What Do Unemployment, College Basketball and Politics Have in Common?

Republican Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., foiled Democratic attempts to enact a short-term extension of unemployment benefits and COBRA subsidies for a million Americans.

Video of Senator Jim Bunning on unemployment benefits.
Republican Senator Bunning Foils Democratic Attempts to Extend Unemployment Benefits

In the process, he may restrict access to network television for his rural constituents. When Bunning objected to the last-minute vote he complained that he was forced to miss the University of Kentucky college basketball game, which was broadcast on ESPN2.

Bunning doesn't like Democrats' version of a bill to temporarily extend unemployment benefits, subsidies of COBRA insurance and many other things because he wants to pay for it with unused stimulus funds. More than a million Americans long out of work will exhaust their benefits starting Sunday.

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"I have missed the Kentucky-South Carolina game that started at 9:00, and it's the only redeeming chance we had to beat South Carolina since they're the only team that has beat Kentucky this year," said Bunning just before midnight Thursday.

The Wildcats are ranked number two and the game last night was to avenge their only loss of the season. Bunning was particularly frustrated, perhaps, because Kentucky won 82-61.

But here's where the political serendipity kicks in. Bunning's objection could keep a lot of Kentuckians in rural areas from seeing Kentucky play games too. While their matchup against Tennessee on Saturday is safe, starting Monday, because of Bunning's objection, satellite providers will have to stop allowing some rural subscribers to watch network television. Kentucky's next network-broadcast game, to be shown on ABC, is against Florida on March 7.

The bill Bunning objected to also included a temporary extension of the law that allows satellite television providers servicing areas without network affiliates to broadcast network service from different areas.

Democrats kept the Senate in session last night until nearly midnight as Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, and others subjected Bunning to a public shaming on the Senate floor for his objection. They argued he was making a political point about the deficit at the expense of the unemployed.

Late-Night Senate Session

"If we are going to fight this war on the deficit and the debt why are we going to fight it on the backs of unemployed people?" asked Durbin.

They repeatedly tried to seek Bunning's consent to move forward with the measure and he repeatedly objected.

Bunning has a curmudgeonly demeanor and is known for dramatic proclamations and prickly floor speeches. He had faced a tough reelection battle even in the red state of Kentucky and decided in July not to seek reelection and he blamed party leaders.

"Over the past year, some of the leaders of the Republican Party in the Senate have done everything in their power to dry up my fundraising," said Bunning in a statement July 27, 2009.

And after he objected to extending unemployment benefits Thursday night, Bunning upbraided his colleagues and sounded similar to Sen. Evan Bayh, the Indiana Democrat who recently decided not to run for reelection.

"I spent 12 and 12 in this body, 12 here and 12 in the house," said Bunning. "And we're not conning the people in the United States about anything," said Bunning. "They know what's going on. That's why they're madder than heck. They're tired of senators that talk out of both sides of their mouth," he said.

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