As the U.S. Senate cut off a Republican filibuster and cleared for passage a $26 billion aid package to states, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., declared: "This is not politics. This is teachers going back to work."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would call the U.S. House of Representatives back from its summer recess to vote final approval for the legislation. Murray cheered the move, saying: "We can't wait until September."
The legislation provides $10 billion to states and local school districts to stop the layoff of teachers, and $16 billion in aid to deficit-plagued states: Washington will get about $543 million, the bulk of the dollars for Medicaid, the state and federal plan that provides health care for the poor.
"This maintains critically important services in tough economic times," Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said in an interview with seattlepi.com.
The pricetag for the legislation is paid with cuts in other federal programs and a provision closing a tax loophole.
The aid package picked up two Republicans, Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, to secure the 61 votes needed to cut off debate and move to final passage. Murray, an architect of the bill, explained the laborious process needed to secure those two votes.
"The question was: How do we get two Republican votes?" said Murray. "We listened to their concerns. We went back, cut the funding quite a bit, scaled back the package. Then, they (Snowe and Collins) said it was not paid for. We went back and did that."
Still, Republican leaders denounced the aid package.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, said: "Washington needs to take care of its own fiscal mess, not deepen it by bailing out the states."
"When you go to the essence of what this bill is about, it's to pay off education
unions," Sen. Judd Gregg, R-New Hampshire, told the Washington Post. "Lets not be coy about what's happening around here. The education unions are the single biggest interest group represented at the Democratic National Convention."
Murray, once a school board member in Shoreline, saw things differently.
"We need to move immediately," she said. "The school districts are trying to manage. They need to know, sooner rather than later, how many teachers they will be able to employ.
"We're not talking about teachers' unions. We are talking about kids in classrooms and the quality of their education."
President Obama, in a statement, argued: "We know that economic prosperity and educational success go hand in hand. That's why I'm urging the Senate to pass this legislation that will prevent local budget cuts and save thousands of teacher jobs across the country."
Murray and Cantwell were sharply critical of Republican Senate leaders for blocking legislation.
Cantwell is an architect of a $30 billion package of small business loans and aid to
community banks, stalled just short of the 60 votes needed to break a filibuster. She is hoping one Republican, retiring Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, will break ranks to provide the 60th vote.
"Some people think we should just bail out the big banks and let it trickle down," Cantwell said. "Well, 80 percent of the jobs lost have been in small business. The NFIB (National Federation of Independent Business) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, they want this.
"When you hold up job growth, for small business, it's partisanship."
Murray, a member of the Senate leadership, added: "We've faced this for four months. Help for community banks, small business, removing the liability cap for oil spills -- the answer they give us always 'No'."