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House Passes Obama Stimulus Package
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.
But such additions might increase the already staggering cost of the legislation, which could risk solidifying Republican opposition and losing more votes among the fiscally moderate coalition of Blue Dog Democrats.
By early afternoon, House Republicans knew they would be united in their opposition to the plan, aides said. As he walked to the chamber floor for the 6 p.m. vote, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio) touched his finger and thumb together, flashing a zero to indicate the number of GOP votes the bill would receive.
Democrats noted that they allowed Republican amendments, both at the committee level and on the House floor, a more open process than most legislative fights conducted over the past two years. After meeting with Republicans, Obama coaxed his fellow Democrats into dropping some controversial spending provisions that even they acknowledged would do little to create jobs, including funding for a family-planning program and $200 million to refurbish the Mall.
But Republicans continued to press to have more of their proposals included. Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), the House minority whip tasked with rounding up the opposition, said the vote delivered a message to Obama: "Tell Speaker Pelosi to begin to work with us."
Some Democrats questioned the need for Obama to continue pursuing a bipartisan victory on the final product if Republicans were entrenched in their opposition.
"I think the president went the distance, and I applaud him," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.). "Everything was done to be inclusive in this process."
Undeterred, Obama greeted Boehner and other congressional leaders, along with their spouses, at the White House last night for a bipartisan cocktail party -- the fourth time GOP leaders have had a private audience with Obama in the past three weeks.
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.
A $475 billion Republican alternative, which focused heavily on reducing individual and business taxes, failed.
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.
Staff writers Michael D. Shear and Lori Montgomery contributed to this report.