GOP Senator in Cross-hairs Over Filibuster; Senate Moves to Longer Term Benefits Bill

I wrote earlier about Sen. Jim Bunning's filibuster of a bill that would have extended unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits for 30 days -- giving time for Congress to continue those for a year --- but there's one thing to keep in mind:

Without question, Bunning has thrown a big wrench into the spokes of a legislative vehicle that was expected breeze through Congress (and will eventually). In fact, the Senate is expected on Monday to turn to a bill that extends both benefits for a year ---- a measure that should pass by week's end.

BUT -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, bears some blame here.  After all, the Senate Finance Committee reported out a bipartisan jobs bill from its chairman and ranking member, Sens Max Baucus, D-MT, and Chuck Grassley, R-IA, respectively, that would have extended U.I. and COBRA benefits through May 31, 2010.

But Reid unilaterally scaled the bill down, rather unexpectedly, after strong objections by some Democrats to what was seen as a weighted bill toward Republicans. Reid said at the time that he had stripped out everything that didn't directly create a job.

This opened the door to the current situation with Bunning.  Had Bunning launched his filibuster over the Baucus-Grassley bill, there would have been time to jump through all the procedural hoops before Sunday's expiration of the benefits.

Nevertheless, Bunning is now squarely in the cross-hairs.  The Vice President and Speaker of the House have taken aim.  VP Joe Biden said his former colleague, if successful in his one-man filibuster, would be responsible for one million people being thrown from the unemployment rolls.  "One million people will be throw into nothing but despair," Biden said.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, sent a letter to Bunning, asking that he abandon his effort. "On behalf of the 201,000 Californians who will see their unemployment insurance benefits expire in the month of March unless we act to renew them, I ask that you stand down immediately."

Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, a member of leadership and - like Boxer - up for re-election this year, put out a much more withering statement, saying, "With brazen disregard for families hurting across our state and country, one Republican senator has decided to block the extension of unemployment benefits to those struggling to find work. This is appalling and shameful."

The drama appears to be short-lived, however.   The Senate is expected to take up a bill on Monday that extends both unemployment insurance and COBRA benefits for one year.  A popular package of tax extenders is expected to be included.  The bill should pass by weeks' end.

And sources tell Fox not everyone will go without an unemployment check next week. Some states, apparently, print their checks ahead of time and send them out early.  So -- some people, lucky enough to be in states that do this, will get their checks.  Others will not.

There are reports that Medicare doctors might somehow just stop seeing their patients, because the federal reimbursement these docs get also expired.  NOT TRUE says multiple sources.  Congress has repeatedly allowed this provision to expire because of political infighting, but the members ALWAYS take care of it.