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Hallelujah! Senate Republicans block Dem attempt to lard up stimulus package; McCain skips out on vote

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By Michelle Malkin  •  February 6, 2008 08:32 PM

It’s one of those rare moments when I can bring you a bit of good news from the Beltway. Senate Republicans banded together to block the Democrats from larding up the already bloated stimulus package. They successfully put hapless Harry Reid on the spot and beat back the Dem attempt to pin $44 billion more onto the stimulus donkey.

The stimulus-palooza is still a bad deal, but the small, fleeting victory here is worth savoring. Gotta take ’em where you can find ’em:

The fate of $600-$1,200 rebate checks for more than 100 million Americans is in limbo after Senate Democrats failed Wednesday to add $44 billion in help for the elderly, disabled veterans, the unemployed and big business to the House-passed economic aid package.

Republicans banded together to block the $205 billion plan from advancing Wednesday, leaving Democrats with a difficult choice either to quickly accept a House bill they have said is inadequate or risk being blamed for delaying a measure designed as a swift shot in the arm for the lagging economy.

The tally was 58-41 to end debate on the Senate measure, just short of the 60 votes Democrats would have needed to scale procedural hurdles and move the bill to a final vote.

The not-so-good news, but not-so-surprising news? Eight Republicans, half of whom are up for re-election this year, jumped ship and sided with the Dems:

In a suspenseful showdown vote that capped days of partisan infighting and procedural jockeying, eight Republicans – four of them up for re-election this year – joined Democrats to back the plan, bucking GOP leaders and President Bush, who objected to the costly add-ons. Supporters actually had 59 votes in favor of the Democratic proposal, but Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada switched his vote to ‘no’ at the last moment, a parliamentary move that allows him to bring the measure up for a revote.

Here’s the roll call vote. Look who didn’t bother to show:

1stim.jpg

Just to underscore:

The Republicans who caved: Coleman, Collins, Dole, Domenici, Grassley, Smith, Snowe, Specter.

Not voting: John McCain

Meanwhile:

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois flew to Washington for the vote. Clinton and Obama voted yes on the measure; GOP front-runner John McCain did not vote, reports CBS Radio News’ John Hartge.

So much for “leadership” from McCain on one of his core issues–fiscal responsibility and holding the line against special interests.

The climactic vote came after an intense lobbying effort by Democrats to convert wavering Republicans, including those facing tough re-election fights. Their efforts got a boost from outside groups leaning on senators to back the package, including home builders, manufacturers and the powerful seniors lobby.

Republicans were under enormous pressure from their own leaders not to support the Democrats’ plan.

At least there were other GOP Senators around to carry the fight:

Republican leaders objected to add-ons such as a $14.5 billion unemployment extension for those whose benefits have run out, $1 billion in heating aid for the poor and tax breaks for renewable energy producers and coal companies. The measure builds upon a $161 billion House-passed bill providing $600-$1,200 checks to most taxpayers and tax breaks to businesses investing in new plants and equipment. The Senate version would provide checks of $500-$1,000 to a broader group that includes 20 million elderly people, 250,000 disabled veterans and taxpayers making up to $150,000 for singles – or $300,000 for couples. It would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 13 weeks for those whose benefits have run out, with 13 more weeks available in states with the highest jobless rates. The bill also includes $10 billion in tax-free mortgage revenue bonds to help homeowners refinance subprime loans.

Reid denied Republicans an opportunity to offer changes to the measure, provoking the filibuster. The calculus was that enough Republicans would relent in the face of political pressure to support unemployment insurance and heating aid to join Democrats and force the measure through.

Chalk up another Reid calculation gone awry.

You know what? Republicans should act like Republicans more often. It’s good for the soul and the pocketbook.

***

Why was McCain the only one who didn’t make the vote? Looks like we need some straight talk:

Republican presidential candidate John McCain skipped a difficult Senate vote Wednesday on whether to make 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans eligible for rebate checks as part of a proposed economic stimulus package.

The Arizona senator’s decision to miss the vote appeared to come at the last minute, after his plane had landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington just before the proceedings opened on the Senate floor.

Asked Wednesday morning to comment on the pending vote, McCain talked about the need to pass a stimulus measure quickly. Later, on his plane, he said he was not sure he would make the vote.

“I haven’t had a chance to talk about it at all, have not had the opportunity to, even,” McCain said. “We’ve just been too busy, focused on other stuff. I don’t know if I’m doing that. We’ve got a couple of meetings scheduled.”

Whichever way McCain may have voted, it would have been a difficult choice given his status as the Republican presidential front-runner.

Senate Democrats cleverly bundled the rebates for seniors and veterans, key voting blocs, with expanded unemployment benefits and home heating subsidies for the jobless and poor.

President Bush and Republican leaders, as well as conservatives McCain was scheduled to woo on Thursday, vehemently oppose the expanded benefits and subsidies.

That put McCain in a bad political spot.

Voting “no” with Republican leaders would have offended millions of Social Security recipients and the disabled veterans not scheduled to receive rebates. Voting “yes,” on the other hand, risked alienating Bush, GOP leaders and conservatives already suspicious of McCain’s political leanings. McCain was speaking Thursday before a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference, a group that booed him last year in absentia.

For McCain, not voting meant not going on the record either way. He has missed all eight Senate roll call votes this year…

… There was confusion among McCain’s his staff about whether he would make the vote. Campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker said when he landed that she believed he was headed to the Capitol to vote, but a second spokeswoman, Brooke Buchanan, said later that he would not make it.

Leadership, anyone?

***

Commenter capitano: “The story early today was he was making a special flight back to D.C. for the vote. No doubt Reid expected McCain to vote ‘yea’ or he wouldn’t have embarrassed himself (again) by calling for the vote. There’s no way McCain could then appear at CPAC to make nice with conservatives after voting against holding the line on spending. Yep, when the going get’s tough, the tough free-thinking mavericks vote ‘present’ or ‘no show.'”

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