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Senate Rejects Bid to Extend D.C. Voucher Program

The U.S. Senate today voted to pass a $410 billion 2009 budget bill, which zeroes out funding for the Reading First program.
And the measure could spell the beginning of the end of the D.C voucher program.

Supporters of the voucher program had sponsored an amendment to strip out language that could keep it from receiving funding next year, unless lawmakers vote to renew its authorization.

The provision, which was rejected on a vote of 58-39, was offered by Sen. John Ensign of Nevada and a bunch of GOP lawmakers, including former presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Sen. Joesph Lieberman, an Independent Democrat from Connecticut, also championed the pro-voucher effort. The vote was mostly party line, with a couple of Democrats, including Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, crossing over to vote with the GOP.

The amendment's defeat means the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program will lose its federal funding after this year unless Congress steps in to reauthorize it. Most folks think that's a pretty unlikely scenario, given that Democrats have hefty margins in both houses and, for the most part, aren't huge fans of vouchers.

Still, Lieberman, who chairs the committee that has jurisdiction over D.C., is planning to hold hearings on the program's future later this year. He may not be able to keep the it going, but it still should make for a pretty interesting debate, especially if he brings in D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a Dem, who has been supportive of the program in the past.

The spending bill, which was approved by a voice vote after it cleared a key procedural hurdle by a vote of 62-35, will now go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

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