Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 23, 2010

THE 'BEGINNING OF A NEW DAY'?.... Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled a vote for yesterday afternoon to end a Republican filibuster of a scaled-down jobs bill, and within a couple of hours of the vote, no one knew how it was going to turn out. In fact, there had already been some second-guessing about Reid's strategy.

But when it came time to vote on ending the GOP's obstruction of the legislation, things turned out better than expected.

Five Republican senators broke ranks with their party on Monday to advance a $15 billion job-creation measure put forward by Democrats, a rare bipartisan breakthrough after months in which Republicans had held together to a remarkable degree in an effort to thwart President Obama's agenda.

The 62-to-30 vote -- two more yeses than the minimum required to get past a procedural roadblock -- cleared the way for the Senate to vote Wednesday to approve the measure, which Democrats said would create tens of thousands of new jobs at a time when the unemployment rate is hovering near double digits and is expected to remain high for years to come.

The roll-call is online. A total of five Republican senators -- Scott Brown (Mass.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Susan Collins (Maine), Olympia Snowe (Maine), and George Voinovich (Ohio) -- broke ranks and agreed to let the Senate vote up or down on the legislation. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was the only Democrat to side with Republicans and try to block consideration of the jobs bill.

Given the results, spirits were high in the chamber last night. Before the vote, Reid implored Senate Republicans to demonstrate that they're "serious about legislating." After the vote, he told his colleagues, "I hope this is the beginning of a new day in the Senate."

I hope so, too. But how one interprets last night's developments depends on whether one is a glass-half-full kind of person.

On the one hand, we saw five Republicans -- far more than usual -- break ranks and end a ridiculous filibuster, making it possible for the Senate to approve a jobs bill in bipartisan fashion. On the other hand, only five GOP senators were willing to let the Senate vote on a modest, scaled-back jobs bill in the midst of an unemployment crisis, despite the fact that Republicans actually like what's in the bill.

It's either a rare and encouraging breakthrough, or a relief that comes from the soft bigotry of low expectations.

As for the measure itself, it's a very limited jobs bill, the bulk of which is a payroll-tax exemption for companies who hire workers this year. It also features a $1,000 tax credit for employers who keep new workers on the job for at least a year, a provision to allow businesses to write off some capital investments, and a one-year reauthorization of the Highway Trust Fund.

If this strikes you as too modest an approach to make much of a difference, you have plenty of company. That said, the Democratic leadership re-emphasized yesterday that this will be the first of several bills related to job creation to be considered in the near future.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (29)

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What's with Nelson? No bribes for Nebraska in this one?

Posted by: dr2chase on February 23, 2010 at 8:05 AM | PERMALINK

Good time to call your Republican senator, and heap praise or scorn.

Posted by: Rathskeller on February 23, 2010 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

It's a Republican bill (nothing but tax cuts), that's why they could get some Republicans to vote for it. It's also totally fucking useless for the stated purpose of creating jobs. Big whoop-ti-doo. If this is what passes for an accomplishment these days, we're well and truly screwed.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 23, 2010 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

5 senators=hardly bipartisan.

The Dems have to give up on the notion that these republicans will put the needs of the country ahead of what they perceive as possible political gain.

Posted by: Cycledco on February 23, 2010 at 8:25 AM | PERMALINK

I have to agree with Steve. It's "something" and that's about all you can say about it.

Whatever "momentum" this creates, they better jump on it and start passing something real until the gridlock sets in again. My guess is that it will be the very next bill they submit.

They need to force the showdown, then start passing through reconciliation. If they go through reconciliation, they might as well pass everything at once.

Posted by: bdop4 on February 23, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK

I'm wondering, does anyone know if this little jobs bill is going to be merged with the much larger House Bill? If yes, then this strategy kind of makes sense - If no, then what the hell is it going to accomplish. I feel like I'm missing a big piece of the puzzle.

Posted by: bcinaz on February 23, 2010 at 8:28 AM | PERMALINK
If yes, then this strategy kind of makes sense

There can't be any strategy that makes sense unless the Dems grow the nads to nuke the filibuster. Continued existence of the filibuster = permanent impossibility of Democratic governance. I'm afraid it really is that simple.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on February 23, 2010 at 8:33 AM | PERMALINK

"That said, the Democratic leadership re-emphasized yesterday that this will be the first of several bills related to job creation to be considered in the near future."

I guess when dealing with cry babies, the baby step approach may be best.

Posted by: Dave on February 23, 2010 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

Be ready to see the hypocrites like Bonher-head and Bitch McConnell take credit for this jobs bill back home when they talk to constituents of how this bill (that they voted no for) will be creating thousands of jobs in their stimulus-stimmed districts. Nauseating...

Posted by: stevio on February 23, 2010 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Yes, what is with Nelson? Not only not voting with the Democrats, or excusing himself to the men's room during the vote or something, or voting for cloture and then voting against the bill, but actively voting to filibuster a microscopic jobs bill during an unemployment catastrophe?!?! Plus he must have known he already had some cover from Republicans voting in favor of cloture.

Posted by: Norbert on February 23, 2010 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

The Reps have been playing an NFL game, while the Dems are doing flag football. (with Lucy as holder).

I don't remember a great hue and cry when GW Bush used reconciliation to pass his massive tax cuts- or any of the other measures he rammed through.

Any negative consequences of Obama using it pale beyond what we have now. . .

Posted by: DAY on February 23, 2010 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Our useless senator from NC (Burr) proved himself to be a waste of space again, he was afraid to vote for the bill (which might help gain jobs in NC) it would anger the republican party, but was afraid to vote no as he would be seen as voting against jobs
which are sorely needed in his state. Who needs people like him in the senate?

Posted by: JS on February 23, 2010 at 8:50 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, a question for any of you rules-wonks.

This vote for 62-30, a total of 92 voting senators. To carry a cloture motion, are 60 votes of the entire body needed, whether or not all are present; or only 60% of the votes, assuming a quorum?

Posted by: kevmor on February 23, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

It's amazing that we're so excited that we ended a filibuster of a bill. For a while there, I thought the Senate had passed the bill.

I figure they let Brown vote yea to make him look more "presidential."

Posted by: pol on February 23, 2010 at 8:52 AM | PERMALINK

I suspect the GOP will use this as their proof of being non-partisan.I don't see much of anything else passing in the nearv future.

Posted by: edr on February 23, 2010 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

It says alot about the Dem leadership that Nelson wasn't then stripped of all committee positions.

Posted by: martin on February 23, 2010 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Bigotry of soft expectations? Uhm, yeah! This is a vote to talk about the bloody bill not pass it. I know, we've not seen that in a while, but really, does anyone think this will pass - good or bad? Suffice it to say I'm not envisioning much moving past the talking stage when it comes to the party of no, nope, not gonna happen.

Posted by: Ms_Joanne on February 23, 2010 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

This gives Republicans a chance to say they voted for a jobs bill, without doing so. Period. Nothing more than that. It doesn't surprise me that the media in general is praising a few Republicans for it, but it amazes me that Olbermann and Benen are.

Posted by: Danp on February 23, 2010 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

"I suspect the GOP will use this as their proof of being non-partisan"

Absolutely. And not just the GOP. I'll bet all the money in my pockets David Broder's next column will say something to the tune of "The fact that the Republicans are physically capable of voting yes is incontrovertible proof that any time they don't must be Obama's fault."

It'll be interesting to watch how the Republicans deal with the rank-breakers. Remember how much Olympia Snowe was raged at after allowing HCR to progress? If that doesn't happen this time, I think the balance of probabilities would suggest a change in GOP strategy. A good one, too; since the only possible downside (from their perspective) to their obstructionism was the chance that it could be overplayed.

It's also a smart move a couple of days before the health care summit, because the memory of "bipartisanship" (and contra Cycledco, I'd say 12% of one party voting yes would certainly qualify as bipartisan, or at least would were the bill itself less skewed) will be fresh in everyone's mind. Much harder to paint Republicans as reflexively unco-operative only a few days after enough of them co-operated to break a filibuster.

Posted by: SpaceSquid on February 23, 2010 at 9:31 AM | PERMALINK

It's worth noting that in this case, the number of R's who voted for cloture is a bit misleading. After it was apparent that there were enough votes for cloture - that is after Collins and Brown voted - the others jumped on the bandwagon. If only Collins or Brown had voted for cloture, Dems still would have been one vote short, the other R's would have followed the party line, and voted against an up or down vote. This isn't to say that getting a bill out of the Senate isn't encouraging. At this point, any victory is worthwhile. It's just important to point out that support for an up-or-down vote wasn't quite as 'overwhelming' (if you can call it that) as it might at first appear.

Posted by: lbj on February 23, 2010 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Forgive me for being sarcastic but the glass is half full (of useless assholes).

Posted by: Trollopoly on February 23, 2010 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

The iron unity of the GOP Senate caucus has been broken, and they have to maintain absolute unity if they want to have any power at all. All it takes is 2-3 GOP Senators willing to vote cloture and the filibuster threat goes away. Once you have 2-3, then suddenly you have 4-5. Last week, the most powerful Senators were conservative Democrats who were needed to make 60 votes for cloture. Now the most powerful Senators are GOP moderates who might vote cloture.
GOP moderates have to figure that Reid and Obama have a lot more to offer than McConnell.
The only thing that McConnell and the NRC can offer moderate Republicans is that they will protect them from the tea partiers. But the teabaggers are uncontrollable anyway -- look at Crist's situation.
The true weakness of the GOP's position is now becoming more clear: their only way to maintain power is to maintain Senate caucus unity and they don't really have the tools to enforce it for the long run.

Posted by: tom in ma on February 23, 2010 at 10:07 AM | PERMALINK

Nelson is pissed off because Reid took his corporate loving bill and hacked it up so that it just gives them a tip of the hat.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 23, 2010 at 10:35 AM | PERMALINK

perhaps republicans LIKE watching unemployed people search fruitlessly for jobs. Byt then again, they like torture... when time and time again its proven it does not work.

Posted by: Kurt on February 23, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

You people are the most depressing people I've ever known. Cynicism isn't a strategy.

If you guys were honest, you'd at least acknowledge this as a SYMOBLIC victory; having gotten conservative darling Brown on our side. But no, as usual, you hate positive news more than negative news; and any bill that involves Republicans in any way is considered total defeat.

And that's because your true goal is to stomp Republicans, not fix problems. And so you'd rather have no jobs bill than a jobs bill that a Republican might support. Could the bill be better? Sure, and that's why they're promising to write more. But to suggest that this is a somehow a loss for us is intellectual dishonesty.

Posted by: Doctor Biobrain on February 23, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe I'm a glass-half-full kind of person, but I like the sight of a crack in the previously solid block of obstructionist Republicans. Cracks do have a tendency to spread, especially when several members have been shamed into voting against the party line. And I just love it that Scott Brown was one of the Senators who broke ranks.

Posted by: T-Rex on February 23, 2010 at 11:50 AM | PERMALINK

This is a WIN by any stretch of the imagination. Scott Brown just thumbed his nose at Minority Leader McConnell. Payback for lack of initial support of his MA senate campaign. Without Brown's chutzpah, not one Republican would have crossed the line. This is an earthquake in gridlock politics. Pressure builds over time, and only a small slip, then BAM! Don't think that the conservative obstructionist aren't quaking in their boots - figuratively and literally. A new day indeed.

Posted by: DeepTruths on February 23, 2010 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

The 62-to-30 vote -- two more yeses than the minimum required to get past a procedural roadblock

pssst - NYTimes - the word is "filibuster" - why can't you say it?

Posted by: andy on February 23, 2010 at 12:38 PM | PERMALINK

The jobs bill had to be small because Rahm Emanual had trouble last time vetting districts for pork, thus being unable to get out the pork in time to make it look like a stimulus.

Posted by: Luther on February 23, 2010 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK
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