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Reid Notches Victory on Funding Bill

Senate Democrats beat back nearly unified GOP opposition to a $26 billion education and Medicaid funding measure, winning a key procedural vote Wednesday with the help of Maine Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

The 61-38 vote to proceed to the bill was a significant victory for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who wanted to clear the measure before the August recess. Democrats said the bill would prevent hundreds of thousands of teachers from being laid off.

“It’s surprising to me because as everyone knows, we are in a very tough economic recovery right now,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said of GOP opposition. “We’ve come forward to the Senate floor to move the economy forward, and we’ve been blocked every time.”

Republicans blasted the measure, which Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) said was a payoff to Democratic constituencies.

“This money is taken from somebody else to be used for this purpose and when you go to the essence of what this bill is about, it’s to payoff education unions,” he said.

“Let’s not be coy about what’s happening around here; the education unions are the single biggest interest group represented at the Democratic National Convention,” Gregg added.

The vote came two days after Reid had to ditch the original bill, which the Congressional Budget Office found would add $5 billion to the deficit. While Wednesday’s vote technically means Senators have 30 hours to debate the measure, aides said Reid was hoping to speed up that process and have a vote on final passage Thursday night before Members take off for the five-week break. That vote could be scheduled alongside a vote on the confirmation of Supreme Court pick Elena Kagan, whose nomination is expected to clear by the end of the week.

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