Senate Republicans are in trouble (again) for being heartless, blocking bills to spite hardworking Americans. This week, it’s over extending unemployment benefits (again) – a subject that came up last month when Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) placed a hold on extending COBRA payments. Bunning’s point, which was lost in the sound and fury over the sheer cruelty of his act, was that President Obama endorsed pay-as-you-go budgeting to address the government’s chronic overspending – and then promptly disregarded the whole “spend more on one thing and make cuts elsewhere” thing. And let’s not even get into the debate over whether unemployment benefits are a good idea in the first place

This week, Senator Tom “Dr. No” Coburn (R-OK) took up the charge, vowing to block ALL future spending bills that aren’t fully paid for. At the moment, this means an additional extension of unemployment benefits – but as we get further into the 2011 budget and appropriations process, it’s likely to get pretty ugly. This week, Coburn told The Hill “The fact is that the country wants us to start making hard choices on spending, and if we can’t do it on a $9 billion bill, then we’re certainly not going to be able to do it on our $1.6 trillion deficit.” He’s completely correct – because the easy cuts aren’t even being made! 

Democrats have objected to making the most recent round of unemployment benefits subject to PAYGO, saying that it’s “emergency” spending that shouldn’t be subject to such constraints. It’s shameful that the very idea of Congress having to pay for their spending is controversial (after all, that’s how we got to this $12.7 trillion national debt in the first place.)

As CBO Director Doug Elmendorf acknowledged this week, the nation’s financial woes are significant and can only be solved through raising taxes or cutting spending. White House economic advisor Paul Volcker has endorsed the tax angle – but that is likely to further cripple the economy. In the long run, the only sustainable way to fix the problem is for the government to do less in the first place, and stop promising benefits and entitlements that it cannot pay.

After all, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step… so saying “no” to unfunded spending is a good start.