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Politics

Washington Week

August 8, 2010 - 6:00pm

The Senate turned out the lights inits chamber last Thursday, having confirmed the newest Supreme Court justice, passing a jobs-stimulus bill for states to hire teachers and other emergency personnel, and a funding bill to pay for border security.

The confirmation of Elena Kagan to be an associate justice was no real surprise to the political pundits and Capitol Hill watchers. However, the passage of HR 1586 came as a surprise to even the Senate Democratic leadership. Senate Majority Leader Reid has set up a procedural vote for Tuesday, Aug. 2, in an effort to move the Education/FMAP bill through Senate debate.

This procedural vote required 60 votes, which meant that the Senate Democratic leadership needed at leastone GOP senator to help move the bill through the Senate legislative process. A conference call-meeting was set for Friday, July 30, with much of the Senate Democratic leadership and many Democratic governors on the call. Their mission ... for the governors to call their U.S. senators and plead with them to support the upcoming procedural vote. Just before lunchtime Tuesday, the 61-38 vote was announced by the presiding officer. The mission was accomplished.

However, there was one minor problem. While this vote meant the bill was on the way to being passed by the Senate, the House of Representatives had already adjournedits chamber the week before. Dozens of members of the House of Representatives were traveling out of the country on what are commonly known as CODELS (congressional delegations).

The speaker was confident that she could adjourn her chamber early because the Senate leadership assured her that the Senate was not going to be able to pass any of the major pieces of legislation members had on the upcoming floor schedule. Consequently, it would be safe for the House to adjourn, knowing that further action by the House chamber would not be necessary.

Before the Senate weekly party-caucus luncheons had concluded Tuesday afternoon, the House speaker had scrambled to assemble a quick conference call with her leadership and announced that the House was coming back fromits August recess. The speaker tweeted on Twitter that she would reconvene the House of Representatives on Tuesday, Aug. 9, to concur in the Senate amendment, thereby sending the bill to the president for his signature.

The Education/FMAP legislation has a price tag of $26 billion with $10 billion of the money going to hire up to 160,000 teachers and help states pay their Medicaid bills, thereby freeing up money for states to hire emergency personnel such as police and firefighters. The GOP opposed the Education/FMAP amendment because the offset was in the form of corporate tax increases, a cut in Food Stamp increases scheduled to begin in 2015, and other budget gimmicks.

After the support of the two GOP senators from Maine was made public, Gov. John Baldacci, D-Maine, issued the following statement: Senators Snowe and Collins today cast a critical vote for jobs, for health care and for education. Their action today will have a profound impact on Maine, as our state works to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. It will mean better health care for our people and a stronger education system for our children.

Quick action is expected by the House of Representatives Tuesday, Aug. 9, and the president is expected to sign the bill by weeks end.

While the Senate Democratic leadership and the Senate GOP were shocked that the two Maine GOP senators supported the procedural vote last Tuesday, many thought they should have been more aware of this possibility, especially if they studied the passage of the original $787 billionstimulus bill. You see, both of the Maine senators supported this 1,071-page bill back in February 2009 when it passed the Senate, 61-37. The late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., was absent for this vote battling brain cancer.

Stay tuned to see if any other surprises occur in Congress this week. Rep. Price, R-Ga., is hoping to get a vote on his privileged House resolution, calling on the House leadership to uphold the public trust and NOT conveneCongress in a lame duck session.

Whatever happened to slow August days in Washington, D.C.,which are typical because of the traditional congressional August recess"?

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, four-times-elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. She is the founder of GradeGov.com.

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