Senate Dems don't have votes to pass stimulus

The package has run into a wall in the Senate, where Republicans and moderate Democrats are demanding changes.

By Alex Koppelman

Published February 4, 2009 6:05PM (EST)

Leave it to the Senate Democrats, even though they hold 58 seats, to find a way to lose a pivotal vote. The Washington Post reports that Democratic leaders are acknowledging they don't have the votes necessary to pass their version of the stimulus package, and that a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans is looking for major cuts.

What's that you say? Why would the Democrats have trouble finding 50 votes when they have 58 seats? Well, as usual, they're letting Republicans force a 60-vote threshold, essentially filibustering without going to all that hard work of actually filibustering. Because, hey, why would you make the Senate GOP stand before television cameras and be seen physically standing in the way of the stimulus? That might actually be good politics, and we can't have that.

So we're likely to see significant changes to the curent Senate version of the bill. "A number of Democrats have said they want to see changes to the bill before they can vote for it," Majority Whip Dick Durbin said Tuesday. Majority Leader Harry Reid chimed in, telling reporters, "The president, the Democratic leaders, the Republican leaders certainly have every intention of moving forward to getting everything out of the bill that causes heartburn to a significant number of senators."

A group of senators seeking a compromise that would center on billions in cuts is being led by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Neb., and Susan Collins, R-Maine. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., says they're looking to slash provisions that would call for funding that wouldn't be spent immediately. That's well and good, but if that's going to happen, then supporters of the stimulus need to do a better job arguing on its behalf. As it is, they're letting Republicans target items that sound bad, like money for STD prevention, but would actually be stimulative. And right now, they're not doing a good enough job of explaining why those sorts of items should be in the stimulus and why they're different from programs that won't use their money for a couple years. If they don't do that, the GOP will continue to be able to attack small parts of the package as a proxy for the bill as a whole.

That's especially true since Democratic leaders got some more bad news on Wednesday. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who might well have been a yes vote, one of just two the Democrats need if they can hold all their members, has now said he'll recuse himself from votes while his nomination to be commerce secretary is considered.

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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