The House approved an $819 billion stimulus package on a near party-line vote yesterday, a plan breathtaking in size and scope that President Obama hopes to make the cornerstone of his efforts to resuscitate the staggering economy.
Larger than the combined total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far, the two-year stimulus plan would provide up to $1,000 per year in tax relief for most families, dramatically increase funding for alternative energy production, and direct more than $300 billion in aid to states to help rebuild schools, provide health care to the poor and reconstruct highways and bridges.
But Obama's personal salesmanship effort failed to secure a single Republican supporter for the spending plan, which passed on a 244 to 188 vote. Just a day after the president spent more than an hour behind closed doors at the Capitol seeking their support, all 177 House Republicans opposed the measure, arguing that it would spend hundreds of billions of dollars on initiatives that would do little to stimulate the economy. Eleven Democrats opposed the bill.
"There are many numbers in this plan," he said in the statement. "But out of all these numbers, there is one that matters most to me: This recovery plan will save or create more than 3 million new jobs over the next few years."
While Obama made no mention of the unanimous Republican opposition, a top adviser immediately warned of the political fallout GOP lawmakers could face from constituents struggling in tough economic times.
"There will be people in districts all over the country that will wonder why, when there's a good bill to get the economy moving again, while we still seem to be playing political gotcha," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in an interview.
Some moderate Republicans who opposed the bill left open the chance of supporting the final version if the White House and Senate address their concerns about spending. And Democrats remain hopeful of securing a more bipartisan result in the Senate, where committee action has driven up the cost as the amount of tax relief has increased, something Republicans have demanded before they will consider offering their support.
In addition to other tweaks to the tax portion of the package, the Senate Finance Committee added a $70 billion fix to the alternative-minimum tax to the chamber's version of the bill, a provision aimed at preventing the tax from being applied to middle-class households, pushing the total cost to at least $890 billion.
Housing advocates complained that the package would not provide $10 billion for a trust fund to build affordable housing that was created last summer but never funded. Labor unions complained that the plan would put too little money toward construction projects to create jobs. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce complained that the measure would do too little to relieve the tax burden on businesses struggling to avoid layoffs.
The stimulus debate comes on the heels of congressional action in mid-January that released $350 billion to Obama's new Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, for use in the effort to free up the credit markets, part of the massive financial rescue package approved last fall. Held days before Obama was sworn in as president, that vote also fell largely on party lines, as just six Senate Republicans joined 46 Democrats in supporting the release of the money.
Hours before yesterday's House vote, Obama told a group of about 100 business leaders that Congress must not delay efforts to restart the economy and put people back to work.
At a White House gathering this morning, he said: "The businesses that are shedding jobs to stay afloat, they cannot afford inaction or delay. The workers who are returning home to tell their husbands and wives and children that they no longer have a job, and all those who live in fear that theirs will be the next job cut -- they need help now."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) heralded the legislation -- $275 billion in tax cuts and almost $545 billion in domestic spending -- as the first down payment on Obama's pledge, made in his inaugural address, to provide "bold and swift" action to revive an economy that is losing more than 500,000 jobs a month, including 65,000 layoffs announced just this week.
"He said he wanted action, bold and swift, and that is exactly what we are doing," Pelosi told reporters before the vote.
After Democrats initially estimated their plan would cost $825 billion, the Congressional Budget Office announced this week that the total cost was $816 billion, with about 65 percent of that amount expected to be spent by September 2010. During debate, lawmakers added $3 billion for mass-transit programs.