McCain Misses Key Vote on Stimulus Package — Or Did He?

By Lee Speigel

Feb 6, 2008 10:16pm

Senate Democrats this evening failed in their effort to substitute their $200 billion more expensive economic stimulus package, for the leaner version negotiated by House Democrats and the White House.

It was a close vote — 60 votes were needed to invoke cloture to allow a full up-or-down vote on the amendment. Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., were corralled from the campaign trail and roped back to the Senate floor to vote "Yea" on the amendment offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid., D-Nev.

It failed, 59-40.*

GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Gordon Smith of Oregon joined with the Democrats to pass the Reid substitute.

(Quiz question — how many of those Republicans are up for re-election this year?)

You may notice that one senator missed the vote entirely — that was Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

And he took a drubbin’ from Democrats looking for a campaign issue for the presumptive GOP nominee.

"John McCain had a chance to stand up for America’s working families and help fix our ailing economy, but chose to protect his campaign instead," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.  "While he says one thing on the campaign trail, when the time came to act, John McCain was absent.  America doesn’t need four more years of a president who puts what’s good for him ahead of what’s good for our country."

Clinton campaign spokesman Phil Singer said, "Tens of millions of Americans were counting on the Senate to take action tonight on a much-needed economic stimulus package, and by failing to stand up as the deciding vote, John McCain let our families down. Sen. McCain already told us he doesn’t understand the economy, now he’s proven that he doesn’t understand the economic struggles our middle class families face as our economy slides into a recession. Tonight’s events prove, once again, that we need a president who will be ready from day one to act in the interests of middle class families and turn our ailing economy around."

But here’s the thing: McCain campaign spokeswoman Jill Hazelbaker says McCain would have voted "No." He supports the version negotiated by President Bush and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., not the Senate Democrats’ version.

And that means that factually, as a matter of Senate substance, his absence doesn’t matter. Those seeking to achieve cloture need to reach 60 votes — the onus is on them. In that case, an opponent of cloture can vote No, or he can skip the vote. So the Democrats’ implication that his presence would have changed the outcome doesn’t appear to be true.

"John McCain is making his case to the American people on a daily basis, and the Clinton campaign should know better than to launch silly attacks over a procedural vote where the senator’s absence wouldn’t have affected the outcome," says Hazelbaker.

Generally, of course, it’s considered good practice for senators to actually vote. Kind of their jobs.

So while his absence may not have changed the final outcome, that’s not to say it’s what in high school we might call an excused absence — whether as a matter of image, a matter of tending to Senate business, and a matter of being present for key votes. And the stimulus package is pretty high-profile right now. McCain was the only one in the entire Senate to have missed the vote, including two others who are running for president.

In fact, in the 110th Congress, out of 450 votes, McCain missed 56.7% of them. The only one who missed more was a senator who had a brain hemmorhage.

- jpt

* Reid later changed his vote to "No," for procedural reasons that allow him to bring the amendment up again if he wants. So, the final tally actually stood at 58-41.

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