The federal government Monday began to furlough workers, while hundreds of thousands of jobless Americans nationwide braced for an end of their unemployment checks and health insurance benefits — the result of a one-man roadblock for a Senate spending bill.
At the center of the drama, which began to unfold late last week, is Sen. Jim Bunning, a Kentucky Republican who single-handedly blocked a bill that would have provided a short-term extension for a bundle of federal funding programs that expired Monday.
The bill would have extended provisions that were included in last year’s economic stimulus package, including one in which the federal government assumes 65% of the cost of COBRA health benefits. It would have also continued other key programs, including one that would keep Medicare reimbursement rates at current levels. On Monday, the government began a 21% cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
Bunning was able to block the bill because both Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate had signed off on passing it without a floor vote, instead asking that it be approved by unanimous consent. Bunning withheld his consent Thursday and continued to do so into Monday evening.