In what could be a political warming trend, 13 Republicans broke ranks to give Senate majority leader Harry Reid a rare bipartisan victory on a $15 billion jobs bill on Wednesday.
Senators on both sides of the aisle hailed the 70-28 vote as a model for moving forward on some other stalled measures.
“Let this be the start of us coming together on issues where we can agree,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York.
The jobs bill includes a one-year holiday from the payroll tax for businesses that hire unemployed workers, an extension of the federal Highway Trust Fund, expense deductions for small businesses, and an extension of the two-year Build America bond program to fund state and local infrastructure projects – all elements with broad, bipartisan support.
But the price of consensus is breaking up big, comprehensive bills and negotiating bipartisan support on more modest packages, Republicans said.
In a shot at the White House in advance of Thursday’s healthcare summit, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky renewed calls for “step-by-step proposals that will actually get at the problem, which is cost,” instead of trying to move a broad, comprehensive bill.
“If ever there were a time for the administration to show it’s actually listening, it is now,” he added. "Reform is too important. We can’t let this opportunity pass.”
Centrist Democrats, too, said Wednesday’s vote sets a template for progress on other bills. “The obstruction of Republicans on everything means that we have to move forward with small, meaningful, measurable provisions that can be easily explained,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, after the vote.
For example, instead of a comprehensive healthcare bill, Democrats should explain to people the merits of a smaller bill that promotes preventive care, or insurance exchanges, or insurance reforms, Senator. McCaskill adds. “Then, either we smoke Republicans out on the merits or they will be forced to wear the mantle of obstructionism,” she adds.
Five Republicans voted with most Democrats on Monday to get past a key procedural hurdle to the jobs bill. These included Sens. Christopher Bond of Missouri, Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and George Voinovich of Ohio. The eight Republicans who joined them in voting Wednesday for its final passage include Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker of Mississippi, Orrin Hatch of Utah, James Inhofe of Oklahama, George LeMieux of Florida, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
“Today’s vote puts Republicans in a better place,” said Senator Alexander, who chairs the Senate Republican Conference. “Republicans have been arguing for a year to go step-by-step to solve problems.”
"We oppose these great, big comprehensive bills that we think are disastrous for the country," he adds. "A bill to rein in healthcare costs could be done – in a dozen steps."
But 22 Republicans, including most of the party's leadership, voted against the jobs bill, citing majority leader Reid’s refusal to allow amendments – a move they say denies rights of the minority party.
“My sense is that when he blocks all amendments and just introduces a partisan proposal, that is where we make a stand,” says Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas, who heads the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
But he adds that every Republican has a right to make up his or her own mind on whether policy trumped procedure in this case.
Only one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a centrist from a conservative state, opposed the jobs bill. "Only about 63 percent of the $787 million stimulus bill [approved last February] has been spent," he said. "We need to accelerate that, otherwise it's hard to go home and explain why we're spending more money for jobs, when we haven't spent what we have."