- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Democratic plan to spend about $60 billion in an attempt to stimulate the economy died Friday when Senate Republicans blocked the measure, though the House later passed a package in a symbolic 264-158 vote.

The Senate bill, which would have spent $56 billion, passed only by a 52-42 tally - eight votes short of the 60 needed to defeat a Republican filibuster. The Democratic caucus, which includes two independents, backed the bill by a 46-2 margin, while Republicans opposed it, 40-6.

The House vote on a $61 billion package had 223 Democrats and 41 Republicans supporting it, and eight Democrats and 150 Republicans opposed.

Regardless of what happened on Capitol Hill, the White House had promised a veto, saying the legislation would not work and would cost too much.

The bills follow a bipartisan plan enacted this past winter that shipped $600-to-$1,200 tax rebate checks to most individuals and couples and awarded tax breaks to businesses investing in new plants and equipment.

With the economy still sagging, Democrats have long pressed for a follow-up plan that focused on more spending to extend unemployment benefits, boost food-stamp payments and build infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, water and sewer projects and school repairs. They got no interest from President Bush and his GOP allies in Congress.

“Record spending that could lead to record tax increases or higher deficits will not advance our economic recovery,” the White House said in a statement.

Democratic leaders haven’t seemed to take the idea very seriously, either, unveiling the measures only in the waning days of the congressional session despite talking about them for months. And in the Senate, Democrats added a provision to extend a moratorium on the development of oil shale, giving Republicans an additional reason to oppose the bill.

“The truth is that Senate leaders carefully stacked this package so that it would fail,” said Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican.

Republicans charged that Democrats were more interested in using the votes against them in the fall campaign.

But Democrats said it’s entirely appropriate for the bills to make a statement about party principles.

“Our stimulus package represents the right kind of economic policy - literally building a stronger country, investing in our children, investing in workers, and coming to the aid of struggling families,” said Rep. George Miller, California Democrat.

The House plan was more focused on spending that would have an immediate impact on job creation. The Senate measure contains a wish-list of items long-sought by members of the Appropriations Committee, including money to provide U.S. Capitol police with new radios, accelerate NASA’s development of a new space vehicle and move the Department of Homeland Security to a new headquarters.

Meanwhile, Senate leaders pressed for a vote Saturday on a $630 billion-plus spending bill funding the Pentagon, veterans medical care, homeland security programs and keeping the government’s other Cabinet agencies running at current levels after the new budget year starts Wednesday.

That measure also contains $25 billion in federal loans for U.S. automakers to help them retool factories and develop technologies. And it would award Republicans with a long-sought victory - the easing of a quarter-century ban on oil drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Mr. Bush is expected to sign that measure, which also doubles the money for heating subsidies for the poor and provides $23 billion in aid for disaster-ravaged states. It would avert a shortfall in Pell college aid grants and address problems in the Women, Infants and Children program of food to the poor.

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