ABC’s Jonathan Karl and Z. Byron Wolf report from Washington:
The exchange took place as Senator Bunning was getting into an elevator in the Hart Senate Office Building.
“Excuse me! This is a Senators only elevator!” Bunning thundered.
I tried again to ask his reasons for blocking the bill, Bunning said he already explained his reasons last Thursday, when he said he wanted the $10 billion cost of the bill to be paid for, rather than simply adding to the national debt.
“Excuse me!” he yelled. “I’ve got to go to the floor!”
As the doors closed, I asked Bunning if he is concerned about those losing their benefits.
He did not answer.
Senator Bunning was even more expressive before the cameras arrived, using a little sign language.
When Senate producer Z. Byron Wolf spotted Bunning exiting his office, Bunning said, “I’m not talking to anybody.” When Wolf asked him to stay and talk to our cameras, Bunning walked toward the elevator and shot the middle finger over his head.
After rebuffing us, Bunning did go to the Senate floor and give a coherent explanation of why he is holding up the unemployment benefit extension, COBRA, and Highway Trust Fund money – he wants it to be paid for elsewhere in the budget. His preference would be to use unspent stimulus funds.
“I support extending unemployment benefits, cobra benefits, flood insurance, highway bill fix, doc fix, small business loans, distant network television for satellite viewers. 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,” he said.
Senators will take up a more long-term version of the bill to extend unemployment benefits on the Senate floor today. It is not likely to pass until later this week or next week. As for the highway trust fund, that money is likely to pass the House this week as part of a jobs bill already passed through the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a floor speech that Bunning should not be making political points where it concerns unemployment checks.
“My republican colleagues came to the floor and talked about process,” Reid said. “They had a right to do that. Well, under the rules, I guess that’s true, Mr. president. if you can’t afford to feed your kids, that doesn’t mean anything anything.”
Reid, for his part, objected when Bunning tried to pass the bill extension with an amendment to pay for it out of as-yet unused stimulus funds.