On a mostly partisan vote, the Senate passed a $26.1 billion dollar state aid bill aimed at saving public service jobs and assisting states with Medicaid obligations, but Republicans are crying foul, saying the "special interest bailout" is aimed at energizing demoralized Democratic voters.
Democrats, with the help of Republican Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe passed the legislation on a 61-39 vote. Supporters say it will save 140,000 jobs that would've been lost this school year.
The bill received the two Republican votes in the Senate after Majority Leader Harry Reid found a way to pay for it. Offsets for the spending are paid in part by getting rid of tax breaks for some U.S.-based companies that also operate overseas. Also on the chopping block are increased food-stamp benefits and $1.5 billion for a program aimed at advancing renewable energy technology.
Reid insists the money designated for renewable energy isn't lost for good.
"That money is just temporarily gone. (The Department of Energy) has huge amounts of money they have not spent," Reid said, referring to the $20 billion fund that was part of the stimulus package and from which the $1.5 billion was pulled.
Republicans say the accounting is aimed at shoring up votes in November. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the bill "a last-minute effort by Democrats to funnel more money to the public employees' unions before an election."
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the bill is being financed by a "job-killing tax hike."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and other Democrats have cast opposition to the legislation as another example of the GOP favoring Wall Street over Main Street.
"I was surprised to see John Boehner, the Republican leader, describe teachers and police officers and firefighters as special interests," Van Hollen said, adding that he'd prefer that teachers head to the classroom rather than take a place in the unemployment line.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called back lawmakers from their August recess to hold a vote on the bill next week, saying she is excited to get it passed and onto President Obama's desk for his signature as quickly as possible.
Republicans say if they're forced to return to Washington next week, then they're going to bring some legislative business of their own. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., said he plans to offer a privileged resolution that could force Democrats to vote on whether or not they will commit to abstain from passing significant legislative reforms during the lame-duck session that follows the Nov. 2 midterm election.
Many GOP House members say they have serious concerns that House Democrats who lose their seats in November will rush to move bills before new members are sworn in on Jan. 3, 2011.
"Their plan is to come back after the November elections, after they've been defeated and lost the House and Senate, and they're going to try to raise taxes," said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.
House Democrats have refused to agree to a vote moratorium.