On stimulus, Dems ready to go it alone

Top Senate Democrats say they've got the votes to pass the bill as early as Thursday night, and are dismissing GOP concerns.

By Christopher M. Matthews

Published February 5, 2009 9:25PM (EST)

WASHINGTON -- At a press conference Thursday, Senate Democrats tried to show that they’d had just about enough of the game of political chicken going on over the stimulus package. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), for one, seemed ready to leave the GOP behind. “The idea the president had of 80 votes is a distant memory,” Schumer said. “We would rather pass a bill with good ideas at 65 votes. It takes two to tango and the Republicans aren’t dancing.”

Still, Schumer seemed to acknowledge that the GOP has made some headway painting themselves as old-school fiscal conservatives by picking away at provisions in the stimulus package for preventing sexually transmitted diseases and non-smoking programs. But he dismissed any concerns over the strategy, saying, “People don’t care about these little items. I think the Republicans are looking for an excuse not to vote for the bill.”

Also at the press conference was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who said he hoped to hold a vote on the stimulus package Thursday, and told reporters that Senate Democrats are prepared to pass the legislation with or without significant Republican support. The GOP, he insisted, “can not hold the president of the United States hostage.”

Reid expressed his desire for bipartisan support of the bill, but it seems likely that the vote will fall largely along party lines, and the majority leader acknowledged that a Republican filibuster is a distinct possibility. At this point, Reid said, he's more concerned with passing the stimulus than with garnering GOP support for it. That may be because, as he said at the press conference, he now believes he has the 60 votes that will be needed for passage.

If the bill does not go to a vote this evening, it appears likely that the Senate will work over the weekend until it does.

Christopher M. Matthews

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Chuck Schumer D-n.y. Harry Reid