Stimulus plan: the House version

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Richard Moore

Jan 29, 2009, 6:39:15 AM1/29/09

Its cost would drive the overall package’s tally to nearly $900 billion. That would exceed the roughly $850 billion limit that Mr. Obama has set for Congress, House Democratic leadership aides said, and leave no room for other proposals that senators of both parties are poised to seek during Senate debate next week.

House Passes Stimulus Plan Despite G.O.P. Opposition

WASHINGTON — Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval on Wednesday for an $819 billion economic recovery plan as Congressional Democrats sought to temper their own differences over the enormous package of tax cuts and spending.

As a piece of legislation, the two-year package is among the biggest in history, reflecting a broad view in Congress that urgent fiscal help is needed for an economy in crisis, at a time when the Federal Reserve has already cut interest rates almost to zero.

But the size and substance of the stimulus package remain in dispute, as House Republicans argued that it tilted heavily toward new spending instead of tax cuts.

All but 11 Democrats voted for the plan, and 177 Republicans voted against it. The 244-to-188 vote came a day after Mr. Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to seek Republican backing, if not for the package then on other issues to come.

Mr. Obama, in a statement hailing the House passage of the plan, did not take note of the partisan divide but signaled that he expected changes to be made in the Senate that might attract support.

“I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk,” he said. “But what we can’t do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do.”

Mr. Obama followed the House vote with a cocktail party at the White House for the Congressional leaders of both parties, from the House and the Senate. The House Republicans, including the minority leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, were fresh from their votes against the recovery package.

The failure to win Republican support in the House seemed to echo the early months of the last Democratic administration, when President Bill Clinton in 1993 had to rely solely on Democrats to win passage of a deficit-reduction bill that was a signature element of his presidency.

Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had met Tuesday night at the White House with 11 moderate House Republicans, none of whom ended up supporting the bill. “The most important number here for this recovery plan is how many jobs it produces, not how many votes it gets,” Mr. Emanuel said.

As Senate Democrats prepare to bring their version of the package to the floor on Monday, House Democrats and the administration indicated they would ultimately accept a provision in the emerging Senate package that would adjust thealternative minimum tax to hold down many middle-class Americans’ income taxes for 2009. The provision was not in the House legislation.

Its cost would drive the overall package’s tally to nearly $900 billion. That would exceed the roughly $850 billion limit that Mr. Obama has set for Congress, House Democratic leadership aides said, and leave no room for other proposals that senators of both parties are poised to seek during Senate debate next week.

While the House and Senate measures are similar, they are most likely to differ in ways that could snarl negotiations between Democrats from the two chambers, and delay getting a measure to the president. In particular, House and Senate Democrats are split over how to divide $87 billion in relief to the states for Medicaid, with senators favoring a formula more beneficial to less-populous states.

Democrats’ own differences aside, they also are under pressure from the White House to be open to proposals from Senate Republicans who might support the final legislation if their interests are accommodated, and which might draw a few Republican supporters on a final vote next month in the House.

The provision on the alternative minimum tax, for example, was a priority for Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who added it Tuesday in the Finance Committee’s work on the legislation.

Democrats’ goal is to have the stimulus package, which is roughly two-thirds new spending and one-third tax cuts, to Mr. Obama’s desk for his signature by Feb. 13, before Congress breaks for Presidents’ Day.

“He said he wanted action, bold and swift, and that is exactly what we’re doing today,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said as debate began.

Democrats voluntarily dropped from the package several provisions that Republicans had singled out for derision in recent days, including money to restore the Jefferson Memorial and for family planning programs. But the day’s debate contrasted with the president’s conciliatory gestures.

Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, said that former President George Bush’s signature tax cuts in 2001 had created years of growth but that the nation’s problems started when Democrats regained majorities in Congress in the 2006 elections.

Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader, said that “the economics that got us into this mess” were the Republicans’ policies for the six years that Republicans controlled both the White House and Congress, through 2006.

The House voted down several Republican proposals, including a substitute package made up entirely of tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Republicans did not say how much their package would cost, although Mr. Boehner said it would be far less than the Democratic plan. That tax-cut-only approach was defeated on a mostly party-line vote of 266 to 170; two Democrats joined all but nine moderate Republicans in voting for the Republican plan.

By another near-party-line vote, 270 to 159, the House rejected a Republican plan to delete a number of spending programs, including several representing top campaign promises of Mr. Obama, and to add instead $36 billion for highway construction, more than doubling the $30 billion in the bill, and $24 billion for Army Corps of Engineersprojects.

After the final vote, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking House Republican, called the Democratic package “a spending bill beyond anyone’s imagination.”

Some Democrats seemed surprised that no Republicans voted for the measure.

“Not one person felt his or her district needed to have any of this assistance?” Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, asked of the Republicans. “That can’t be.”

Brad Woodhouse, president of the union-supported, pro-Democratic group Americans United for Change, e-mailed a statement condemning the Republicans’ opposition under the subject line “Political Suicide.”

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