Saturday, February 14, 2009

Congress Passes $787B Stimulus Bill, Sending It to Obama for Signature

Congress Passes $787B Stimulus Bill, Sending It to Obama for Signature

The House approved Obama's economic stimulus bill - a massive, $787 billion package of tax cuts and federal spending - and the Senate started the vote late Friday afternoon and is expected to be held open for several hours.

Friday, February 13, 2009

WASHINGTON -- Congress passed the final version of a $787 billion economic stimulus plan aimed at jolting the slumping U.S. economy, sending the legislation to President Obama's desk for his signature.

The bill passed the Senate late Friday night after Democratic leadership held the vote open for several hours to allow one member, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, to return to Washington to cast the deciding vote. He had flown back from Ohio, where his mother died earlier in the week.

The bill passed in the Senate with 60 votes. The House approved the measure earlier in the day by a vote of 246-183, with no Republican "yes" votes and one member voting present.

House Republicans remained united in their opposition to the package despite concerns among GOP leaders Thursday that at least a handful of Republicans would vote for it. Democrats picked up three of the 11 members who jumped ship to side with Republicans on the previous vote two weeks ago.

Obama, addressing a White House group, noted that lawmakers had a "spirited debate" and said the legislation is "only the beginning" of what he considers necessary "to turn our economy around." The president did not get all he wanted out of the bill.

The 1,071 page measure -- eight inches thick -- was posted on an overburdened congressional Web site late Thursday, giving lawmakers just a few overnight hours to read it before debate resumed in both the House and Senate Friday morning. Just on Tuesday, the House voted unanimously to recommend that lawmakers and the public have at least 48 hours to read the legislation before a vote.

The plan, freshly estimated at $787 billion by the Congressional Budget Office, combines $281 billion in tax cuts with $308 billion in outlays funded by the appropriations committees and about $198 billion in spending for benefit programs such as unemployment assistance, $250 payments or millions of people receiving Social Security benefits, and extra money for states to help with the Medicaid health program for the poor and disabled.

Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax cut would be scaled back from $500 for most workers to $400, with couples getting $800 instead of $1,000.

Obama said Friday that "passing this bill is a critical step." He plans to announce a new housing initiative soon, perhaps as early as next week.

"We have a once in a generation chance to act boldly, turn adversity into opportunity, and use this crisis as a chance to transform our economy for the 21st century," the president said.

Click here for our video coverage about the Stimulus Package.

The plan is the signature initiative of the fledgling Obama administration, which is betting that combining tax cuts of just a few dollars a week for most workers with an infusion of hundreds of billions of dollars of government spending over the next few years will arrest the economy's fall.

But the inclusion of a $70 billion tax break to make sure middle- to upper-income taxpayers won't get hit by the alternative minimum tax forced a reduction of Obama's signature tax break for 95 percent of workers.

Republicans pointed out a bevy of questionable spending items that made the final cut in House-Senate negotiations, including money to replace computers at federal agencies, inspect canals, and issue coupons for convertor boxes to help people watch TV when the changeover to digital signals occurs this summer.

"This measure is not bipartisan. It contains much that is not stimulative," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's rival for the White House. "And is nothing short -- nothing short -- of generational theft" since it burdens future generations with so much debt, he added.

Obama economics adviser Larry Summers cautioned against raising expectations too high.

"I think this is a key part of what's going to be a multipart strategy to contain this decline," he said. But Summers added that the problems "weren't made in a week, a month, a year. It's going to take time to fix." He said it should not be considered a "silver bullet," or panacea for deeply rooted business woes.

Much of the spending won't be delivered this year or even next, and Republicans pointed to studies by the Congressional Budget Office that say that adding so much to the national debt would cost the economy by the end of the decade.

Republicans, lined up to vote against the bill, piled on the scorn.

"This is not the smart approach," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. "The taxpayers of today and tomorrow will be left to clean up the mess."

It was clear that the measure was the result of old-fashioned sausage-making. Pet provisions were coming to light that had not been included in the original bills that passed the House or Senate -- or that differed markedly from earlier versions. Some appeared to brush up against claims of the bill's supporters that no pet projects known as "earmarks" were included.

FOX News' Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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