Will Snowe Talk The Senate Into A Stand-Alone Jobless Benefits Extension?

Earlier this month, Senate Democrats tried and failed on three separate occasions to pass a tax extenders bill that included an extension of unemployment benefits that have currently expired. The problem, though, wasn’t that the bill lacked majority support, but that it was filibustered by Republicans who, along with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE), refused to allow it to proceed to a final vote by defeating cloture motions.

Senate Democrats whittled the bill down to appease Republican concerns and subjected more and more of the bill to spending offsets, ultimately leaving just the jobless benefits extension unpaid for. But still, the Republicans refused to relent. However, one glimmer of potential hope remains for those counting on the Senate to take the belated but responsible step of extending benefits, as Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) is advocating for a benefits-only bill, even saying that she’s okay with it adding to the deficit:

The hundreds of thousands of unemployed Americans who are losing jobless benefits every week deserve our immediate attention, so I am writing today to urge you to bring a free-standing extension of unemployment insurance benefits to the Senate floor for a vote early next week. As of today, more than 1.2 million people out of work for longer than six months are ineligible for the next tier of extended benefits, which were originally provided by the economic stimulus bill to fight the recession.

It’s a pretty ugly spectacle to see Snowe call for paying “immediate attention” to a measure that she voted to filibuster not once, but three times. But, considering that 1.2 million people will have lost their benefits by the end of this week if something is not done and that 46 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for six months or more, I suppose this is worth considering.

Of course, passing a stand-alone bill neglects all the other important provisions that were in the extenders bill, including COBRA subsidies to help laid-off workers purchase health insurance and aid to states to help them with their Medicaid bills. Failing to pass such measures is only going to add to the economic misery that Snowe at least seems aware is occurring.

Today, the House attempted to rush a bill consisting of nothing but a benefits extension through under a suspension of the rules, which means that a two-thirds majority of members was needed for it to pass. However, the House fell short on a 261-155 vote, meaning that the bill — which costs $33 billion — will have to be brought back under normal order if House Democrats wish to ultimately approve it.