WASHINGTON-The U.S. House of Representatives passed a massive economic stimulus package Wednesday, 244 to 188, at a cost of $819 billion, while the U.S. Senate hammered out their own version totaling $900 billion. All 177 House Republicans voted no.
House Republicans balked from supporting a bill they said had too much wasteful spending and too little input from the minority, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to allow any delays for Republican changes to the legislation, arguing that the economy's wounds must be immediately staunched. Addressing accusations that she was ramrodding the legislation through, Pelosi said, "This legislation is long overdue."
"The underlying bill, while it has some good provisions, has a lot of wasteful spending," responded House Republican Leader John Boehner.
The bill contains tax cuts, a small portion of infrastructure spending, but mostly major government spending on things like climate-change research.
Several conservative Democrats defected in the vote as well, arguing that the spending would not stimulate the economy, but instead would raise the national deficit. Fiscal conservative Democrats who did vote for the bill considered it a necessary expenditure to jump-start the country out of a recession. The Obama administration sent a letter Tuesday addressing the concerns of these Blue Dog Democrats, promising to reinstate "pay-as-you-go" rules, which would prohibit spending that increases the deficit.
Obama spent his time over the last several days trying but failing to woo Republicans into supporting the bill, hoping for the new Congress' first piece of legislation to have bipartisan support-but he faced GOP legislators alienated by the maneuvering of the House Democratic leadership.
"It's one thing to seek constructive input, but that clearly has not happened, judging by the legislation that has been written," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., the ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which was largely responsible for the legislation. "This bill was largely written by two people . . . the speaker and my chairman [Rep. David Obey, D-Wis.]. That is a travesty, a mockery, a sham."
Conservatives counted one victory in the bill: Democrats removed $200 million in funding for family planning services. Pelosi told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on Sunday that the family planning spending would stimulate the economy because contraceptive services "reduce cost" for state governments. On Monday, President Obama called Democrat Henry Waxman, chair of the committee that inserted the provision in the House bill, and told him to strip it out. The next day, the Democrats removed the funding-a move that angered those on the left.
Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, has been issuing statements since Obama's election, lauding the nation's new leader as a defender of women's rights. But Wednesday she wrote, "I'm stunned," and called the move to remove family planning funding "a betrayal of millions of low-income women."
The Senate's version of the stimulus plan includes more tax cuts and provisions sponsored by Republicans-the president has said he will lobby to include Republican ideas in the final version of the bill.