Six Republicans joined with 45 Democrats and one Joe Lieberman to defeat a resolution that would have blocked the release of $350 billion in financial-industry bailout funds Thursday. The Senate action -- or lack of it -- paves the way for the dispersal of the money regardless of any action taken by the House of Representatives.
The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is structured so that the president has access to the money unless Congress actively prevents its release. Only 42 senators -- seven Democrats, 34 Republicans and one Bernie Sanders -- voted to block the money.
In practical terms, Obama only needed enough votes to sustain a veto of the resolution, which he had promised when he met with Democrats on Tuesday. The vote today frees Obama of the politically costly task of vetoing a disapproval resolution, allowing him to spend that political capital elsewhere.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, voted against the original TARP legislation in October while locked in a tight reelection race. With the election behind her and the next contest not for another six years, Landrieu voted with Obama to release the funds. Landrieu's vote sends a signal that she is likely to vote with Obama often during the first year of his administration, a helpful sign for the incoming president, who needs every Democratic vote from a red state that he can get. Democrat Bill Nelson of Florida also opposed the original TARP plan but voted with Obama this time around.
Obama also won six Republican votes: Sens. Lamar Alexander (TN), Jon Kyl (AZ.), Judd Gregg (NH), Richard Lugar (IN), Olympia Snowe (ME) and George Voinovich (OH).
Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont voted to block the bailout funds, as did seven Democrats: Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Ron Wyden (OR), Ben Nelson (NE), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Maria Cantwell (WA) and Evan Bayh (IN).
In what will likely be their final Senate votes, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton both voted against the resolution and with the president. In his first Senate vote, Roland Burris voted with his leadership, Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, who had just last week been blocking him from taking his seat. Burris, Reid and Durbin chatted amiably on the floor and Durbin even polished Burris' senatorial pin for him.