With little margin for error, the Senate overcame a key parliamentary hurdle yesterday to move a massive economic stimulus bill one step closer to becoming law and set the stage for potentially tumultuous negotiations with House leaders over the final shape of the legislation.
On a 61 to 36 vote, the Senate cleared the path for a final vote today on its $838 billion bill that would provide money for a wide variety of purposes, including a $15,000 tax credit for home buyers and $3.4 billion in repairs to public parks, hoping that the two-year package of spending and tax cuts would provide a cushion in the ongoing economic recession that President Obama yesterday predicted would become a "deepening disaster" without the stimulus.
With just three Republicans -- Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- joining all 58 members of the Democratic caucus, the Senate barely cleared the 60-vote threshold to cut off the debate and force a final vote today. In a sign of the importance Democratic leaders were placing on yesterday's vote, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who had not been in the Capitol since having a seizure during Obama's inauguration festivities, was escorted to the chamber by colleagues to cast his aye vote. In anticipation of a vote last week, he had traveled from Florida, where he continues his battle with brain cancer. Kennedy, a prominent early supporter of Obama's presidential campaign, is expected to be on hand for today's vote as well.