Where we are now

WHERE WE ARE NOW…. The plan, apparently, was to get a Senate vote on the stimulus by the end of today. What’s the landscape look like right now? Everything remains very much up in the air.

The Senate Democratic leader expressed optimism Friday about prospects for a massive economic recovery package, though a Republican colleague said she was feeling less encouraged. President Barack Obama used the cudgel of his office — and the latest dire jobless numbers — to challenge lawmakers to act swiftly.

On Capitol Hill, centrists from both parties scrambled to cut the massive, $900-billion-plus price tag of the package in hopes of making it more palatable to Republicans…. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada reflected the fierce sense of urgency among Democrats and the White House amid the party’s fear that Republicans were turning public opinion against the costly bill.

“The world is waiting to see what we’re going to do in the next 24 hours,” Reid said on the Senate floor, citing the bleaker economic picture.

We can only hope the world isn’t watching what lawmakers are doing, because this would be awfully embarrassing.

The goal is to put together 60 votes, because the Senate Republican minority won’t allow an up-or-down vote on a recovery package in the midst of a serious recession. (This point seems to be verboten in most media coverage of the deliberations.) Democrats have a 58-member caucus, but Ted Kennedy is still recuperating, Ben Nelson is still conservative, and Al Franken is still waiting for Norm Coleman to give up. Chances are, Democrats will need three Republican votes.

There are only four Senate Republicans who are even open to the idea of using a government stimulus to spur economic growth — Susan Collins (Maine), George Voinovich (Ohio), Arlen Specter (Pa.), and Olympia Snowe (Maine) — and one of the four, Voinovich, dropped out of negotiations today and will reject the package.

At this point, Collins is apparently discouraged, wanting to cut more from the bill than Democrats are prepared to accept; Snowe is looking into the tax-cut portions of the bill to find possible savings; and no one seems to be sure what Specter’s up to.

Just to step back for a moment, Obama won an impressive national victory in November, Democrats increased their Senate majority to 58 (59, with Minnesota), and Democrats now enjoy a 77-seat majority in the House. Despite all of this, the strength of the U.S. economy is largely dependent right now on the arbitrary whims of these three center-right Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Reid said a vote on the package tonight is still a possibility. Stay tuned.

Post Script: I’m a little fuzzy on my Senate procedures, but Kevin Drum noted the other day that if Senate Republicans balk at a rescue plan and filibuster the proposal, “the Democratic leadership would just turn around and consider the bill under budget reconciliation rules, which require only a majority vote to pass. Sure, they’ve already said they’d prefer not to do that, but if they have to they will. And since the bill is all about short-term spending, it would obviously qualify under reconciliation rules.”

Does anyone know if that’s the case? And if so, doesn’t that mean the Democratic leadership can just stop trying to make more cuts to a bill that probably isn’t big enough anyway?

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation