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Grimes, McConnell spar over bill

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Democratic candidate attacks GOP incumbent for voting against benefits extension

By Gina Clear

After a vote Wednesday in the U.S. Senate to resurrect benefits for the long-term unemployed, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, U.S. Senate Democratic hopeful, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are sparring over his vote against the extension. 

The bill would renew benefits for the long-term unemployed, including those who have been off the job longer than 26 weeks. Since the program’s expiration at the end of last year, an estimated 2.7 million workers have lost benefits.

The bill took a step toward approval with a 61-38 vote, one more vote than the 60 needed to pass. Along with Democrats, five Republicans and two independents voted for the bill.

The legislation would reinstate benefits for five months, retroactive to the benefits’ expiration.

Grimes’ criticism of McConnell’s vote against the bill is his refusal to work across the aisle on important issues.

“Washington is dysfunctional,” she said in a phone interview with The News-Enterprise. “Mitch McConnell is at the center of the dysfunction. At the end of the day, it’s about people, not partisan politics.”

She said not supporting the extension of unemployment benefits was “unacceptable” for the nearly 200,000 jobless veterans in the U.S.

“After fighting for our freedom, our veterans and military personnel should not have to come home and fight their own U.S. senator for their benefits,” she said. “They are enduring economic hardships through no fault of their own. He should be ashamed.”

In a news release, McConnell’s campaign said he voted against the bill because Grimes and President Barack Obama are trying to solve problems their policies created by extending the unemployment benefits.

“Alison Lundergan Grimes and President Obama champion a wide-range of economic policies that put people out of work and then turn to the federal government to manage the ensuing long-term unemployment that their policies caused,” the release said. McConnell’s focus has been on spurring job creation in the private sector rather than handing out government benefits, according to the release.

McConnell co-sponsored the Hire More Heroes Act – a free-standing bill – as an amendment to the unemployment legislation, which was introduced Tuesday, according to the release.The act would exempt veteran employees who receive health care coverage through TRICARE of the Department of Veterans Affairs from being counted toward the 50 full-time equivalent requirement in the Affordable Care Act.

“This legislation that I proudly support will help provide jobs for Kentucky veterans who have faithfully served their country by eliminating the disincentive caused by Obamacare for small businesses,” McConnell said in a release.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told the Associated Press that Republicans filed dozens of proposed changes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., refused to permit to come to a vote. Republicans tried twice to obtain the votes, but were denied both times, Cornyn said.

Democrats, however, agreed earlier to changes to attract enough support for it to pass, including an agreement to cut the budget elsewhere to offset the bill’s $9.7 billion price tag over a decade to prevent the deficit from rising.

Gina Clear can be reached at 270-505-1746 or gclearthenewsenterprise.com.