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March 2nd, 2010
05:25 PM ET

CNN Fact Check: Is Sen. Jim Bunning's stand against unemployment extensions in line with his past votes?

Sen. Jim Bunning set off a firestorm in Washington by single-handedly blocking a short-term extension of jobless benefits, demanding that it be paid for instead of adding to the deficit.

Sen. Jim Bunning set off a firestorm in Washington by single-handedly blocking a short-term extension of jobless benefits, demanding that it be paid for instead of adding to the deficit.

Chris Mould
CNN

Sen. Jim Bunning set off a firestorm in Washington - and across the country - by single-handedly blocking a short-term extension of jobless benefits, demanding that it be paid for instead of adding to the deficit.

The $10 billion package, which also includes road projects and COBRA health insurance subsidies, needed unanimous consent to pass because it was an emergency spending measure not authorized by the federal budget.

Without it, millions of out-of-work Americans can't continue to apply for federal unemployment benefits, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said up to 2,000 employees at his agency would be sent home without pay.

Bunning, R-Kentucky, says he's not opposed to extending the benefits - he just wants to make sure they're paid for without adding to the deficit.

"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 the U.S. Senate," he said. In response, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, asked, "Where was my friend from Kentucky when we had two wars that were unpaid for during the Bush administration?"

And that got the CNN Fact Check desk wondering: Has Bunning always been so deficit-conscious, or is his hardball stance something new?

Fact Check: Has Bunning voted for other unemployment benefit extensions or programs that increased the deficit?
- Bunning supported the 2008 supplemental war spending bill, which included a provision to extend unemployment insurance benefits for 13 weeks.

The bill also extended benefits for an additional 13 weeks for workers in states with unemployment rates of 6 percent or higher. Since this was a supplemental bill, there were no budget offsets for the extensions. Bunning voted to end debate on the bill, allowing it to advance through the Senate, and he also voted in favor of the final bill.

- In June 2009, Bunning voted in favor of the Senate's $106 billion spending bill to pay for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through September 30, 2010. The bill included $7.7 billion to prepare for a flu pandemic and $1 billion for the "Cash for Clunkers" program, as well as other projects.

- Bunning also voted in favor of the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, as well as President George Bush's Medicare drug benefit plan, all of which added to the federal deficit.

- In January, Bunning voted against increasing the statutory limit on the public debt and has backed several other measures aimed at curbing the deficit, including provisions to establish 5-year discretionary spending caps.

He also backed a failed amendment that would have terminated further spending under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the widely criticized bank bailout of 2008.

- Bunning argues that extending jobless benefits without cutting spending elsewhere violates the newly reinstated "pay-as-you-go" budget rules.

Bunning voted against that legislation, which was signed into law last month as part of the bill that raised the debt ceiling. President Barack Obama urged Congress to bring back the provision in his State of the Union address, calling it "a big reason we had surpluses in the 1990s."

- Bunning, a former Major League pitcher who was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1996, announced in July that he won't seek re-election in 2010.

He accuses GOP leaders of pushing him out by "doing everything in their power to dry up my fund-raising." He was elected to the Senate in 1998 after serving 12 years in the U.S. House.

Bottom Line: Senator Bunning has voted for unemployment benefit extensions that did not include budget offsets at least twice in the past. He also voted for President Bush's tax cuts, as Majority Leader Harry Reid pointed out, as well as the Medicare Drug Benefit plan which the Bush administration acknowledged would add to the deficit. Despite his push for budget constraints and against TARP spending, his stand against unemployment benefit extensions without budget offsets isn't in line with past votes.

- CNN's Diana Holden, Matt Smith, Allison Archer and Dana Bash contributed to this Fact Check.

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