WASHINGTON (AP) — In a swift victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House approved a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the young administration’s plan to revive a badly ailing economy.
The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama’s frequent pleas for bipartisan support.
“This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years,” the president said in a written statement released moments after the House voted.
The vote sent the bill to the Senate, where debate could begin as early as Monday on a companion measure already taking shape. Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama’s signature by mid-February.
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 desperately needed.
Republicans said the bill was short on tax cuts and contained too much spending, much of it wasteful, and would fall far short of administration’s predictions of job creation.
On the final vote, the legislation drew the support of all but 11 Democrats, while all Republicans opposed it.
The White House-backed legislation includes an estimated $544 billion in federal spending and $275 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses. The totals remained in flux nearly until the final vote, due to official re-estimates and a last-minute addition of $3 billion for mass transit.
Included is money for traditional job-creating programs such as highway construction and mass transit projects. But the measure tickets far more for unemployment benefits, health care and food stamp increases designed to aid victims of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Tens of billions of additional dollars would go to the states, which confront the prospect of deep budget cuts of their own. That money marks an attempt to ease the recession’s impact on schools and law enforcement. With funding for housing weatherization and other provisions, the bill also makes a down payment on 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.
The House vote marked merely the first of several major milestones a 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 personally pledged to House and Senate Republicans in closed-door meetings on Tuesday that he is ready to accept modifications as the legislation advances.
Rahm Emanuel, a former Illinois congressman who is Obama’s chief of staff, invited nearly a dozen House Republicans to the White House late Tuesday for what one participant said was a soft sales job.
This lawmaker quoted Emanuel as telling the group that polling shows roughly 80 percent support for the legislation, and that Republicans oppose it at their political peril. The lawmaker spoke on condition of anonymity, saying there was no agreement to speak publicly about the session.
In fact, though, many Republicans in the House are virtually immune from Democratic challenges because of the makeup of their districts, and have more to fear from GOP primary challenges in 2010. As a result, they have relatively little political incentive to break with conservative orthodoxy and support hundreds of billions in new federal spending.
Also, some Republican lawmakers have said in recent days they know they will have a second chance to support a bill when the final House-Senate compromise emerges in a few weeks.