Reading the Tea Leaves on the Senate Jobs-Bill Vote

Harry Reid's rather anemic jobs package passed an important hurdle tonight, with 62 senators voting to averting a potential filibuster and let the bill proceed to a floor vote. Five Republicans voted with Democrats: Scott Brown (Massachusetts), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), Kit Bond (Missouri) and George Voinovich (Ohio). Six other Republicans skipped the vote, while Democrat Ben Nelson voted against the bill and New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg was absent. The final tally was 62–30.

How much can we read into this vote? Reid, for one, would like to see it as a sign. "I hope this is the beginning of a new day here in the Senate," he told reporters. But it may just be a sign of how divided the Senate remains. Reid's bill should have received broad bipartisan support. At $15 billion, it was a restrained measure by Senate standards, and focused on small-business tax breaks—the kind that many Republicans believe can stimulate the economy. It also included funds for highway projects, which are a pretty basic government service that shouldn't really be partisan. Really, who's against paving roads? 

It's not surprising the Collins and Snowe voted for the bill. Over the past year they've shown a willingness to put party differences aside to create jobs. Scott Brown's victory, and popularity, seems to have given Bond and Voinovich some cover to cross party lines. But with both those senators retiring this year, it's a little disheartening that they took so long to break ranks, and that it took a measure as uncontroversial as a relatively small package of job-creation measures to do it. The fact that their colleagues still rejected the idea, or didn't vote at all, just shows how divided the Senate remains.

That said, five votes is more than enough for Reid to make progress this year. In the 59–41 world of the Senate, five votes is a lot. Five votes can mean everything. The promise of five votes starts making legislation seem inevitable, and when that happens and Republicans know that legislation will pass with or without them, their desire to get a piece of the pie, and to have their ideas enacted too, just might motivate them to jump on board with other legislation. Republicans and Democrats in this Senate will never see eye-to-eye on the big-ticket items like health care and climate change, but if we're seeing the start of a new Senate dynamic tonight, they might make some progress on the little things, like, say, I dunno, creating some jobs? Passing a few nominations? You know, governing.

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