The House Wednesday evening approved a massive $819 billion stimulus bill to boost the struggling economy, but not a single Republican voted for the measure despite a personal lobbying pitch from President Barack Obama.
The centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s economic recovery program cleared its first major hurdle on a 244-188 vote, with 11 Democrats joining all 177 House Republicans in opposition.
Mr. Obama made an unusual trip to Capitol Hill Tuesday to woo House and Senate Republicans, seeking a bipartisan endorsement of the massive program of new spending and tax cuts. But the united Republican opposition in the House could signal a much more divisive fight that Mr. Obama had bargained for as the Senate continues work on its version of the measure.
With Democrats holding a nearly 80-seat edge, the ultimate outcome was not in doubt. House Democratic leaders were so confident of the outcome they held a victory press briefing hours before the final vote was taken.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat brushed aside minority complaints that the stimulus bill had been rushed through the chamber with minimal input from Republicans.
“When you lose an argument on policy and substance, what you do it talk about personalities and process,” she said.
President Obama, who made an unusual lobbying trip to Capitol Hill Tuesday to try to drum up Republican votes, acknowledged again at the White House that “some are skeptical about the size and scale of this recovery plan.”
“I understand the skepticism, which is why this recovery plan will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my administration accountable,” he said as he met with 13 prominent business executives who support his economic plan.
Asked before the vote if he was confident of significant Republican support for the stimulus, Mr. Obama replied, “I’m confident we’re going to get it passed.”
Republicans won a few minor skirmishes as the bill worked its way through the House, stripping out money for contraceptive programs under Medicare and for refurbishing the National Mall. But a GOP-sponsored substitute bill tilted heavily toward individual and business tax cuts was shot down on a vote of 266-170.
Republicans complained that the House Rules Committee allowed floor votes on just 11 of nearly 200 amendments proposed by lawmakers of both parties. They said the overall bill was loaded with pork spending projects and would not supply the immediate boost the staggering U.S. economy needed.
The one major amendment approved added another $3 billion to the spending total, boosting from $9 billion to $12 billion the amount of funds targeted for mass transit programs.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey, Wisconsin Democrat, predicted that many of the Republicans who voted against the bill Wednesday would end up supporting the final stimulus package after it is reconciled with the Senate version now taking shape.
“I would hope that, sooner or later, we could cut through this gamesmanship,” Mr. Obey said.
The threat of a filibuster gives Senate Republicans more leverage to amend the stimulus bill, which congressional Democratic leaders hope to pass by mid-February.
The Senate Finance Committee has already boosted the price tag on its version of the stimulus package to nearly $890 billion, voting to tack on a temporary break for middle-class taxpayers facing higher bills this year because of the alternative minimum tax.
Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, said he was working with a couple of his Democratic colleagues to alter the House bill with amendments on mortgage guarantees and repatriation of foreign earnings. He said his vote “depends on how it’s done and what amendments are adopted.”
“I would love to vote for a final package — I think all of us would love to vote for a final package — but it’s got to be something that we feel is fiscally responsible,” Mr. Ensign said.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce top lobbyist Bruce Josten expressed hope that the Senate would include a number of business-oriented tax breaks from the stimulus bill, noting the Senate committees marking up their version of the package appear more open to increased tax cuts.
“The good news is we expect a number of changes in the Senate version,” he said.
All told, the House bill calls for $523.5 billion in new spending and about $275 billion in tax cuts, along with specific provisions to help jobless workers get health insurance, credits to boost renewable energy sources, and money for state and local governments facing severe budget shortages.
Fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats had grumbled about the massive spending under the program, but many said they were mollified by a promise from Peter Orszag, head of the White House Office of Management and Budget, promising the administration would pursue fiscal discipline in future programs.
Rep. Charlie Melancon, Louisiana Democrat and a top Blue Dog, said it was not a “perfect bill’ from his perspective, but he ended up voting for it.
“Doing nothing is not an option at this time,” he said.
Just before the final vote, House Republicans offered an alternative stimulus program heavy on tax cuts would create nearly 3 million more new jobs than the billion economic recovery plan being pushed by the Obama administration and congressional
Democrats — using what they said was the same forecasting methodology favored by Christina Romer, new head of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.
The substitute bill, sponsored by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, would create 6.2 million jobs through 2010, according to its Republican backers, compared to just 3.2 million jobs claimed under the House Democratic bill.
Democrats rejected the analysis, saying the plan’s reliance on tax cuts amounted to the “same old song we always hear from Republicans,” according to Rep. Richard E. Neal, Massachusetts Democrat.
The substitute lost on a 266-170 vote, with two Democrats voting in favor and nine Republicans voting against.