Can Obama get the stimulus past the Senate?

As Congress' upper house begins debate on the package, one question remains: Are there 60 yes votes out there?

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 2, 2009 4:25PM (EST)

Debate on the stimulus package is now moving to the Senate, where,  unlike in the House, Democrats can't come away without a single Republican vote in favor and still claim victory.

There's no filibuster in the House, but there is in the Senate, and considering the opposition to the bill coming from the GOP's base, Republican leaders may well force Democrats to come up with the 60 votes needed to overcome the parliamentary tactic instead of just a simple majority. So the question on the minds of observers right now is whether the Obama administration, in conjunction with Majority Leader Harry Reid, will be able to round up the necessary support, and what they'll have to give up in exchange.

President Obama, for one, sounds confident. "I am confident that by the time we actually have the final package on the floor that we are going to see substantial support," Obama said in his pre-Super Bowl interview with Matt Lauer. He also seemed to hint at possible concessions, saying he'd ask members of Congress to strip from the package those provisions "that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now."

Further hints are in one story in the Washington Post, which reports "signs that Democrats will continue their efforts to get at least a handful of Republicans on board by expanding the tax cuts included in the package and possibly refocusing the spending around shorter-term stimulus instead of the longer-term priorities of Obama and congressional Democrats on health care, energy and other areas." Another Post article says "senators in both parties hope to alter the legislation, focusing on easing the housing crisis, increasing infrastructure spending and cutting taxes on corporations." (That, conversely, could actually make final passage of the bill more difficult, as it would mean more differences between the House and Senate versions that would have to be ironed out in conference.)

It's also important to remember that not all of the concessions will be directed at Republicans. There are some Senate Democrats, like Nebraska's Ben Nelson, who've already indicated that they're less than fully on board, and they may need some sort of tangible success of their own to sell to wary voters back home.

Still, Nate Silver has taken a look into his crystal ball, and he believes that -- even with 34 of the Senate's Republicans having already publicly opposed the bill -- a filibuster won't be successful. "[I]n terms of sustaining a filibuster, I think McConnell is most likely bluffing," Silver writes. "Then again, I didn't think the GOP would manage unanimous opposition to the recovery bill in the House."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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