WASHINGTON – By a vote of 78-19, the Senate Tuesday night passed funding to revive government programs that aid jobless people, highway projects and other initiatives that had shut down for nearly 48 hours because of Sen. Jim Bunning’s increasingly unpopular one-man stand against the measure.
The deadlock ended Tuesday when the Kentucky Republican relented, as he faced growing pressure not only from angry constituents but also from Senate colleagues from both parties.
The House of Representatives passed the measure last week, and once signed by President Barack Obama, $10 billion can be spent to keep most of the programs operating for about a month.
Bunning wanted the provisions paid for, but other senators said these were emergency measures and didn’t need to be offset.
The pressure on Bunning steadily grew. On Tuesday, the Senate spent most of the day debating the measure – with most senators, including some from his own party, pleading for him to drop his objection.
Tuesday evening, he did.
“I hope Senate Democrats tonight vote for their own pay-fors and show Americans that they are committed to fiscal discipline,” Bunning said. “I will be watching them closely and checking off the hypocrites one by one.”
One of Tuesday night’s procedural votes focused on Bunning’s amendment to offset the $10 billion price tag of the Democrat-backed 30-day-extension of funding for jobless benefits and other government initiatives. That effort failed.
Later this week, there will be two additional votes on his proposals to offset the costs of a longer-term benefits bill.
Earlier, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, along with other Republicans, joined Democrats in publicly urging Bunning to end his objection, which had resulted in nearly 2,000 Department of Transportation employees being furloughed without pay Monday and which affects jobless benefits for thousands of unemployed workers, rural television customers, doctors receiving Medicare payments and others.
Bunning stressed that he supports the programs and criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats for not sticking to recently passed “pay-go” provisions, which require paying for many new programs with readily available funds rather than additional borrowing.
Reid countered that Bunning was scarcely concerned about debt during the Bush administration.
“He wasn’t too worried about this during the eight years of the Bush administration, when two wars were unpaid for; all these tax cuts, these 2.5 trillion of dollars,” Reid said.