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More than a million Americans without jobs will see their unemployment benefits expire Sunday at midnight because of one stubborn U.S. senator, Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning. He is blocking a bill that would've extended those benefits for another month, along with expiring health care assistance and a fix to prevent a huge cut in Medicare payments for doctors. Bunning says none of that is paid for so he for one is saying no.
NPR's David Welna has the story.
DAVID WELNA: The extension of unemployment benefits got approved last night in the House by voice vote. All that was needed for President Obama to sign it into law was the Senate's approval. But any senator can object to a bill, and that is exactly what happened when presiding officer Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, asked if there was anyone who had a problem with the benefits' extension.
Senator AL FRANKEN (Democrat, Minnesota): Is there objection?
Senator JIM BUNNING (Republican, Kentucky): I object.
Sen. FRANKEN: Objection is heard.
WELNA: The objecting senator was Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning, who earlier in life was a baseball Hall of Fame pitcher.
Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, who'd tried bringing up the benefits bill, chided Bunning.
Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I'm very proud of what you've done in your baseball career. But let me tell you one, this is a wild pitch you're throwing tonight, because it's a pitch that's hitting somebody in the stands. It's hitting an unemployed worker in Illinois in the stands, and that's a wild pitch which shouldn't have been thrown, senator.
WELNA: Seven other Democratic senators soon joined Durbin for a late night standoff with Bunning, who reminded those colleagues that the Senate voted earlier this month to pass only those bills that don't add to the deficit.
Sen. DURBIN: And I'll be here as long as you're here and as long as all those other senators are here, and I'm going to object every time because you won't pay for this.
WELNA: Shortly before midnight, the senators called it a night. This morning, Bunning continued objecting, so Democrat Durbin called it quits for now.
Sen. DURBIN: We will be back. We will try to get this done. And to those families: Hang in there. After the politicians are finished with their speeches and debates, America is not going to give up on you. It's going to be tough for a while while we work out this political difference, but unfortunately, that reflects the Senate and where it is today. I yield the floor.
WELNA: Bunning, for his part, left with a warning.
Sen. BUNNING: There are going to be other bills brought to this floor that are not going to be paid for, and I'm going to object every time they do it.
WELNA: He'll get a chance to do so next when the benefits bill will be back, added to a package of tax breaks.
David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.
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