Sen. Jim Bunning has left dozens of infrastructure projects on hold and put thousands of federal transportation workers temporarily out of work, but he is sticking to his guns, despite withering criticism from the White House and his Democratic opponents.
Bunning, the Kentucky Republican, decided last week to block a bill that would extend government funding of highway and transit programs and unemployment benefits for 400,000 Americans, among other programs. He has been critical of the bill's $10 billion price tag and its potential to add to the national debt.
Earlier today, Bunning refused to answer questions from ABC News, even flipping his middle finger at a producer trying to catch up with him from behind.
"Excuse me! This is a senators-only elevator!" Bunning thundered as he boarded an elevator in the Hart Senate Office Building. "I'm not talking to anybody," he said.
Later, in a speech on the Senate floor, Bunning, who is not seeking re-election, outlined his rationale for blocking the bill.
"I support extending unemployment benefits, COBRA [health] benefits, flood insurance, highway bill fix, doc fix, small business loans, distant network television for satellite viewers," he said. "But if we can't find $10 billion to pay for something that we all support, we will never pay for anything on the floor of this U.S. Senate."
Bunning has received support from fellow Republicans but none have joined him in blocking the bill. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he understands Bunning's objection.
"Two weeks ago, the Democrats pushed through a toothless Swiss-cheese proposal they were bragging about, saying, 'We're going to pay as we go.' And then the next thing you know, they turn around and offer $10 billion at the last minute to do what you just described without paying for it," Alexander said on ABC News' "Top Line."
Bunning has proposed funding the extension of government programs with as-yet-unused stimulus funds, a move Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid opposes. Reid has favored a temporary extension of unemployment benefits as lawmakers negotiate a longer-term, bipartisan extension.
Democrats have criticized Bunning and the Republicans for blocking the measure.
"Because of the games of Washington, hundreds of thousands of people are without the benefits they need to continue as they look for work," said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the impasse also hurts workers who have jobs, withholding pay from dozens of infrastructure projects around the country.
"This means that construction workers will be sent home from job sites because federal inspectors must be furloughed," LaHood said.
The Department of Transportation, which sidelined 2,000 federal workers and halted 41 construction projects this morning, says those numbers could climb if the stalemate over funding drags on.
Without the highway trust fund dollars, the federal government also cannot reimburse states for any ongoing construction projects. States were scheduled to get some $768 million from the feds this week, but they'll have to figure out how to make do without, for now.
Edward Wytkind, of the Transportation Trades Department, a labor union, called Bunning's move "irresponsible" and "downright dangerous."