WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a surprise move, five Republicans broke with party leaders Monday to move a $15 billion jobs bill to the Senate floor.
It’s the first vote on a major bill since Republican Scott Brown became a senator, meaning that Senate Democrats lost the 60 votes needed to block a Republican filibuster. In the end, they didn’t need that set of votes. The move to allow debate on the bill passed 62 to 30.
The bill gives a one-year Social Security tax break to businesses that hire unemployed workers, and it allows small businesses to write off up to $250,000 for equipment that they purchase.
Senator Brown of Massachusetts, the GOP’s crucial 41st vote, voted with Democrats. “I came to Washington to be an independent voice, to put politics aside, and to do everything in my power to help create jobs for Massachusetts families,” he said in a statement.
“This Senate jobs bill is not perfect,” he added. “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.”
Republican Sens. Christopher Bond of Missouri, George Voinovich of Ohio, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, voted with him.
“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,” President Obama said in a statement after the early-evening vote.
Senate majority leader Harry Reid riled senators on both sides of the aisle when he pulled an $85 billion bipartisan jobs bill on Feb. 11 in favor of his own, scaled-down version. GOP leaders protested that Senator Reid was denying Republicans a voice in the bill by blocking amendments.
But in the end, the prospect of voting against a bill directed at the top concern of most Americans – jobs and the economy – proved too much for GOP centrists.
“We had to move forward,” said Senator Snowe, who won assurances from Democratic leaders that more would be done to help small businesses. “We’re getting beyond procedural hurdles, and hopefully we will set a different course,” she added.
Last week’s congressional recess was a factor in changing votes, Democrats say. “Senators have been at home for a week. They see that it’s not Democrats or Republicans that are in trouble, but the American people are in trouble. And they want us to work on jobs and the economy,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar.
In a floor speech before Monday’s vote, Reid assured senators that “this is not the last jobs bill we’re going to bring to the floor.” He predicted that the bill will save 1 million jobs – “thousands of them in Nevada,” where the majority leader faces a tough reelection race in November.
Next, the Senate will move quickly to a bill to promote travel, then to legislation to extend expiring tax breaks and unemployment insurance, he said.
“We cannot do it alone,” he added. “My friends on the other side of the aisle share this responsibility. When I had 60 votes, all responsibility was mine. No longer that way. We’re down to 59.”