Thursday, January 29, 2009

House passes economic stimulus bill

By David Jackson and Richard Wolf

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives quickly approved President Obama's $819 billion economic recovery plan Wednesday.

The vote was 244-188, mostly along party lines.

"We don't have a moment to spare," the president said earlier in the day.

The vote sent the bill to the Senate, where debate is expected to begin as early as this week on a companion measure already taking shape. Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama's signature by mid-February.

A mere eight days after Inauguration Day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the events heralded a new era. "The ship of state is difficult to turn," she said. "But that is what we must do. That is what President Obama called us to do in his inaugural address."

No Republicans supported the measure. Eleven Democrats opposed it. The vote was Obama's first test of the bipartisanship he pledged in his campaign.

After a meeting with executives, which Obama described as "sober" because of the tough times, the president said the group was "confident that we can turn our economy around."

Obama visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday to address GOP criticism that the package has too much spending and not enough tax cuts. He won compliments but few converts.

"I don't expect 100% agreement from my Republican colleagues," Obama said between meetings with House and Senate Republicans. Citing a recent round of layoffs among large U.S. companies, he said, "I do hope that we can all put politics aside and do the American people's business right now."

Senate Republicans hope to make changes before it reaches Obama — possibly by adding small business tax cuts or road and bridge spending.

Though GOP lawmakers said they appreciated Obama's visit Tuesday, their leaders urged a "no" vote because of the bill's price tag. "All it does is burden our kids and their kids with more debt," said House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, citing a non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimate that the plan would add $347 billion in interest on the national debt over 10 years.

Two-thirds of the House bill, or $550 billion, is new spending. That includes money to states and localities, increases in unemployment benefits and other aid to Americans hard hit by the recession, as well as construction projects designed to create jobs. The remaining $275 billion is tax cuts to encourage new spending.

Obama promised to consider Republicans' ideas, but many said they will wait and see. "Reaching out is one thing," said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. "Actually taking action to include Republican ideas is another."

Contributing: The Associated Press

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