House Passes Stimulus Measure

The House of Representatives passed Friday President Barack Obama's $787 billion economic stimulus plan. The 246-183 vote came with no Republican support. Seven Democrats voted against the measure and one voted present. The Senate takes up the measure next.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. It looks like the president will get what he's asked for - an economic stimulus bill to sign on his desk by Presidents' Day. Today, the House passed the final package; the Senate is expected to follow soon. The debate has not been pretty. There've been shouting matches in the House, the two parties espousing completely opposing views in what this bill will do. And not a single House Republican voted for it. The final tally was 246 to 183. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: In the end, this bill has one goal, say Democrats like Xavier Becerra of California.

Representative XAVIER BECERRA (Democrat, California): Jobs, jobs, jobs - that is job number one for this Congress.

SEABROOK: The price tag today is $787 billion, according to the most recent nonpartisan estimate. The size of the bill matches the size of the problem, say Democrats. But in the House, Tennessee Republican Zack Wamp argued it'll make a different problem worse - the federal debt.

Representative ZACK WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): Just because Republicans spent too much money after September the 11th, and lost our way on financial matters, doesn't mean the Democratic Party should be allowed to wreck our ship of state.

SEABROOK: The debate did not lack for theatrics. Another argument made many Republicans practically stand on their chairs.

Representative TOM PRICE (Republican, Georgia): We found $30 million for mice, got $30 million for mice.

SEABROOK: This is Tom Price of Georgia. He's holding up what looks like a dead hamster. It's a cat toy.

Rep. PRICE: Rep. PRICE: $30 million for mice. Does that create jobs? You can't be serious. What a joke.

SEABROOK: Oh, yeah? said Democrat David Obey, as he held up a copy of the actual bill.

Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): Got it right here. Find it and show it to me. Show it to me.

SEABROOK: The truth? There are no mice mentioned in this bill. That $30 million figure Republicans latched onto is actually the entire amount that will go to the California Coastal Conservancy, which, among other things, restores thousands of acres of endangered wetlands, where the salt marsh harvest mouse lives.

You see how these things get inflated. The rhetoric does matter, though, true or not. Part of what shaped the final outcome was the Republicans' ability to paint this as a bloated, porky spending bill. Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio is angry that the Obama administration didn't do more, faster, to counter Republicans' view of the bill.

Representative PETER DEFAZIO (Democrat, Oregon): It's instructive. Hopefully it's not predictive of the future of this administration. And it has really deteriorated some relationships here between the House and the Senate and the White House.

SEABROOK: DeFazio is one of seven Democrats who voted against their party's bill. He said the final version cut taxes too much. In the end, though, the victory here will be claimed by the Democrats. This is a big win. The loser? Well, if you judge by the rhetoric, it appears that any nascent bipartisanship here was strangled in its crib.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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Congress Approves $787 Billion Stimulus Plan

The Democratic-controlled Congress on Friday gave final approval to President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan, a massive spending and tax cuts package designed to jump-start the nation's sagging economy. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

President Obama, who has lobbied vigorously for the measure, is expected to sign it within the next few days.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aims to create or save about 3.5 million jobs, many of which will come from transportation, environmental, broadband and other infrastructure projects. But despite the president's early efforts to win bipartisan support for the plan, it failed to win the backing of a single House Republican, and only three moderate Republicans voted for it in the Senate.

The measure won approval in the Senate late Friday night by a vote of 60-38. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown cast the decisive vote after flying back to Washington aboard a government plane from his home state of Ohio, where he was mourning his mother's death. GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's former rival for the White House, decried what he saw as the lack of bipartisanship in the legislation.

"We want to work together with the other side," McCain said. "And this is not the example that I think the American people want us to exercise."

The House passed the measure earlier Friday on a 246-183 vote with no Republican support. Seven Democrats also voted against the package, and one Democrat voted present.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the bill is an investment in the nation's success. "By investing in new jobs, in science and innovation, in energy, in education ... we are investing in the American people, which is the best guarantee of the success of our nation," she said.

But not everyone agreed. "This legislation falls woefully short," said House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "With a price tag of more than $1 trillion when you factor in interest, it costs every family almost $10,000 in added debt. This is an act of generational theft that our children and grandchildren will be paying for far into the future."

The Congressional Budget Office said the compromise package would cost $787.2 billion, slightly less than the $789 billion lawmakers had earlier estimated.

White House and congressional negotiators worked quickly this week to reach a compromise on competing versions of the legislation, putting them on track to meet Obama's goal of signing the bill into law by Presidents Day on Monday.

Speaking to a group of business leaders at the White House earlier Friday, Obama said the economic downturn has brought opportunities, as well as hardships.

"We have a once-in-a-generation chance to act boldly and turn adversity into opportunity, and to use this crisis as a chance to transform this economy for the 21st century," Obama said.

Obama said support from the business community and organized labor paved the way for the bill's quick passage. He has spent much of the week building support for the stimulus plan, a component of his strategy for lifting the country out of recession.

"Once Congress passes this plan and I sign it into law, a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across America," Obama told a crowd in East Peoria, Ill., where he visited a Caterpillar equipment plant on Thursday. "Rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our dangerous dams and levees so we don't face another Katrina — think about all the work out there to be done — and Caterpillar will be selling the equipment that does the work."

The legislation, more than 1,000 pages long, was posted on the House Rules Committee Web site late Thursday. About 65 percent of the money ii0aqe measure goes toward spending, while about 35 percent goes toward tax cuts, including:

• $27.5 billion for highway projects

• $340 million for watershed and flood-prevention operations and watershed rehabilitation

• $2.5 billion for distance learning, telemedicine and broadband programs

• $150 million for economic development assistance programs

• $4.7 billion for a broadband technology opportunities program

• $6 billion for local clean water initiatives

• $21 billion to aid laid-off workers with employer-provided health insurance through COBRA

• $53.6 billion to help states deal with budget deficits

• $36.2 billion for energy spending

• $19.9 billion for aid to poor families

• a tax credit of up to $400 for low- and middle-income individuals and $800 for families

• a one-time payment of $250 to recipients of Social Security and government disability

Meanwhile, Obama economics adviser Lawrence Summers warned the public against thinking the plan would be a quick fix for the nation's ailing economy.

"We're not promising some silver bullet for the economy," Summers said in an interview Friday on NBC. "Indeed, what really is very important about President Obama's approach is his commitment to working this through step by step in its many aspects."

With additional reporting by other NPR staff and wires

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