Senator Jim Bunning has become quite a political lightning rod. This week the Kentucky Republican has drawn fire from all sides for blocking routine $10 billion legislation that would continue benefits for government employees, including health care, unemployment payouts, and payments for Medicare doctors. Since Bunning instituted the block, those benefits have expired, causing 2,000 construction workers to be furloughed and 1.2 million Americans to lose unemployment benefits. On Monday, Bunning had an angry confrontation with reporters, flipping off a journalist from CNN. Bunning has been widely pilloried and is notably lacking in defenders. Why? Here are the five greatest outrages commentators are condemning.
- Harms Overall U.S. Economy The Atlantic's Megan McArdle says that there are real economic reasons to pay out unemployment benefits, especially in a recession. "Unemployment assistance is one of the 'automatic fiscal stabilizers' that all but the most hard-nosed conservative economists agree help smooth the business cycle in modern industrial countries. Indeed, it's one of the most effective forms of stimulus we have." She calls it "political poison" and "terrible economic policy" that could "have nasty knock-on effects on the economy."
- Danger On The Highways Nothing less than the Department of Transportation is fuming over the halt, which caused 2,000 workers to be furloughed and projects to shut down. "Projects span the country, including the $36 million replacement of the Humpback Bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia ... the furloughs will disrupt safety programs that operate in partnership with the states and advocacy groups, such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)." McClatchy estimates, "Letting the highway program lapse could mean an estimated 90,000 jobs lost."
- 'Medicare Meltdown' as Docs Unpaid Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler finds a lesser-known provision in the legislation Bunning blocks. "Included in that package is legislation to prevent a mandatory pay cut for doctors--and by standing in its way, he's triggered a 21 percent fee reduction to doctors seeing Medicare patients starting today." The American Medical Association warns, "A Medicare meltdown now seems certain."
- Ends Small Business Loans The New York Times' Robb Mandelbaum notes that the blocked legislation renewed programs meant to foster small businesses through loan programs. With the loan programs now expired, it will be more difficult for small businesses to find money.
- No More Television It sounds like a caricature, but Bunning's block will cut off TV access for millions of Americans. Note McClatchy's Lightman and Abdullah, "As many as 2 million families could lose access to local television because a copyright law expired overnight."