WASHINGTON-The Senate leadership, with a chamber composed of 58 Democrats, needed two Republicans to vote for the economic stimulus plan in order for it to overcome the filibuster barrier to pass. They found three.
Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania are all known as moderate Republicans. Because they wielded significant influence over the final legislation, all three have been the focus of media coverage this week. For his efforts, Specter won $10 billion in the bill for projects he has supported. The trio also helped cut billions to bring the legislation's price tag down to $789 billion, removing some of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's priorities like school construction.
The Maine senators "have to do what they need to do," shrugged Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga. "Arlen Specter is being Arlen Specter."
One moderate Republican who was originally part of negotiations with Democrats said "no," despite pitches for her "yes" vote from her Senate colleagues and even from the president. Alaskan Sen. Lisa Murkowski finds herself often courted by Democrats, but the party in power couldn't win her vote this time on legislation she described as a "trillion dollar spending bill."
Before negotiations began at full tilt, Murkowski's office was already fielding calls from her Senate colleagues who pressed for her vote, one way or the other. She began ignoring some, knowing what the calls were about. Constituents were calling in, too, most of them in opposition to the stimulus. She joined the late night negotiations last week but left when she didn't believe enough changes would be made. Then President Obama called to ask for her support.
Still, she said no. Murkowski, however, was primed for a switch. The stimulus bill is chock full of energy funding, which is often a benefit to Alaskans more than anyone else in the country. Specifically, the bill included funds for renewable energy programs, which she has supported. As the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Murkowski would want more dollars going to energy, right? Wrong. She contended that the massive amount of funds directed at the Department of Energy would overwhelm programs and be wasteful, citing one "smart grid" program that has never received federal funds but under the stimulus would receive $4.5 billion.
Now Republicans have tapped her to deliver an address in response to President Obama's radio address on the economic stimulus, which debuts Friday.
Murkowski sets herself apart in one way by staying out of the limelight; she was the only member of the Alaska congressional delegation not under investigation for corruption until Democratic Sen. Mark Begich joined Congress in January.