WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted to end a Republican-led filibuster Wednesday on a $26 billion funding bill that would provide aid to cash-strapped states for education and Medicaid spending.

Maine GOP Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins provided key votes, as they did last month in helping Democrats pass a six-month extension of jobless benefits. The 61-38 vote was one more than needed to end debate, virtually assuring the Senate will approve the bill today.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would call the House back into session next week to approve the measure and get it to Obama for his signature before most schools reopen.

In Maine, the spending package would send about $77 million to the state’s general fund and provide $39 million to help prevent teacher layoffs.

The U.S. Department of Education estimates the $10 billion for school districts would save about 140,000 teacher jobs nationally. The Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank partially funded by labor unions, estimates the $16 billion in additional Medicaid funding next year would save the jobs of more than 150,000 state employees across the country.

The bill was paid for through spending cuts in programs such as food stamps; the closing of certain foreign tax-credit loopholes worth about $9.6 billion; and unspent federal funds, including unused stimulus funding.

“There is no question that states, including Maine, continue to suffer from the lingering effects of the national recession and declining revenues,” Snowe and Collins said in a joint statement. “We understand that, as our national and state economies continue to struggle, a further extension of the enhanced (Medicaid funding formula) is necessary to help states protect against further job losses as the economy slowly turns around.”

Maine’s current biennial budget is about $700 million less than the previous one. The state has lost about $1 billion in revenue as a result of the recession.

Maine also has been dealing with greater demands on social service programs, such as MaineCare, which has increased enrollment by 19,000 over the past year, according to the Maine Hospital Association.

Though both senators had voted to approve a similar spending bill in March, concerns about deficit spending prompted them to withhold support for more recent proposals.

A Monday vote on the bill was postponed by Democrats when they found the measure would add to the deficit. Collins also said she was concerned about Defense Department spending cuts contained in the legislation that could have affected the Navy’s shipbuilding budget and, by extension, Bath Iron Works — one of Maine’s largest employers.

Senate Democratic leadership produced a final measure that did not add to the deficit or make shipbuilding cuts, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The CBO said the legislation would actually reduce the deficit by about $1.37 billion over the next 10 years.

Maine advocates who supported the spending package — including the Maine Health Care Association, the Maine Education Association and unions representing state workers — heavily lobbied the two senators to support the bill.

“Sens. Snowe and Collins today put economic recovery ahead of a double-dip recession. They upheld our proud tradition of laying aside party politics for the good of the people of Maine,” Bruce Hodsdon, president of MSEA-SEIU Local 1989, said in a written statement.

Democratic Gov. John Baldacci praised the senators for opposing Republican leaders.

“(Their) action today will have a profound impact on Maine as our state works to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression. It will mean better health care for our people and a stronger education system for our children,” he said in a written statement.

Maine’s two-year budget faces a shortfall of about $100 million, according to the Governor’s Office, because budget writers anticipated additional federal funding.

If the House of Representatives passes the measure and it is signed by the president, that shortfall would be about $23 million.

David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education, said it isn’t clear how the money can be spent — but that the relief would be appreciated.

“It is aimed solely at jobs this time,” he said.

Connerty-Marin said it’s unclear whether the funds are earmarked simply for teacher positions, or could be applied to administrators, bus drivers, janitors and others.

He also pointed out that the money would only be available for one year.

“There are a lot of questions that the U.S. Department of Education will have to answer for us,” he said, “and there are a lot of questions that the districts will have to ask themselves about how they want to use the money.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

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