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Florida Senator George LeMieux

Sen. George LeMieux of Florida voted against the extension of unemployment benefits.

Three weeks ago we all thought that Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky was ready for the funny farm for trying to single-handedly block passage of a federal extension of unemployment benefits. Now it seems he has dragged most of the GOP with him.

On Friday, GOP senators blocked passage of another extension, needed to keep benefits flowing to job-seekers whose benefits will otherwise end on April 5. Speaking for the group, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said they blocked the bill because the $9 billion price tag would add to the national debt.

A lack of empathy by the GOP for the unemployed, or the poor, or the sick, certainly comes as no surprise. After all, this is the same GOP which flaunts as a red badge of courage its monolithic opposition to health care reform, the greatest domestic legislation since the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

What does surprise me is the mindless dogmatism of the deficit hawks. Let’s be candid: only those whose cupboards are full have the luxury of worrying about what might or might not happen ten or fifteen years from now. Most of us — and certainly the unemployed — have to focus on the present: food for their kids and themselves, rent and mortgage payments, utilities, and other essentials.

One of the GOP senators mentioned in an LA Times story about the vote was George LeMieux of Florida.

“Even in these difficult times, my constituents say to me, “We’re more concerned about the debt than we’re concerned about anything else,’ ” said Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.).

That’s an astonishing comment. To be accurate, what he should have said is that “my EMPLOYED, RETIRED, or WEALTHY constituents” are more concerned about the debt than anything else.

I could easily have looked at any other state, but LeMieux’s is an interesting case because unemployment there sets a new record every month. In the latest report, the unemployment rate in Florida stands at 12.2%. That’s 1.26 million people. I doubt that many, if any, of those 1.26 million workers are more concerned about the debt than eating, putting a roof over their heads, or paying their bills.

I might also mention that LeMieux, who is quick to ignore people who actually have to struggle to make a living, was not elected to the U.S. Senate. He was appointed last year by Florida Governor Crist. In other words, the pulpit he uses to lecture us about economic responsibility was a gift.

He way of saying “thanks” for this largesse is to tell 1.26 million Floridians, “Eat dirt!”

And in case you have never heard of LeMieux before, here’s a video of his inarticulate explanation of why he voted against the benefits extension.