House Passes Stimulus Minus GOP 'Yes' Votes

The House has passed an $825 billion economic stimulus bill. However, no Republicans voted for the bill. They say it has too much spending and not enough tax cuts. It was a loss for bipartisanship but an early win for President Obama — just eight days into his presidency. The bill now goes to the Senate.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Tehran. I'm Renee Montagne in Washington.

Eight days into Barack Obama's presidency, the House passed the massive economic recovery bill Mr. Obama called for in his inauguration speech. It totals more than $800 billion, and aims to jolt the economy with a combination of tax cuts and spending. The vote came a day after the president took the unusual step of going to Capitol Hill to woo Republicans. He did win some praise from them, but no votes. NPR's Audie Cornish reports from the Capitol.

AUDIE CORNISH: There was one point on which both sides could agree. California Republican David Dreier sums it up best.

Representative DAVID DREIR (Republican, California): Our constituents are hurting. We're all feeling the pain of this economic downturn. The question is, what action will we take?

CORNISH: To Georgia Democrat David Scott, the answer was clear.

Representative DAVID SCOTT (Democrat, Georgia): This country is looking for us to provide the kind of leadership that is needed. They don't want us to hang around the docks like little boats, they're looking for us to go way out where the big ships go. We must think big and bold. Our economy is crumbling around us.

CORNISH: Only 11 Democrats voted against the bill, which is divided one-third for tax cuts, two-thirds direct spending. The cuts include college tuition credits, expanded relief for low-income workers, and a payroll tax refund of $1,000 per eligible family. The rest of those billions go to stimulus spending. Republicans questioned whether some items were more of a Democratic wish list than an economic recovery plan. Congressman Ken Calvert of California.

Representative KEN CALVERT (Republican, California): The bill provides a mind-boggling $365 billion for labor, health and human service programs. The strategy under this bill is to throw billions of dollars in every bureaucratic direction, cross our fingers and hope for the best.

CORNISH: And it was spending of which the GOP had little or no say, said Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

Representative JERRY LEWIS (Republican, California): It's one thing to seek constructive input in the hopes of building bipartisan consensus on a bill as important as this package. But that clearly has not happened.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): We thought we were going to have bipartisanship here. That's what we were promised. None of that has occurred here.

CORNISH: That was Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan. President Barack Obama had spent days courting GOP members like him, meeting lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. Mr. Obama made concessions, such as dropping a multi-million-dollar family planning provision, widely criticized by the opposition as having little to do with job creation. But the alternative plan presented by Republicans and based on largely on tax cuts, made little headway with Democrats and their leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Speaker): This is an initiative for the future. And some of the initiatives they have put forth are really the same policies that got us into this terrible economic crisis that we are in.

CORNISH: And Democrats lined up to defend stimulus provisions, such as the $41 billion in grants for local school districts and $32 billion to modernize the electric energy grid. House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): Our package is balanced. It has middle-class tax-cuts. It has business tax-cuts. It has investments in our physical infrastrucutre. It is the right mix of spending and tax breaks to get America working again. This legislation is pro-growth and pro-business.

CORNISH: But not bipartisan. The measure passed 244 to 188 without a single Republican vote. President Obama issued a statement last night thanking the House for approving a plan that would create millions of jobs. He also called on the Senate, which takes up the bill next week, to overcome partisan differences. That could be a challenge. The bill that is taking shape on that side is estimated to cost even more money. Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol.

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House Approves Economic Stimulus Package

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi i i

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi take part in a news conference about the economic stimulus package. Republicans complained that the bill was written in Pelosi's office without much GOP input, a charge Democrats rejected. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Wilson/Getty Images
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Speaker Nancy Pelosi

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi take part in a news conference about the economic stimulus package. Republicans complained that the bill was written in Pelosi's office without much GOP input, a charge Democrats rejected.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama's Statement

Last year, America lost 2.6 million jobs. On Monday alone, we learned that some of our biggest employers plan to cut another 55,000. This is a wake-up call to Washington that the American people need us to act and act immediately.

  

That is why I am grateful to the House of Representatives for moving the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan forward today. There are many numbers in this plan. It will double our capacity to generate renewable energy. It will lower the cost of health care by billions and improve its quality. It will modernize thousands of classrooms and send more kids to college. And it will put billions of dollars in immediate tax relief into the pockets of working families.

  

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.

  

I can also promise that my administration will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington. Once it is passed, every American will be able to go the Web site recovery.gov and see how and where their money is being spent.

  

The plan now moves to the Senate, and I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk. 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.

  

The Democratic-controlled House approved an $819 billion economic stimulus package seen as critical to President Barack Obama's plan to revive the economy. But no Republicans voted in favor of the bill and changes are likely as the bill moves to the Senate.

Hours before Wednesday's vote, Obama said the nation did not have "a moment to spare" and that swift action was needed to aid the nation's economy.

Many top Republicans remain leery of the measure's more than $500 billion in spending and believe the tax cuts it includes are insufficient. The final vote was 244-188.

After some recalculations, the package — initially estimated at $825 billion — was fixed at $819 billion, including $3 billion added for mass transit by House Democrats.

Obama released a statement citing various benefits of the package, from increasing capacity for renewable energy to lowering health-care costs. And he repeated a prediction made in introducing the package weeks ago:

"Out of all these numbers, there is one that matters most to me," he said. "This recovery plan will save or create more than 3 million new jobs over the next few years."

In comments before and after closed-door meetings with business leaders at the White House, Obama stressed what he called the urgent need for the stimulus plan.

"The American people expect action," Obama said.

Much of the spending would be for items such as health care, jobless benefits, food stamps and other programs that benefit victims of the downturn.

House Republican Leader John Boehner has warned that Democratic spending policies would bury the next generation of Americans under "a mountain of debt." Again Wednesday, he said the plan contained too much wasteful spending.

Even so, Boehner praised Obama for meeting Tuesday with Republicans on Capitol Hill. The minority leader said the president vowed to continue to reach out to GOP leaders and recruit their ideas.

Although GOP support isn't necessary to pass the measure, Obama wants Republicans to buy into the plan as part of his broader initiative to end the partisan gridlock that gripped Washington during the Bush years.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where Democrats have already accepted a one-year extension of the alternative minimum tax fix aimed at saving primarily higher-income taxpayers about $70 billion. That would increase the Senate bill's total to about $900 billion.

Republicans have their own plan, which they say would cost about half of what Obama is proposing and create twice as many jobs — 6.2 million. The plan focuses on tax relief.

In meeting with the business leaders, Obama said he wanted to ensure that corporations fulfill responsibilities to workers and the American public.

"In the end, the answer to our economic troubles rests less in my hands, or the hands of our legislators, than it does with America's workers and the businesses that employ them," he said.

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