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The Politics of Unemployment

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

Elisa Mueller
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Mar 03, 2010

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.

Elisa Mueller | Elisa Mueller was born in Kansas City, Missouri, to a mother who taught reading and a father who taught film. As a result, she spent an excessive amount of her childhood reading books and watching movies. She went to the University of Kansas for college, where she earned bachelor's degrees in English and journalism. She moved to New York City and worked for Entertainment Weekly magazine for ten years, visiting film sets all over the world.


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