Senate Stimulus Debate Update

As the U.S. Senate got into the meat of the economic stimulus bill designed by Democrats, there were several votes that surprised me, and made me wonder about the future of this bill.

As I've mentioned before, the Senate is an entirely different animal than the House.  In the House, partisanship holds for the most part.  If you have enough votes (like the Democrats do right now) you can jam almost anything through.

The Senate though has a more moderate element, simply because Senators have to represent entire states, and not just gerrymandered (and often safe) Congressional Districts.

The first vote that surprised me was on an amendment by Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn, well known for going after pork in various bills and rarely meeting with success.

Coburn's first target was a $246 million tax break for the U.S. film industry - in other words Hollywood.  It was so well disguised in legislative language, that I couldn't find it.

"This is a tax break, earmark, that has a tremendous odor to it," said Coburn in debate.

I figured this would be a typical Coburn effort.  It would sound good, but he would be soundly defeated.

Think again.

Getting the votes of 13 Democrats and one Independent (Lieberman,) Coburn's amendment was approved on a 52-45 vote.

After that, the Senate voted 71-26 to allow many car buyers to claim a tax deduction for buying a new vehicle.  Those voting no were an odd assortment of liberals and conservatives.

(The idea of the amendment is to spur consumer purchases with the tax break.  Those making less than $125,000 a year - and $250,000 for couples - would be eligible.)

Earlier, the Senate had refused to waive its budget rules in order to add $25 billion in infrastructure spending, which came as a surprise to many.

What do I take away from these initial votes on the stimulus bill?  Senators are under pressure to get something done - that's clear.

But the success of the car buyer's amendment and the Coburn plan to get rid of the Hollywood tax break show me that Senators may mean business this time around.

Democrats aren't going to just be able to go through the motions and get what they want.

In fact, they may have to end up cutting billions in spending.  Just my gut telling me that.

The other thing that's been unique so far is that there have been votes.  When Harry Reid took over as Senate Majority Leader, he allowed votes on amendments.  But as we got closer to the elections, he stopped doing that.

The result was even more partisan battles and finger pointing.

As of now, he's allowing votes.  I guarantee you that the longer he does that, the less that Republicans will be able to try to stop the whole process.

Stay tuned.

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