President Obama's economic stimulus legislation is headed for the Senate after a surprisingly partisan vote in the House in which Republicans united in opposition and 11 mostly conservative Democrats defected.
Obama praised his recovery plan, saying it would “save or create more than 3 million new jobs over the next few years.”
During Senate debate next week, the measure is expected to pick up at least some GOP support. But Obama's hopes of changing Washington's partisan culture went unmet despite his separate high-profile meetings on Capitol Hill on Tuesday with House and Senate Republicans.
The $819 billion measure has attracted criticism from Republicans and, privately, from some Democrats for spending billions on Democratic favorites like education despite questions as to whether these expenditures would actually create jobs.
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But with unemployment at its highest level in a quarter-century, the banking industry wobbling despite the infusion of staggering sums of bailout money and states struggling with budget crises, Democrats said the legislation was essential.
The House plan largely reflects Obama's desires, but after zero GOP support, he suggested the House plan was hardly perfect.
“I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk,” Obama said.
The 244-188 House vote registered 177 Republicans unanimous in opposition.
“We don't need to have everything Republicans want, but we at least have to feel good enough that the bill actually will grow the economy, create jobs so it's just not a massive spending bill,” said Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, as several Senate conservatives lambasted the measure at a news conference Thursday.
“This is about spending money we don't have for things we don't need,” added Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
Still, Democratic leaders remain confident they will gain at least some GOP support, starting with moderates such as Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, who supported parts of the bill in committee earlier this week.
“I am confident that we are going to get Republicans to vote (for) our bill,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “If we don't, it's not our fault.”
Tens of billions of dollars would go to the states, which confront deep budget cuts of their own. That money marks an effort to ease the recession's effect on schools and poor people receiving Medicaid health coverage. There's also money for housing weatherization, school construction, road building and other provisions. There are big investments toward Obama's campaign promise of creating jobs that can reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil.
The centerpiece tax cut calls for a $500 break for single workers and $1,000 for couples, including those who don't earn enough to owe federal income taxes. There are also tax breaks for businesses making investments in equipment and renewable energy production.
The House vote marked merely one of several steps for the legislation, which Democratic leaders have pledged to deliver to the White House for Obama's signature by mid-February.
Already a more bipartisan — and costlier — measure is taking shape in the Senate, and Obama pledged to House and Senate Republicans in closed-door meetings on Tuesday that he is ready to accept modifications as the legislation advances.