- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 14, 2009

UPDATED:

For a knockdown price of $787 billion, President Obama on Friday took possession of the $14.3 trillion U.S. economy.

With 176 Republicans once again united in opposition, the House of Representatives approved Mr. Obama’s massive stimulus package to revive the staggering economy on a vote of 246-183, with seven Democrats opposed and one Democrat voting present.

The Senate began voting in the evening, but kept open the critical vote to allow Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown to fly back from Ohio, where he was attending a memorial service for his mother. Mr. Brown delivered the critical 60th vote Mr. Obama needed to secure Senate passage of the bill, with just three of 41 Senate Republicans voting in favor.

The bill could be on Mr. Obama’s desk by Monday.

The congressional votes would give Mr. Obama a major policy victory less than a month into his administration, but at the cost of the bipartisan spirit the new president had vowed to pursue.

Mr. Obama last month talked of winning significant Republican backing for the centerpiece of his economic recovery plan, and congressional Democrats had spoken hopefully this week that at least a few Republicans would embrace the Obama plan.

With minimal Republican support for the administration bill, both parties have placed a massive political bet that will depend on whether the monumental program of spending increases, new programs, infrastructure projects and tax cuts is seen as ending the current deep recession.

In a telling sign of the distance between the two parties, Sen. Judd Gregg, the New Hampshire Republican who pulled out as Mr. Obama’s nominee for commerce secretary Thursday, voted against Mr. Obama’s plan Friday.

Asked for his reaction to House passage of the bill, Mr. Obama said “thumbs up” and indeed gave a thumbs-up sign as he left the White House with his family for a long weekend in Chicago.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to respond directly to the news of the absence of Republican support in the House vote for the stimulus bill. But earlier in his daily briefing, Mr. Gibbs had said it was “silly” to talk of bipartisanship being dead.

“When the dust finally settles, you’ll see an economic recovery plan that moves forward because Democrats and Republicans worked together to get it to the president’s desk,” he said.

Congressional Republicans placed the blame for the sharp partisan divide on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior congressional Democrats.

“It’s a disappointment,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican. “We were promised that Washington was going to change, that we were going to work in bipartisan fashion. My constituents back home are asking, ‘Does Washington, D.C., get it?’ ”

Democratic leaders in turn chided Republicans for what they said was a vote against the largest tax cut in history and against Americans struggling in an economic morass.

“They voted against American families who are just trying to hold onto their homes,” Rep. Xavier Becerra of California, chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said after the vote.

Mrs. Pelosi, often a partisan lightning rod, called the package “transformational,” and dismissed Republican complaints over “process.” She said Mr. Obama and the Democratic congressional leaders invited Republican participation in the stimulus package but the minority refused to embrace the new direction being forged at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

“The Republicans want to go down the same of path that brought us to the place we are now. The failed policies of the Bush administration have been rejected by the American people,” she said. “We will not turn back.”

The 1,071-page bill, which was only put in final form late Thursday night, is the most far-reaching package of its kind in the nation’s history, with massive increases in programs ranging from bridges and roads to health care, energy, unemployment relief and cash for budget-strapped states and localities.

In addition to slamming the bill’s substance, Republicans complained that lawmakers had almost no time to read the bill. The House had to override a previous pledge to give members at least 48 hours to study the text before a vote was scheduled.

“It is not petty to say each member should at least have the opportunity to read this legislation,” said Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Florida Republican.

At one point in the floor debate, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio theatrically dumped a copy of the foot-high bill on the floor of the House well, producing a loud thump, as he spoke.

But Democrats say the spending and tax cut package will stem the economic downturn by creating or saving 3.5 million jobs, reinforcing the safety net for those caught in hard times and investing in clean energy technology.

Asked about the lack of Republican votes for the bill, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, recalled how Republicans in 1993 had unanimously opposed President Clinton’s economic package, which included tax increases. That program, Mr. Hoyer said, set the stage for nearly a decade of growth and broad income gains.

But Mr. Boehner said his Republican colleagues had no qualms about uniting against the Obama bill.

“We think that standing on principle … will never get you in trouble,” he said.

The Senate vote required a 60-vote supermajority to overcome Republican objections to the bill’s impact on the budget. With ailing Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, not expected to vote, Senate Democrats needed all three Republicans and every other member of the Democratic caucus to pass the bill.

As in the House, the Senate debate on the bill strained to the breaking point Mr. Obama’s hopes for bipartisan cooperation as the hallmark of his administration.

“When we reach out to you, don’t give us the back of your hand,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said to Republicans, arguing that many minority ideas, including a temporary suspension of the alternative minimum tax, were incorporated in the final bill.

But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, countered, “If you watched the process, for Republicans it was basically ‘take it or leave it.’ ”

House and Senate Democrats were at odds at several points in trying to reconcile their two bills. Many liberal Democrats in the House complained of spending cuts made in the final bill to win the votes of the three crucial Senate Republicans - Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

Just seven House Democrats voted against the final bill, compared with 11 who opposed the original $819 billion House measure. Freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil Jr., Maryland Democrat, was one of the members who switched Friday to support the final bill.

But liberal Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, voted against the final bill, saying sorely needed new infrastructure spending had been dropped to make way for tax cuts demanded by the Senate.

“This bill is ultimately a lost opportunity,” he said.

But Democrats have since presented a united front, warning that failure to enact the measure would have dire consequences to a domestic economy deeply in trouble.

“I think this is a key part of what’s gong to be a multipart strategy to contain this decline,” Lawrence H. Summers, who heads the White House’s National Economic Council, said Friday on NBC’s “Today” show.

He added that while the package shouldn’t be considered a “silver bullet” to cure the country’s economic woes, “We don’t have a viable alternative.”

S.A. Miller and Jon Ward contributed to this article.

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