Mar 02, 2010

Senator Bunning Blocks COBRA Subsidy Extension

Toward the end of last year, Congress extended the COBRA subsidy provision. The original subsidy program applied only to those who were involuntarily terminated from September 1, 2008, through December 31, 2009. These former employees were entitled to a 65% subsidy of their continuing health insurance premiums for up to nine months. The extension increased the duration of the subsidy to 15 months. It also extended the eligibility period to include those who were involuntarily terminated through February 28, 2010. If you don't have your calendar in front of you, that was two days ago.

Last week, the House of Representatives passed a temporary measure that would have extended the eligibility period for another month, to the end of March 2010, to give Congress some time to get its act together and pass a more comprehensive jobs bill. But the Senate has been blocked from voting on the extension by Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky. Bunning's camp says he doesn't necessarily oppose the measure, but wants Congress to stop passing spending bills that it can't pay for. (Bunning himself, in response to criticism of his action last week on the floor of the Senate, had a shorter comment: He is reported to have said "tough s%*t" in response to another Senator's remarks that Bunning should drop his opposition to the bill.)

Bunning has been taking a lot of criticism for his action, but that's nothing new for this Senator. After a public fight last year with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (which reportedly included a threat by Bunning to sue the group), Bunning announced he would not run for reelection. In recent years, Bunning's apparent gaffes, from his comments about Supreme Court Justice Ginsberg's cancer to his comment that an opponent in his previous reelection race looked like one of Saddam Hussein's sons, have garnered a lot of press.

Bunning's action prevents the Senate from passing the House's temporary measure by unanimous consent. If that procedural avenue is blocked, the Senate will have to override his objection or simply pass the COBRA extension as part of its broader jobs bill (which, in its current form, extends the program until the end of this year), either of which will take some time.