Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s gamble paid off Monday night, as five Republicans joined Democrats to cut off debate on a narrowed $15 billion package of tax breaks and spending aimed at fostering job creation.
The 62-30 tally set up a Senate vote on the bill and House action later this week.
The procedural vote was the first major win for Democrats since they lost their supermajority of 60 votes — and it was delivered in part by the man who cost them that advantage, Republican Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts. It also followed President Obama’s renewed attempts to pressure Republicans to engage with the majority.
“I hope this is the beginning of a new day in the Senate,” Reid said after the vote, a sentiment Obama echoed in a statement issued by the White House.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the vote represents a broader crack in the partisan gridlock that has come to dominate the Senate, or an isolated outcome on a measure that moderate and swing-state Republicans felt they could not afford to oppose.
Moreover, the House version of the legislation (HR 2847) is much more expensive, and Democrats there may have a hard time accepting the pared-down Senate product.
Olympia J. Snowe, one of two Republicans from Maine who voted for Monday’s cloture motion, said she disliked Reid’s tactics — the Nevada Democrat dismissed a broader bipartisan compromise from Finance Committee leaders two weeks ago, then blocked amendments to his version — but did not oppose anything in the package.
“It’s a de minimis bill in terms of what we could do,” Snowe said. “I think it’s also an important message to the American people that we need to sort of rise above.”
But Snowe — whose vote will be among a handful on the GOP side likely to be courted by Democrats in coming weeks on a variety of issues— added that she wants to be able to offer amendments on future jobs bills. “It has to be a two-way street,” she said.
The exact timing of a final vote remained unclear, but following likely Senate passage of the bill in the next two days, the House is also expected to take it up this week.
The House Democratic Caucus is likely to discuss the jobs legislation at its midday meeting Tuesday. Leaders appeared relieved by the Senate vote, even though the upper chamber’s package is a fraction of the $154 billion version they shepherded through late last year.
The Senate is also set to move this week on a separate 15-day extension of several soon-to-expire programs, including expanded unemployment benefits.
Brown’s Vote Watched Closely
Ben Nelson of Nebraska was the only Democrat to vote against cloture. The ailing Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., was not present.
The bill includes payroll tax relief for businesses that hire new workers and extensions of the Highway Trust Fund, the “Build America” bond program and expense deductions for small businesses.
In his speech before the vote, Reid emphasized that Republicans have supported all the component parts of the bill. “Who can complain about this bill?” he asked.
Indeed, Republicans who disliked the process but supported the bill faced an awkward situation.
Among Republicans, Snowe and Brown were joined by Susan Collins of Maine, George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Christopher S. Bond of Missouri.
Brown cast the first GOP vote in favor of cloture seconds after the clerk began calling the roll. He left the chamber swiftly and then waited in the hallway for reporters to gather for an impromptu press conference. “It’s the first step in creating jobs,” he said, noting that the bill is “not perfect” and that he wants broader tax relief.
After Democrats reached the 60-vote threshold, Bond came out of the cloakroom and voted for cloture.
Voinovich highlighted the highway funding in the bill and said he received a commitment from Reid to bring a surface transportation reauthorization bill to the floor for a vote this year.
“I am pleased that this bill sends the message to struggling states like Ohio that they can move forward with shovel-ready transportation projects — projects that will put people back to work quickly and the results of which will contribute to economic growth,” Voinovich said. “The state of Ohio could lose $300 million in vital job creation funds without passage of this bill.”
Evan Bayh of Indiana, who shocked fellow Democrats last week by announcing that he will not run for re-election, came into the chamber, voted and left after talking to no one.
Snowe said she has talked with Obama, Reid and the head of the Small Business Administration, Karen G. Mills, to discuss the small-business initiatives that she wants to advance, including a reduction of lenders’ fees and an extension of small-business loan guarantees that expire at the end of the week.
House May Act Fast
House Democratic leaders were relieved that the Senate voted for cloture on a jobs bill and indicated they will move quickly to respond once the Senate takes final action.
“That was great news,” said Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., deputy to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “The vote provided a big boost to the jobs bill.”
Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said House leaders view the Senate legislation as one step in a bigger process. “Sen. Reid pointed out that this is a jobs agenda, and this happened to be part of that jobs agenda,” Hoyer said.