Dems Optimistic Stimulus Bill Will Pass in Senate, but Warn Margin May Be Thin

Democratic senators predict victory but are lowering expectations on how many GOP votes they will win.

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After the House passed an $819 billion stimulus package this week without a single Republican vote, Democratic senators said today that they're hopeful that the bill could have more bipartisan support on their side of the Capitol.

That's particularly crucial because the Senate, unlike the House, can't pass the bill without a handful of Republicans crossing the aisle. To avoid a Republican filibuster, Senate Democrats need 59 votes. (The number is one vote less than the usual 60 because of the vacancy from Minnesota's still-contested Senate race). Currently, there are 56 Democratic Senate seats.

While Senate Democrats lobby for GOP support, however, they also seem to be lowering expectations. New York Sen. Charles Schumer said today that the bill's passage, not a truly bipartisan vote, should be the priority. "The important number here is not the number of Republican votes. The important issue is the number of jobs the bill creates," Schumer said. "And getting the 60 votes we need is the key question, not whether we get 70 or 80." President Obama said at one point that he hoped to see 80 votes for the stimulus.

To even get those 60 votes, however, Democrats are planning to try to sweeten the bill with some amendments palatable to the GOP. And if some Republicans think that not enough spending is weighted toward infrastructure, Schumer says, he'll offer an amendment to expand funding for mass transit similar to the $3 billion expansion in the House bill. Senators Patty Murray and Dianne Feinstein are also planning infrastructure-related amendments, he says.

Even so, Democrats seem determined that Republicans won't prevail on what they are pushing for the hardest—a reweighting of the stimulus package toward tax cuts rather than spending.

Some Republicans want "a repeat of last spring's stimulus, which was not particularly effective," says Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed. "That's just staying the course, and we have to change course dramatically."

The Senate will start debate on the bill on Monday.