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Senate Acts; House Heads Back

Senate Breakthrough on State Aid Bill Leads House to Reconvene

House Democrats may be feeling that they should be careful what they wish for.

After months of grousing that the Senate was unable to get anything done on its jobs agenda, House Members will now have to interrupt their summer break to pass a $26 billion package of aid to states that the Senate is poised to clear later this week.

“I will be calling the House back into session early next week to save teachers’ jobs and help seniors & children,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

The House will meet in a pro forma session on Monday with votes on Tuesday.

House Democrats said the inconvenience is worth it if it means getting funding for first responders, teachers and Medicaid.

“As millions of children prepare to go back to school — many in just a few days — the House will act quickly to approve this legislation once the Senate votes” in order to “send the bill to President Obama without further delay,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Pelosi noted that the House passed various pieces of state aid starting in December. But the bills have been bogged down in the Senate, and leaders were able to break a GOP filibuster only after the House had left town for a six-week break.

House Members will likely have to cut short trips abroad or interrupt packed district schedules as they gear up for the midterm elections, but they see it as a chance to help reframe the political debate and force Republicans to play defense.

“If Republicans vote against this, they are voting to fire hundreds of thousands of teachers, firefighters and police officers just to protect powerful corporate special interests who want to send American jobs overseas,” said Doug Thornell, spokesman for Assistant to the Speaker and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.).

Democrats have been targeting tax breaks for multinational corporations for months, particularly after that message resonated in Rep. Mark Critz’s special election victory in Pennsylvania.

“I think when people first learned that they are coming back, there’s some grumbling, but at the end of the day, from an optics and a politics standpoint, it’s great for us,” one senior Democratic aide said. “It really presents House Democrats with a chance to define the choice for the American people in one important vote.”

House Republicans ripped the idea of a return to Washington for an emergency spending session.

“The American people don’t want more ‘stimulus’ spending — particularly spending for labor unions attached to a job-killing tax increase,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio). “Democrats would be better off listening to their constituents, who are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’ rather than returning to Washington, D.C., to vote for more tax hikes and special interest bailouts.”

Other Republicans downplayed the Democratic win and the rush to get the bill to the president. “Only in Washington would spending money we don’t have to help states put off till next year decisions they should be making now be considered a victory,” one senior Senate GOP aide said. “This deeply flawed logic and awful budgeting will contribute to the downfall of the Democratic majority. This is not leadership. … I’m sure Pelosi and others will crow and proclaim it to be a big win, but I doubt it moves the electorate at all.”

Pelosi’s dramatic announcement came after a rare flurry of activity in the Senate on Wednesday, when Republican Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins sided with Democrats to break the GOP-led filibuster of the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quickly put the pressure on Pelosi to bring the House back.

“I think that it’s going to be very difficult for the House to be away from Washington for five weeks while we have this legislation needing their stamp of approval,” the Nevada Democrat said.

Snowe said Wednesday that she voted for the funding despite concerns that the House had already left town.

“Why is the House not coming back today to do this?” Snowe said. “I voted for it now because I think it’s important. But obviously the majority doesn’t think it’s important enough to have the House here to finish it up.” She and Collins later issued a statement calling on the House to reconvene “immediately.”

Other Democrats also sought to press Pelosi, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) issuing a press release calling on the House to return forthwith.

Sen. Patty Murray said the House coming back into session would help prevent more layoffs of teachers, given that the new school year in many states begins later this month.

“I think this is a really positive thing for them to do,” the Washington Democrat said before Pelosi’s announcement. “If they come back and can pass this now, school districts who are trying to figure out which kids go in which classrooms and how many teachers they have will have time to plan for that.”

Sen. Tom Carper said that House Members were likely to be put out but that by coming back they would gain an accomplishment to tout back home as well as help key constituencies.

“As a former House Member, they might be miffed for a while,” the Delaware Democrat said.

“But in the end … you’ll be able to go home having achieved something, which I think is an opportunity not to be wasted.”

Carper added that he believes the episode will “serve to lessen” cross-chamber tensions, because despite the inconvenience of the timing, the Senate ultimately delivered on a significant piece of the party’s agenda.

Reid previewed the Democrats’ August talking points on the teacher funding, saying: “Republicans turned their back on this, not for reasons of substance, but for politics. They deem this as a victory for Democrats. We don’t deem it as a victory for Democrats. We deem it as a victory for teachers.”

Reid spokesman Jim Manley acknowledged that House Members may be miffed by the Senate’s abrupt reversal on the issue after the chamber had already scattered for the recess. But he said the win came as a surprise even to Reid.

“Sorry, but we woke up this morning not knowing whether we were going to have the votes to pass this or not,” Manley said. He added that House Members are fully aware that there has been “an unprecedented level of Republican obstruction going on over here. … We would have liked to have done this bill before now, but we just haven’t been able to.”

Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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