How many will break ranks?

HOW MANY WILL BREAK RANKS?…. By now, the numbers are familiar — zero House Republicans supported the stimulus package when it reached the floor, and only three Senate Republicans voted for it. I’ve assumed, as have others, that we’d see similar vote totals when the chambers consider the compromise version announced yesterday.

After all, the near-unanimous opposition to the recovery package has unified the Republican Party, right? The fight has been a shot in the arm to GOP morale. Getting a chance to demand more tax cuts, insist on less stimulus in the midst of an economic crisis, and question the merits of the New Deal has been “energizing” to the Republicans’ rank-and-file.

So why is there so much talk, all of a sudden, about Democrats picking up Republican votes when the final package comes up for a vote?

The bill’s total cost and spending levels have been scaled back from the initial $819 billion House proposal, which drew no Republican support last month. It’s now expected that as many as 20 or more Republicans could break ranks to back the president.

Twenty sounds like an awful lot given the numbers we’ve seen from the GOP of late. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) has already said he’s prepared to break ranks, but he’s a vulnerable Republican in a Democratic district. Is 20 a realistic number?

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the Republican centrists who endorsed the legislation, said yesterday she hopes GOP lawmakers will reconsider their position “rather than just reflexively oppose this.” (Note to Collins: reflexive opposition is what your colleagues do best.)

The Hill reported about a week ago that some Republicans, who balked at the bill during the first go-around, have “hinted” that they would support the “merged House-Senate legislation.” These GOP lawmakers know it’s going to pass anyway, and don’t want to be on record rejecting a bill that will deliver tax cuts and funds to their state/district.

I just don’t know what to believe here. Republicans’ unanimity on this has been the party’s raison d’etre for weeks. They’ve come to believe giving the package “bipartisan” cover would be a terrible mistake. Will they splinter at crunch time?

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