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Candidates criticize Bunning's unemployment ploy

FRANKFORT — Two Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate are criticizing Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning for blocking a 30-day extension of unemployment benefits and health insurance payments for more than 1 million Americans over concerns about the federal deficit.

Attorney General Jack Conway started a petition on his campaign Web site, http://jackconway.org, to tell Bunning "to stop putting politics before Kentuckians." Campaign spokeswoman Allison Haley said Sunday that nearly 400 people have signed the petition.

Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, inviting Conway and all Democrats to stand with him, said if the extension is not resolved Monday, he will lead a protest at Bunning's Lexington and Louisville offices Tuesday.

Meanwhile, at least one Republican candidate has broken ranks with Bunning over the issue. Former state schools chief John Stephenson said he would ask Bunning: "What would Jesus do? I know that we must bring cost into line, but the timing on this could not be worse." But Stephenson also said Americans should be thankful that Bunning brought attention to the deficit issue.

Other Republican candidates — Secretary of State Trey Grayson and Bowling Green eye surgeon Rand Paul — applauded Bunning's stance for demanding that programs be paid for.

Bunning spokesman Mike Reynard said Bunning supports the extension of benefits but thinks the $10 billion cost must be paid for from unspent stimulus funds. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said 119,230 Kentuckians are receiving benefits through the federal extension program. About 14,000 would exhaust their benefits within two weeks without the extension.

WASHINGTON — Congress will pass legislation aimed at keeping certain jobless benefits, highway and transit money and other government programs funded, Sen. Jon Kyl, the Senate's No. 2 Republican, said Sunday.

But the approval was highly unlikely to come before Monday morning. Several programs expire at midnight, and Congress has failed to extend them because of an objection by Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky. Bunning wants the $10 billion price offset by budget reductions.

Kyl, though, told Fox News Sunday, flatly, "it will pass."

The Arizona senator also sympathized with Bunning.

"Congress just passed the so-called pay-go legislation, which is supposed to require we find offsets or other savings if we're going to spend money," Kyl said. "And what's the first thing we do? We exempt this bill from it."

Democrats continued to express anger.

"Because of one senator's irresponsible actions, over 61,000 Michigan workers will begin losing their unemployment benefits on Monday," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "These workers and their families cannot afford to wait for help."

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