State Aid Clears Senate Hurdle, GOP Votes No Even Though Bill Reduces Deficit

The Senate voted 61-38 on Wednesday to break a Republican filibuster of a bill that will provide $26 billion in aid to cash-strapped states. Republican lawmakers, who opposed previous domestic aid bills because of their deficit cost, opposed this bill even though it would reduce the deficit.

Senate Democrats said the measure would prevent states from firing 290,000 teachers, firefighters and police officers. The Congressional Budget Office said it would reduce the deficit by almost $1.4 billion. But it wouldn't reduce the deficit in a way that appeals to Republicans (aside from Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, who support the measure).

"We didn't cut wasteful spending to do something good," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), one of the GOP's foremost deficit hawks, said after the vote. HuffPost queried Coburn's office for details but did not immediately get a response.

The offsets themselves were not the only Republican objection: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the measure would perpetuate "state bailouts."

Republicans declined questions from reporters at a press conference after the vote.

The bill's revenue offsets include $9 billion from removing a foreign tax credit loophole, $8 billion from spending cuts, $2 billion from tweaking Medicaid drug reimbursement formulas, and, controversially, more than $11 billion from cutting food stamp funding in 2014 (a previous version of the legislation made a smaller cut).

Democrats told HuffPost they will work to prevent the food stamp cuts from ever taking effect.

"I think we're going to be able to find a way to ensure that there's help for needy folks in terms of assistance with hunger," said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). "We're going to make sure that vulnerable people are protected in terms of the assistance of the anti-hunger programs."

Sen. Ben Nelson, the Nebraska Democrat who joined a 50-day Republican filibuster of a series of bills to reauthorize extended unemployment benefits because they weren't "paid for," told HuffPost he was happy to vote for this bill.

"It's paid for, and If we don't get money back to the states to help with the cost of education then it will just shift back to local governments, local school boards, and you'll see property taxes rise," Nelson said. "So it's a challenge of whether or not you help bail out the states, because if you don't bail them out, it looks to me like most of them are gonna shift that cost right down to local governments. And when you do that, you're going to face rising property taxes, and one thing I know is, people dislike property taxes."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hoped the House of Representatives, which adjourned for its August recess last week, would return to Washington. "I think it's going to be very difficult for the House to be away from Washington for five weeks while we've got this legislation needing their stamp of approval," he said. House leadership aides said they were discussing the possibility.

UPDATE: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced via Twitter Wednesday afternoon that she'd bring the House back: "I will be calling the House back into session early next week to save teachers' jobs and help seniors & children."