Saturday, February 14, 2009

Stimulus Plan Receives Final Approval in Congress

Congress on Friday approved a $787 billion economic stimulus measure, meeting the crushing mid-February deadline that Democrats had set for adopting the centerpiece of President Obama’s early agenda but without quelling the partisan divisions in Washington. Not a single House Republican voted for the bill.

The vote in the House was 246 to 183, with just 7 Democrats joining all 176 Republicans in opposition. In the Senate, the vote of 60 to 38 was similarly partisan. Only three centrist Republicans joined 55 Democrats and two independents in favor.

The Senate finally adopted the bill at 10:47 p.m. after what appeared to be the longest Congressional vote in history. The peculiar, 5-hour, 16-minute process was required because Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, had to return to Washington from his home state after attending a funeral home visitation for his mother who died on Feb. 2 at the age of 88.

Under a procedural deal between the parties, the bill needed 60 votes to pass. The vote began at 5:30 p.m. but from 7:07 p.m. when Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana, cast his “ay,” the tally hung at 59 to 38, until Mr. Brown arrived. For some of that time, the majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, sat in the presiding officer’s chair, a rare occurrence.

Mr. Obama is expected to sign the bill at a public ceremony on Monday.

Despite the bill’s promise of increased unemployment benefits and new health care subsidies for the jobless, as well as more than $100 billion in aid for strapped states, House Republicans did not break rank. Even Republicans from states hit hardest by the recession like Michigan opposed the bill, in a pointed rebuke of the new president.

During the debate, the Republican leader, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, angrily dropped the 1,073-page bill text to the floor with a thump, as he accused Democrats of failing to read the legislation and denying Americans sufficient time to scrutinize hundreds of billions in expenditures.

The $787 billion plan, a combination of fast-acting tax cuts and longer-term government spending on public works projects, education, health care, energy and technology, was smaller than Democrats first proposed.

But, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, more than 74 percent of the money will be spent within the next 18 months, a relatively rapid pace that could determine whether the plan succeeds in spurring a recovery.

The House voted in the afternoon, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and her fellow Democrats cheered on the floor. Ms. Pelosi handed out chocolate bars to committee chairmen, a gift to her from Steven A. Ballmer, the chairman of Microsoft. The label showed a picture of the Capitol and read, “A stimulus package we can all sink our teeth into.”

At a news conference, Ms. Pelosi and her top lieutenants praised Mr. Obama for completing the stimulus legislation so quickly.

Just four weeks into Mr. Obama’s presidency, the Democrats boasted that they had already approved three major bills, a measure to curb pay-discrimination against women in the workplace, a broad expansion of the state children’s health insurance program and the stimulus.

Source: The New York Times

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