Right now, the Senate is working on a "compromise" economic recovery package. The twenty or so members of the Collins-Nelson gang are working to strip about $100 billion in spending (the exact number remains in flux), of the nearly $600 billion, out the stimulus.
The sad truth is that there simply are not the needed sixty votes to pass the stimulus right now. Of the 99 Senators currently in the Senate, a preliminary whip count I put together a few days ago listed 58 stimulus supporters, five stimulus undecided, one stimulus special case (Judd Gregg, who has since recused himself), and 35 stimulus opponents. However, several problems appeared:
So, in summary, lacking any cuts, there do not appear to be enough votes in the Senate for the stimulus to pass a cloture vote.
- Ted Kennedy will not be available to vote, dropping the number of supporters to 57. Even worse, Kennedy is effectively a "no" vote, since cloture requires three-fifths of all sitting Senators, not three-fifths of Senators who vote. Thus, the number of definite no or non-votes rose to 36.
- Judd Gregg recused himself, even though he is still a sitting Senator, effectively making him a "no" vote on cloture. So, the number of definite no or non-votes rose to 37.
- One of the stimulus supporters was Susan Collins, and one of the stimulus undecideds was Ben Nelson. The leaders of a gang to cut stimulus spending are clearly not supporters of the bill right now. So, at best, the number of supporters dropped to 56, while the number of undecideds rose to 6. In reality, the number of supporters dropped to 56, while the number of opponents rose to 39.
- Remove Olympia Snowe from the supporter list, as she also clearly wants to make cuts, and we are down to 55 Senate supporters, and 40 no votes or non-votes. With 99 sitting Senators and 60 votes needed to pass cloture, 40 opponents is one too many, even if all the undeicdeds break in favor of the stimulus.
However, it will also be difficult to find sixty votes for an amendment that will strip funding from the stimulus. No matter how aggravating Democrats in Congress may seem from time to time, it will be difficult to round-up 19 Democratic Senators to vote against education spending and support for local and state governments, the two areas which are currently the focus of the proposed cuts. Even if all 41 Republicans vote for an amendment to strip such funding (not a guarantee), at least 19 Democrats are needed to pass such an amendment (and probably 20, given that Judd Gregg won't be voting). There are only 11-14 Democrats in the Collins-Nelson gang, making 20 votes in favor of such cuts a real stretch. So, while the stimulus currently seems unpassable without cuts, the cuts themselves are also close to unpassable.
This is, as Elana Schor writes, "the Goldilocks problem." Even if the problem is solved later today, the Senate bill still has to be reconciled with the House bill in conference, and then voted on with no amendments allowed. As such, this is not the final hurdle, and the stimulus still faces at least one more major fight if and when it passes the Senate.