Reporting from Washington — Resorting to an old-fashioned one-man filibuster, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is blocking an extension of unemployment benefits and health insurance payments for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans because of his concerns over the federal budget deficit.
The programs are set to expire at midnight Sunday, and the Senate's inaction could delay payments.
Democratic and Republican leaders had agreed to pass a one-month extension through a process known as unanimous consent, in which no formal vote was required. But Bunning's objection means the bill can't go forward. The extension had been passed by the House and was ready to be signed into law.
Outraged Democrats battled the irascible Kentuckian on the Senate floor deep into the night Thursday. On Friday morning, they were at it again, but Bunning held fast.
"The simple fact of the matter is that this is an emergency situation and should be treated as such," said Senate Assistant Majority Leader Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).Bunning has refused to yield as a wave of senators criticized him. "Have we gotten to the point where this is going to be used as a political football?" asked Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).
The White House joined in Friday, with spokesman Robert Gibbs saying, "These are the type of games that the American people fail to understand."
Bunning, who is retiring from the Senate this year, said the bill's sponsors had not identified a way to pay for it or offset it with spending cuts elsewhere.
"If we can't find $10 billion somewhere for a bill that everybody in this body supports, we will never pay for anything," Bunning said Friday.