House OKs economic stimulus package


Published: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 12:15 a.m.

WASHINGTON Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval on Wednesday for an $819 billion economic recovery plan as congressional Democrats sought to temper their own differences over the enormous package of tax cuts and spending.

As a piece of legislation, the two-year package is among the biggest in history, reflecting a broad view in Congress that urgent fiscal help is needed for an economy in crisis, at a time when the Federal Reserve has already cut interest rates almost to zero.

But the size and substance of the stimulus package remain in dispute, as House Republicans complained that it tilted heavily toward new spending instead of tax cuts.

All but 11 Democrats voted for the plan and 177 Republicans voted against it. The 244-188 vote came a day after Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to seek Republican backing, if not for the package then on coming issues.

Obama, in a statement hailing the House passage of the plan, did not take note of the partisan divide but signaled that he expects changes to be made in the Senate that might attract support.

"I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk," he said. "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."

Obama followed the House vote with a cocktail party at the White House for the congressional leaders of both parties, from the House and the Senate. The House Republicans, including the minority leader, John A. Boehner of Ohio, were fresh from their votes against the recovery package.

The failure to win Republican support in the House seemed to echo the early months of the last Democratic administration, when President Bill Clinton in 1993 had to rely solely on Democrats to win passage of a deficit-reduction bill that was a signature element of his presidency.

Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had met the night before at the White House with 11 moderate House Republicans, none of whom ended up supporting the bill. "The most important number here for this recovery plan is how many jobs it produces, not how many votes it gets," Emanuel said.

As Senate Democrats prepare to bring their version of the package to the floor on Monday, Democrats from the House and the administration indicated they ultimately would accept a provision in the emerging Senate package that would adjust the alternative minimum tax to hold down many middle-class Americans' income taxes for 2009.

The provision was not in the House-passed legislation.

Its cost would drive the overall package's tally to nearly $900 billion.

While the House and Senate measures are similar, they are likely to differ in ways that could snarl a conference committee and delay getting a measure to the president. In particular, House and Senate Democrats are split over how to divide $87 billion in relief to the states for Medicaid, with senators favoring a formula more beneficial to less populous states.

Democrats' own differences aside, they also are under pressure from the White House to be open to proposals from Senate Republicans who might support the final legislation if their interests are accommodated, and which might draw a few House Republican supporters on a final vote next month.

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