- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bipartisanship broke out in the Senate on Monday, aided by newly minted Sen. Scott Brown, as senators rewarded the hardball tactics of Democratic leaders and avoided a filibuster by voting to move forward with Democrats’ $15 billion bill to spur job creation through highway construction and hiring incentives.

After months of legislative gridlock, the vote was fraught with tension as both sides waited to see how it would shake out. But five Republicans broke with their party and joined 55 Democrats and two independents to prevent the threatened filibuster — two more than the 60 votes needed.

It was also the first major test for the Senate since Mr. Brown’s election last month, which broke Democrats’ filibuster-proof majority. The Massachusetts Republican was the first senator on the floor Monday evening to vote, eager to record his “yes,” and he said his vote was meant to signal “a strong step toward restoring bipartisanship in Washington.”

Whether that’s true remains to be seen, but Democrats were hopeful.

“I hope this is the beginning of a new day in the Senate,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who was beaming after the vote. Minutes earlier, before the vote, he had taken to the Senate floor to berate Republicans for “looking for ways not to support this.”

Mr. Reid had reason to be afraid going into the vote.

Two weeks ago, he scuttled a bipartisan jobs bill worked on by the top Democrat and Republican on the Finance Committee, and instead brought to the floor the $15 billion version he wrote himself. He then used parliamentary tactics to prevent anyone from offering amendments, meaning the Senate has to either accept his version or join the filibuster.

Mr. Reid said the bipartisan bill went too far and that the provisions in his version had universal approval. He promised to come back to do more jobs-related legislation soon.

But Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the Iowa Republican who helped write the bipartisan bill, said Mr. Reid has poisoned the discussion and hurt the cause of cooperation.

“I was under the impression that the Senate democratic leadership was genuine in its desire to work on a bipartisan basis, but clearly I was mistaken,” he said.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs initially praised the bipartisan proposal, but later said Mr. Reid’s version was good enough for now.

Last night, Mr. Obama thanked Republicans and Democrats for their support.

“The American people want to see Washington put aside partisan differences and make progress on jobs, and today the Senate took one important step forward in doing that,” Mr. Obama said.

The bill would increase business tax write-offs for expenses, continue funding for the national highway-building program and offer a payroll tax holiday for businesses that hire unemployed workers. The payroll tax break would apply to every worker hired in 2010 who had been unemployed for at least 60 days, and businesses would be given a $1,000 credit for each employee retained a full year.

The Congressional Budget Office says the tax holiday will produce immediate jobs, though the highway spending has less of an immediate impact and is not as efficient in producing jobs in the short term.

In running numbers on a similar tax-holiday proposal, CBO said it could end up costing between $56,000 and $125,000 per job created.

CBO also warned, though, that a short-term boost now could end up hurting in the long run because the money borrowed in the short term to pay for the spending will end up crowding out businesses in the future.

The final tally on Monday’s vote was 62-30. The five Republicans who voted to break the filibuster bill were Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, Sen. George V. Voinovich of Ohio and Mr. Brown.

Adding to the drama, Mr. Bond withheld his vote until it was clear that Democrats had crossed the 60-vote threshold.

One Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, supported the Republicans’ filibuster.

Mr. Brown, who won a special election last month in liberal Massachusetts, released a statement saying he considers himself an independent voice who puts aside politics.

“This Senate jobs bill is not perfect. I wish the tax cuts were deeper and broader, but I voted for it because it contains measures that will help put people back to work,” he said.

But he also warned Democrats not to continue the partisan tactics they used to write the bill.

He was on the Senate floor 15 minutes before the vote was scheduled to begin and introduced himself to the Senate pages. He then took his new desk on the Republican side and thumbed through the face book of fellow members of Congress before striking up a conversation with his seat mate, Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican.

After Mr. Brown voted, Mr. Barrasso alerted him to the commotion his vote had caused in the press gallery. Mr. Brown gave reporters a quick glance before leaving the chamber.

The vote lasted an unusually long 40 minutes because the two senators from Arkansas were delayed. Without them, and Mr. Bond’s subsequent vote, the filibuster would have succeeded.

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