On June 22, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced Senate bill S.3520 (the Unemployment Insurance Extension Act), which presented a standalone measure that would extend unemployment benefits to those losing their benefits from June 2 onward until year’s end, to such little fanfare that it went virtually unnoticed. But, on June 24, the continuation of the Republican-led filibuster of bill H.R.4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, made headlines.
In that bill, which failed a cloture vote, was the unemployment benefits extension measure that has become the focus of millions, especially those who have had their unemployment benefits cut off — and those who will in the coming weeks. In two days, Senator Stabenow’s standalone bill received no media attention. But, Maine’s Republican Senator Olympia Snowe’s Friday (the following day) letter to Senate Majority Harry Reid calling for a standalone vote made national headlines. And, Senator Stabenow’s standalone bill? Still in the Senate, open to consideration, ignored by the media.
Instead of giving Senator Stabenow’s standalone bill the time it deserved and trumpeting its merits as the solution to both the unemployment benefits stalemate and political elections conflicts, the media focused more on the disingenuous letter from moderate Republican Olympia Snowe, one of the few Republicans the Democrats have been able to find bipartisan common ground with since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009. The letter implored Senator Reid to not give up on the unemployed and continue to attempt a standalone vote, something Senator Snowe assured the Senate Majority Leader she would vote for. Did Senator Snowe not know that Senator Stabenow had already introduced standalone legislation? Of course she did. In political parlance, that kind of disingenuousness is part of the overall game of “playing politics.”
Regardless, Senator Snowe’s support for a standalone only goes so far. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), once Senator Reid brings S.3520 to the Senate floor, must allow the vote to proceed. Thus far, several standalone votes have been presented by both sides, and have been objected to by both the Senate Leaders. The last Democratic standalone measure would have extended unemployment benefits until Nov. 2. The last Republican suggestion extended benefits for a month. Republicans have also suggested a standalone for a three-month extension.
Senator Stabenow’s bill, submitted on behalf of the over 662,000 unemployed in her home state of Michigan and the more than a million who have already lost their benefits while the Senate has remained in filibuster, takes the unemployment benefits extension off the table for the rest of the year, giving the Senate room to address other matters. It clears the hurdle of senators attempting to appease voters back home, several of whom are in contests for their seats, by leaping elections by nearly two months. It also has the advantage of pulling a measure from the cumbersome H.R.4213, making it somewhat easier to deal with, although it will continue to see heated debate.
But, why hasn’t the standalone bill gotten any attention? Work on the measure for Medicaid within H.R.4213 got plenty of attention. Senator Snowe had a hand in that as well, helping trim the $24 billion (down to $16 billion) to be allocated to 30 states to help pay Medicaid costs, money states had already counted in their respective budgets. Republican objections to the Democratic provisions taxing hedge funds and banks got media attention. McConnell’s seemingly hypocritical droning about adding to the national debt got most of the attention.
Senator Stabenow’s standalone bill is workable, and seems to answer the pressing needs of all concerned, the unemployed as well as the senators worried about its impact on the November elections.
And, just because it doesn’t have that confrontational element that the media so enjoy does not mean that its existence should be ignored. But, if the media need an element of conflict, there’s always the suggestion that Senator Snowe knowingly sent a misleading letter to Senator Reid. When the press was reporting that H.R.4213 — and the unemployment extension provision it contained — might be shelved until after the July 4 Senate recess, Snowe suggested that the Democrats had given up on the unemployed. Senator Stabenow’s standalone bill, as noted, had been introduced to the Senate three days prior to Senator Snowe’s letter.
Perhaps a who-knew-what-when story wasn’t confrontational enough.
It is unclear when S.3520 will be brought to the Senate for a vote. It is also unclear if Senator Mitch McConnell will allow the bill to proceed to a vote. The Senate recesses for the July 4 holiday on July 2, and will reconvene on July 14. In that time, over 2 million people will have lost their unemployment benefits, unless an extension is provided.