- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Senate Republicans now are battling publicly with Sen. Jim Bunning to try to force him to relent and allow an extension of unemployment benefits and other government aid that lapsed over the weekend.

Facing a potential backlash over the actions by Mr. Bunning, Kentucky Republican, many of his fellow GOP members are seeking to distance themselves and make clear he’s acting on his own.

“I hope that we can act together for the American people,” said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, who on Tuesday tried to force Mr. Bunning’s hand. “This issue is so important to senators on both sides of the aisle.”

Mr. Bunning, who is not running for re-election, single-handedly has been holding up a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits, federal aid for health insurance coverage for the unemployed, highway funding and other elements for nearly a week, demanding that his fellow lawmakers find a way to pay for the billions of dollars of temporary spending included in the bill.

For most of that time it had been Mr. Bunning battling Democrats, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in particular, but on Tuesday morning that battle broadened to include Republicans, with Miss Collins’ request that the bill be passed.

Mr. Bunning says he wants to find a way to pay for the extensions, and said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, has plenty of parliamentary tools if he really wants to end the impasse. Mr. Reid could file “cloture,” a technique that could force a final up-or-down vote, and Mr. Bunning said he’s certain Mr. Reid would win those votes.

But Mr. Reid said he shouldn’t have to put in that amount of time on the bill.

“I’ll defend him on a lot of things, but not on this. He’s very out of line,” Mr. Reid said.

Democratic campaigners have been blasting Republicans for the blockade, arguing that thousands of highway inspectors have been furloughed, halting construction jobs across the country; that hundreds of thousands of unemployed people have lost benefits; and that doctors are having to turn away Medicare patients because their reimbursement payments have dropped.

The debate has turned personal, with Mr. Bunning and Mr. Reid trading charges of hypocrisy and Mr. Bunning hinting at a dark side to the issue when he read a letter from a constituent praising his lone stance. Mr. Bunning said he would read only the constituent’s first name, “for security reasons.”

Democrats couldn’t seem to decide whether to blame Mr. Bunning alone or Republicans more broadly.

“The obstruction of a single Republican senator,” is how Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, described the standoff.

But Mr. Reid blamed the broader Republican conference in the Senate, arguing the GOP minority all should be working to advance the emergency aid.

For their part, some Republicans seem conflicted. Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, defended some of Mr. Bunning’s complaints on the chamber floor Monday, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s other Republican senator, has been silent.

Mr. McConnell was absent from the floor Monday when Mr. Bunning was explaining his objections, but he was on the floor Tuesday morning. Mr. McConnell didn’t acknowledge the back and forth over the bill, instead using his designated time as Republican leader to complain about Democrats’ health care bill.

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