short-term (one-month) extension."

One GOP senator who declined to be identified told CNN Republicans are furious with Bunning. "This plays right into the Democratic narrative that we're obstructionist," the senator said. "We look insensitive."

"To say Bunning is not beloved is an understatement," the senator added.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, however, defended Bunning.

"He's got a legitimate argument that he's making," said Boehner, an Ohio Republican. "The Democrats just passed this legislation" requiring bills not to increase the deficit and not even "a week after the president signed (it) into law, they want to exempt the first bill that comes across the Senate floor."

Bunning called Senate Democrats hypocritical for recently passing the rules requiring that new legislation not expand the deficit, only to turn around and push both the emergency unemployment extension and a $15 billion jobs bill that, according to Bunning, is not fully paid for.

He read a letter from a constituent in Louisville, Kentucky, praising him for deciding to "stand up to those in Congress who want to do nothing more than to spend the taxpayers' money."

"This country is sooner or later going to implode because of the massive amount of debt run up over the past 40 or 50 years," the letter said, according to Bunning. It is "sheer lunacy" to be "selling our nation's soul" to creditors such as China.

"Your stance in holding (politicians) to their words ... is a refreshing concept in an otherwise corrupt" capital.

Bunning identified the constituent only by the first name of Robert, citing security concerns.

CNN's Dana Bash noted Tuesday that Democrats could effectively work around Bunning and pass an extension of unemployment benefits. However, she said, the Democrats "know that they have a good political issue right now (and therefore) have no plans to do that in the immediate future."

Veteran political analyst Norm Ornstein called the uproar "one of the few gifts that the Democrats have received in this post-holiday season. ... It reinforces the notion -- even though it's one guy -- of Republicans as the party of no."

Bash noted that the GOP leadership has a poor relationship with Bunning, who is retiring this year, and is therefore unable to pressure him to back down.

Federal unemployment benefits kick in after the basic state-funded 26 weeks of coverage expire. During the downturn, Congress has approved up to an additional 73 weeks, which it funds.

These federal benefit weeks are divided into tiers, and the jobless must apply each time they move into a new tier.

Because the Senate has not acted, the jobless will now stop getting checks once they run out of their state benefits or current tier of federal benefits.

Lawmakers have repeatedly tried to approve a 30-day extension, but each time Bunning has prevented the measure from passing.

Several other programs aside from unemployment and health benefits are also affected by the legislative spat, including federal flood insurance, satellite TV licensing, and small business loans.

Source: CNN

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