Bunning ‘Furlough’ Wasting Millions in Name of Fiscal Responsibility

jim-bunningRemember Jim Bunning blocking unemployment extension and playing chicken with dozens of projects?  Well, they’re now coming home to roost:

The Department of Transportation said Monday that Republican Sen. Jim Bunning’s blockage of legislation designed to keep a host of federal programs operating forced the agency to furlough nearly 2,000 employees without pay, temporarily shut down highway reimbursements to states worth hundreds of millions of dollars and stalled multi-million dollar construction projects across the country.

“As American families are struggling in tough economic times, I am keenly disappointed that political games are putting a stop to important construction projects around the country,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed.”

Federal projects shut down by the furlough include more than $24 million in Idaho’s Nez Perce National Forest and $86 million for bridge replacements in the Washington, D.C., area.

Bunning, of Kentucky, told Democratic colleagues “tough s—” on Thursday when they tried to get him to change his mind about blocking the programs’ extension, according to several Senate insiders who spoke on condition of anonymity. Bunning wants the $10 billion price of extending the programs offset by reductions in spending elsewhere in the budget. His home state doesn’t have projects that will be affected by his action.

Federal agencies and lawmakers spent much of the weekend trying to assess the ripple effects of Bunning’s actions.

According to the National Employment Law Project, a liberal research group, some 1.2 million unemployed workers, including 14,000 in Kentucky, would lose federal jobless benefits this month if Congress doesn’t extend them. The U.S. Labor Department figures about one-third will lose benefits in the first two weeks of the month.

Letting the highway program lapse could mean an estimated 90,000 jobs lost. As many as 2 million families could lose access to television because a copyright law expired Sunday night.

Recall that the ostensible rationale for this move was fiscal responsibility.  Well, guess what?  All the contractors “furloughed” by this action will eventually be paid for the days missed once they resume work.  So, thanks to Bunning, we’ll be paying them good money to do nothing.  In the name of fiscal sanity.

It would be unkind to question the mental competence of a 78-year-old man, especially one who has displayed the good grace of not running for another term when his colleagues continue well into their 90s.   But let’s just say Bunning isn’t pitching a perfect game here.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    The tea party crowd whines incessantly about how “government does not work”. What they are leaving out is that modern conservatives don’t want the government to work and are taking steps to prevent it from working. (Katrina, anyone?)

  2. steve says:

    To keep this in context, Bunning voted against pay as you go.

    Steve

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    Millions versus billions. What part of that is hard to understand? Oh I guess we can just keep spending without regard for the future and let our kids and grand kids pick up the tab.

    Bunning is making a stand. Is he late? You bet. Has he been guilty of spending sins? Yep, they all have. Should he just give up and never make a stand? No.

    The Senate has an agreement to find offsets for this spending so why is he the bad guy for demanding some discipline? He’s going to take some heat but anyone with any sense of how out of control spending is at all levels of government should applaud this.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve Plunk,

    Convenient, though, that he’s making his “stand” by cutting off money to unemployed families. Why not make a stand against, say, pork barrel defense projects, or earmarks that are purely dedicated to local instutions that have no federal purpose? And hey, why not try to vote into law a statute that requires Congress to ensure that all spending has a source of revenue? Or maybe, when voting on supplemental war funding, he might propose the sale of bonds or an increase in taxes, or offsets in spending to pay for those military expenditures?

    Heck, Jim Bunning’s a pretty rich guy, and he could no doubt make a good living giving speeches. So I’d appreciate it if he voluntarily decided to not receive his pension upon leaving Congress. Now that would show some fiscal responsibility.

  5. Alex:

    You call them “unemployed families” but we all know they are just a bunch of welfare queens driving around Cadillacs and watching big screen TVs.

    –BF

  6. Rick Almeida says:

    You call them “unemployed families” but we all know they are just a bunch of welfare queens driving around Cadillacs and watching big screen TVs.

    It’s true. A dude who commented today on another blog saw a woman buy $100 worth of liquor with cash while paying for her groceries with an ABT card yesterday. True story.

  7. Steve Plunk says:

    Alex, We could all second guess when the appropriate time would be to make that stand. Bunning is making it now in a case where the Senate could do the right thing and find a way to pay for it. Perhaps the Dems could have offered up a trade off instead of politicizing the issue? No one has been cut off yet and I expect a resolution before they are.

    Bernard’s just building a straw man of welfare hating conservatives to bash. It won’t work.

  8. mike says:

    I am confused – shouldn’t they all be voting against this since a rule or law was just passed by the senate that says no new spending w/o an increase in revenue or an offset?

  9. If this bill was so damn critical, why did the Senate wait until the last possible second to consider it, so that it required a unanimous vote to pass? This is like the legislative equivalent of a college student who doesn’t get their term paper done, tries to crank it out overnight the day before it’s due, and then wants to complain when a snafu of some sort occurs.

  10. physics geek says:

    Alex, We could all second guess when the appropriate time would be to make that stand. Bunning is making it now in a case where the Senate could do the right thing and find a way to pay for it.

    Pretty much my thoughts. Either Paygo is the law, or it isn’t. You want to fund something? Great, but you’d better find a way to fund it sans loans from a foreign country.

    It’s simple, really: put the bill in front of the Senate and actually have them vote on it. It’ll probably pass. Instead, you wait until the last second to try and get it passed via UC. When a Senator objects this is wrong because… how is this wrong? Because this isn’t a question of whether or not this was a good bill in which to enforce Payog. Instead, it’s a question of how business gets done in the Senate, and how bills get funded. Is it wrong for funding requests to, you know, actually come to a floor vote? My guess is that this bill would likely pass. The only reason to use UC to pass it is because some Senators don’t want to go on the record as as voting “aye”.

  11. Wayne says:

    My daughter max out several of my credit card. She wants to max out another. When I say no her argument is.

    1. The mall people are having a tough time and need the money. Don’t you have a heart?
    2. Why now, you let me spend beyond our means before.
    3. It is costing us money because I made a deal with Cathy to get so I can borrow her skirt and now I have to give her my school shocks.
    4. You allowed me to spend wastefully before.
    5. If you want to show fiscal responsibility than you should work for free.
    6. Again don’t you care you heartless bastard?

    If you spend beyond your means before you must do it in the future. What type of logic is that?The arguments don’t hold up in a everyday situations and they don’t hold up for the government actions either.

  12. Rick Almeida says:

    Either Paygo is the law, or it isn’t. You want to fund something? Great, but you’d better find a way to fund it sans loans from a foreign country.

    Except so-called “emergency spending” isn’t subject to PAYGO.

    Oh, and of course, Bunning voted against PAYGO.

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve Plunk,

    Bunning is making it now in a case where the Senate could do the right thing and find a way to pay for it.

    Dunning was given the opportunity to put his amendment on the floor for an up or down vote. Dunning refused.

    No one has been cut off yet and I expect a resolution before they are.

    Payments were cut off on Sunday.

    Stormy –

    If this bill was so damn critical, why did the Senate wait until the last possible second to consider it, so that it required a unanimous vote to pass?

    Republican holds in committee.

  14. Republican holds in committee.

    So submit it directly to the floor. If they actually have 99 votes, this is trivial. The only reason Bunning’s block is possible is that Senators want to pass it without an official vote so they can’t get called on it later.

  15. steve says:

    From Yglesias.

    U.S. Senator Jim Bunning today announced that legislation to extend temporary unemployment benefits for an additional five months has passed the United States Congress. The legislation, which was unanimously approved yesterday by the Senate and by a vote of 416-4 today in the House, would also provide a temporary 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for all individuals who exhaust their traditional benefits before June 1, 2003. “The 108th Congress is off to a solid start,” said Bunning. “This is hopeful news for our most needy families in Kentucky. By approving this legislation we will help those folks who are currently without work continue to make ends meet until they can find new employment.” Passage of this legislation means that there will be no lapse in assistance for the nearly 10,000 Kentuckians who have filed claims so far for extended benefits. The last extension expired on December 28, 2002. President Bush is expected to sign the bill tomorrow, which means the next payment to states can still be made on Friday, January 10, as originally scheduled.

  16. Chris Mallory says:

    Sad thing is it has taken Bunning until his final year to grow some balls. Too bad the rest of the senators haven’t. McConnell needs to retire as well, he no longer represents the citizens of Kentucky, but the hogs at the trough in Washington.