WASHINGTON — An emergency plan to save the jobs of tens of thousands of public school teachers and other government workers overcame a Senate hurdle Wednesday, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would summon lawmakers back from their August break to finish work on the measure.
Two Republicans crossed party lines to advance the $26 billion package, handing President Obama a victory in his campaign to bolster the shaky economy. With many governors struggling to close gaping budget deficits, administration officials feared that a fresh round of state layoffs or tax increases could knock the nation's wobbly recovery off-course.
The aid package would not entirely close those budget gaps. Hampered by election-year anxiety over the mounting national debt, congressional Democrats were forced to slash Obama's original request for state aid nearly in half and come up with a plan to pay for it. Meanwhile, lawmakers in both parties signaled that the measure probably marks the end for spending bills aimed at boosting economic activity.
"I think that this should be sort of the final down payment," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a swing vote who helped break the impasse Wednesday and overcome a Republican filibuster. Sen. Susan Collins, also of Maine, provided the second Republican vote, allowing the package to clear its last major hurdle on a vote of 61-38.
Obama hailed the vote as "an important step towards ensuring that teachers across the country can stay in the classroom and cash-strapped states can get the relief they need."
Even as the federal government is preparing Friday to release new unemployment figures likely to underscore the weakness of the economic recovery, a separate jobs bill aimed at spurring hiring by small businesses was stalled in the Senate and unlikely to move until after Labor Day.
Obama urged the Senate to quickly wrap up work on the package. Aides said a final Senate vote is likely this afternoon.
The package would then go to the House, whose members will return to Washington on Tuesday, House leaders said.
"As millions of children prepare to go back to school — many in just a few days — the House will act quickly to approve this legislation once the Senate votes," Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.