The Politics of Unemployment

March 03, 2010 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

After a five-day standoff, Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) conceded defeat, and the Senate last night approved a short term measure extending COBRA benefits, funding for doctors who treat Medicare patients, federal highway money and the filing deadline for unemployment insurance.

It was quite a ride, though not for the reasons commonly stated. That is, the focus on “Bunning’s blockade of an unemployment benefits extension” — the ubiquitous remark both in media reports and on the Senate floor — distracted from the fact that (1) there is no extension of unemployment benefits being proposed, just an extension of the filing deadline for existing benefits, and (2) the jobs bill to which the Senate is moving next includes a provision that would pay UI benefits retroactive to March 1 — meaning that Bunning could have continued his one-man stand indefinitely and those checks would likely still have been delivered, if a little late.

The more dramatic consequence of Bunning’s blockade came in the form of the thousands of federal workers who were furloughed this week for a lack of infrastructure funds, which expired Feb. 28. The Chicago Tribune reports:

Among the construction sites where work will be halted: the $36 million replacement of the Humpback Bridge on the George Washington Parkway in Virginia; $15 million in bridge construction and stream rehabilitation in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho; and the $8 million resurfacing of the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi.

And there’s the rub for Republicans resisting more government spending: That cash sustains jobs, even in conservative districts.