ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports: Sen. Olympia Snowe could not alone have gotten Democrats the 60 votes they needed to extend unemployment benefits for the long-unemployed on Thursday. But she’d have gotten them within one vote.
And the moderate Mainer is obviously frustrated about having to vote repeatedly against an extension of the benefits, which Congress has periodically extended on an emergency basis during the financial crisis. One day after the Senate vote, liberal groups were targeting Snowe and her Maine GOP counterpart, Sen. Susan Collins, in a TV ad for opposing the jobless benefits extension.
One Democrat and every Republican opposed the grab-bag bill that would have extended federal unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks, insure Medicare doctors won’t get a pay cut through the end of this year, extend COBRA subsidies and expiring tax credits for businesses.
Democrats had whittled their proposal down from more adding more than $100 billion to the national debt in a version that passed the House to about $35 billion, including deleting provisions to help states pay Medicaid bills. The $35 billion cost to the bill was entirely associated with the unemployment costs. This won support from all but one moderate Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, but did not shake loose any Republican support.
Democrats moved a separate bill to avert for 90 days the pay cut to Medicare doctors. But that only occurred after some Medicare claims were processed at the 21 percent lower that kicks in automatically if lawmakers don’t act periodically to step around balanced budget rules.
Snowe said she would have voted for a simple extension of unemployment benefits, but did not like the larger bill. She said Thursday she would have voted for a bill that only extended unemployment benefits even if it added to the debt.
“I would not impede unemployment benefits by insisting that they are not emergency spending and should be fully paid for,” said Snowe in a long speech on the Senate floor. “I believe there is a majority that supports that policy. So O recommended, why not separate the unemployment benefits and move it along? Why put people at risk who are unemployed? We could have done that.”
But Democrats, smarting after trimming their bill to attract support, were having none of it on Friday. It is also not clear that a clean bill, even with Snowe’s support, could get the 60 votes to bypass a Republican filibuster.
“We appreciate Senator Snowe’s concerns, but the fact is that she is sending the letter to the wrong person and to the wrong party,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “We know that the thousands of unemployed workers in Maine want an explanation as to why she joined with all Republicans to vote against legislation to help the unemployed and why she stood silent as members of her party objected to passing the same stand-alone bill she now says she seeks.”
Reid said Thursday that he will only bring the bill back to the Senate floor if Republicans agree to allow vote on it. Regardless of who is to blame, Congress has moved on from jobless benefits.