Obama wins his economic stimulus package, but without the bipartisanship he sought
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The bill aims to create (or save) 3.5 million jobs and help stressed families pay for food, housing, and health care. At $575 billion in spending and $212 billion in tax breaks, the plan also aims to leverage new economic activity and growth.
“Once Congress passes this plan and I sign it into law, a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across American,” Mr. Obama told workers at a town meeting in East Peoria, Ill., on Thursday.
But the president also had worked for a big, bipartisan vote to show that Washington could also transform its own toxic political culture and find a new direction. That, he did not get.
In the end, no House Republicans voted for the economic recovery bill. It passed the House on Friday by a vote of 246 to 183. (Seven Democrats also opposed the bill.) Hours later, the Senate just barely passed the bill, 60 to 38, with three crucial Republican votes to reach the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster.
“But for them, we would not be where we are,” said Senate majority leader Harry Reid, after Friday night’s final Senate vote.
Their key votes gave GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania unusual clout in determining the final shape of the bill. As a price for their support, Democrats agreed to cut more than $100 billion out of the Senate version of the bill ¬and to insist on those cuts in final negotiations with the House.
“This bill doesn’t meet any test of bipartisanship, and that’s a loss,” said Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, just before the Senate vote. “There’s never been a real effort to try to find common ground here.”
There are deep differences between how Republicans and most Democrats understand the crisis. With credit frozen and consumer confidence in the tank, Democrats say that the only way out is a massive program of government spending, targeted to create jobs.
On the other hand, Republicans wanted to see most of the stimulus in the form of tax cuts, at about half the cost of the Democratic plan. Not all spending is stimulus, they say, and the spending Democrats propose will also tend to permanently expand the size of government and burden future generations with a massive federal debt.
Seven House Democrats, citing the need for fiscal discipline, joined a united Republican caucus in opposing the stimulus bill.
“Every speech I ever gave both seeking this office and seeking reelection, I emphasize the need for us to balance our budget,” said Rep. Gene Taylor (D) of Mississippi, a fiscal conservative, who says that a critical mass of other fiscal conservatives on the Democratic side of the aisle also opposes big deficits, but did not come out to oppose the bill. “It’s a disappointment.”
“This one bill will increase the national debt by as much money as the nation borrowed from the Revolutionary War through the Gerald Ford presidency. So, it’s completely contrary to what I told the people who elected me what I would do,” he adds.