Senate passes key legislation on state aid, teachers’ jobs

SENATE PASSES KEY LEGISLATION ON STATE AID, TEACHERS’ JOBS…. This morning was a key test — of the Senate’s ability to address a public need, of policymakers’ commitment to the American economy, of Republican moderates’ willingness to take “yes” for an answer.

In a pleasant surprise, they passed the test.

At issue was a state aid package, including $10 billion to save school teachers’ jobs, and $16.1 billion in state Medicaid funding (FMAP). The measure was financed through a combination of cuts — including cuts to food stamps in future years — and closing foreign tax credit loopholes. For Republicans who claim to want to improve the economy, but not at the expense of the deficit, there were no excuses — Dems offered a modest, sensible bill, which would save jobs, help struggling states, all without adding to the deficit.

Indeed, Senate Democrats practically wrote the bill to the specifications of Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. Fortunately, they acted in good faith — after getting the provisions they wanted, at the cost they wanted, Snowe and Collins voted with Democrats. The vote this morning was 61 to 38. Every other Republican in the chamber voted to kill the legislation — there’s money for the wars and tax cuts, they said, but not for teachers and health care.

This morning was not, by the way, a vote on final passage, but rather, to end a Republican filibuster (which, for the first time in American history, is applied to literally every bill of consequence). The legislation itself will be approved by majority rule by tomorrow night, at the latest.

The bill now heads to the House, which won’t return from its August recess for several weeks. There have been some unconfirmed rumors that the House may return in emergency session to approve the FMAP/EduJobs bill before the recess formally ends, but that remains to be seen.

Regardless, this morning offers something of a relief. As many as 140,000 school teachers’ jobs were on the line, and much-needed Medicaid funding needed to pass. For those who were beginning to think nothing could ever pass the Senate again, regardless of merit, today offers a glimmer of hope.