- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2010

After repeatedly turning back the GOP’s efforts to redirect stimulus money to other purposes, Senate Democrats did an about-face this week as they dipped into the Recovery Act funds to try to pay for their own tax breaks and job-spending priorities.

It’s the first time Senate Democratic leaders have embraced undoing parts of last year’s $862 billion stimulus - though Democrats insisted it wasn’t a strategy change, but rather a last-ditch desperation move to try to entice Republicans to support another round of spending.

The move still fell short. Republicans led a successful filibuster to block the bill again Thursday, saying it still added too much to the deficit. But even proposing the cuts marked a turning point in the growing debate over the success of the stimulus, and left the GOP fuming over what they saw as a fiscal double standard.

“It’s OK when they do it; it’s not OK when we do it,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican.

The fight broke out over a $110 billion bill to extend popular tax breaks and extend unemployment benefits, Medicaid assistance to states and summer-jobs programs, among other items.

This version was Democratic leaders’ third attempt to pass the bill. This time, they agreed to slice the bill’s cost in half and added offsets - including the changes to the 2009 stimulus act, to try to win some GOP votes. The economic stimulus plan is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight the economic downturn and rising jobless rates, and its effectiveness has become a matter of fierce partisan debate.

But Republicans objected this week that the revised measure still added $33 billion to the deficit over the next decade, and that Democrats had also included some tax hikes in the package.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said to block the bill a third time demonstrated that Republicans are trying to turn every bill into a political showdown.

“They want everything to be Obama’s Waterloo,” he said, accusing Republicans of protecting oil companies and special interests at the expense of 900,000 jobless whose taxpayer-funded benefits are running out.

Democrats fell three votes shy of overcoming the filibuster, 57-41, with 40 Republicans joined by one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, in blocking the bill.

With the unemployment rate still hovering near 10 percent, Democrats argue last year’s stimulus package of spending and tax cuts - passed with almost no Republican support - helped but was not enough.

They are now trying to figure out ways to continue spending to create jobs, but have been increasingly stymied as lawmakers focus increasingly on cutting government deficits and debt.

Until this week, Democrats had been reluctant to dip into the leftover stimulus spending, even though more than $100 billion remains unobligated 14 months after the package was signed into law.

But as they sought for ways to pay for the $110 billion tax breaks and spending package, they turned to the stimulus.

Their plan would have cut more than $10 billion by lowering food-stamp payments raised in the stimulus law; $300 million by eliminating money in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program; $300 million from cuts to a distance-learning program; and $260 million from unspent stimulus funds that were supposed to go to the military.

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