WASHINGTON — A $23 billion payout to save thousands of educators' jobs faltered Thursday — perhaps for good — to election-year jitters among moderate Democrats over deficit spending and only lukewarm support from the White House.
The proposal's chief advocate in the House abruptly canceled a committee meeting to put the money in a war spending bill. Its lead sponsor in the Senate gave up trying to do it, acknowledging he lacked the necessary votes.
The developments jeopardized what progressives in Congress and some members of the Obama administration had described as a life raft for 100,000 to 300,000 teachers and other school personnel whose billions of dollars in stimulus salary subsidies run out this fall.
Outside the Beltway, educators said it wasn't clear how big a hit they would take if more federal money didn't come through.
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"The specter of layoffs is there," said Maryland Department of Education spokesman Bill Reinhard. "The economy has not totally turned around yet."
Maureen Dinnen, a retired teacher and school board member in Broward County, Fla., said 800 teacher jobs are in jeopardy there. The limbo, she said, wakes her up at night.
"I think to myself, the future of our schools, that's just as important as the auto industry or the financial interests," Dinnen said. "That's our lifeblood for the future."
The lifeblood for politicians is winning the next election, and voters have been screaming at them for months to hold down government spending — even the kind intended to spur the nation's economic recovery.
Obama's $862 billion stimulus bill bailed out slumping American companies and gave educators some $50 billion, but it also played a role in costing Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter his seat in Pennsylvania's primary election last week.
On Thursday, the White House sent out a statement not from Obama but from his press secretary, Robert Gibbs. In it, Gibbs called for some emergency funding for teachers, but he stopped short of saying how much.