House Passes $819 Billion Stimulus Bill With No Republican Votes

The House passed the $819 billion stimulus plan President Barack Obama sought, signaling the formal beginning of the new administration’s attempts to start to patch up the economy — and also how bipartisanship may be much easier in concept than to put into practice.

The double whammy reasons: (1) The bill will go to the Senate where few expect it will be stalled or not pass. (2) Not a single Republican voted for the plan, which could be a smart move if the plan fails or the public seems not to want it, but otherwise could be yet another step in the Republican party’s seemingly steady march away from majority party status to a party with a more select tent of supporters.

The big winner was Obama (he won the vote). The big loser was Obama (no Republicans supported him despite his efforts).

The big winner was the Democrats (feeling their majority work). The big loser was the Democrats (sticking in all kinds of things into the plan that could be ridiculed by pundits and talk show hosts, proving that politicians are politicians are politicians).

The question now is whether the bigger loser is going to be the Republicans (seen as obstructionists whose moves can be predicted if you listen to Rush Limbaugh). And, when it’s all said and done and the plan is totally passed, whether the American people and the U.S. economy will be the biggest winners (it helps, even a bit) or losers (it does little or nothing but run up a bigger deficit).

But if there was ever a victory that proved to be a bittersweet victory, this one was it.

Although Obama made extraordinary efforts — for a President in recent years — to get Republican support, not only did GOPers not support him but when you watch the CBS news report HERE you will note the use of the word “liberal” as a way to characterize the plan and the usual tax and spend boilerplate rhetoric used in campaigns. GOPers were clearly in full campaign mode in their comments; it was as if Campaign 2008 had not ended (and perhaps it hasn’t).

The issue for Obama: to gain clout to be a bipartisan President he needs some Republicans to join him, even though it’s unlikely in this vote he will be blamed as being the one who wouldn’t put out his hand to the other side. The issue for Republicans: time (and opinion polls) will tell if the majority of the public views them as obstructionist and whether this vote coupled with the high profile remarks of talk show host Rush Limbaugh wind up burning already tattered bridges the party has to the majority of independent voters, more conservative Democrats and even some more moderate Republicans.

Here’s an AP report:

The Washington Post framed the vote this way:

With no Republican support, the House approved an $819 billion stimulus plan that will serve as the cornerstone of President Obama’s efforts to resuscitate the economy, an early victory for the new president but still a disappointment because of the lack of Republican votes.

The measure passed 244 to 188, with 11 Democrats and 177 Republicans voting against it.

The two-year economic package includes $275 billion in tax cuts and more than $550 billion in domestic spending on roads and bridges, alternative-energy development, health-care technology, unemployment assistance, and aid to states and local governments. It would also provide up to $500 per year in tax relief for most workers and more than $300 billion in aid to states for funding to help rebuild schools, provide health-care to the poor and reconstruct highways and bridges.

Despite a last-minute lobbying campaign by Obama — including coming to the Capitol yesterday for separate closed-door meetings with House and Senate Republicans — Republicans opposed the measure and argued that it spent hundreds of billions of dollars on Democratic initiatives that would do little to stimulate the economy or create jobs.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) heralded the legislation as the first down payment on Obama’s pledge, in his inaugural address, to provide “bold and swift” action to revive an economy that is losing more than 500,000 jobs a month, including 65,000 layoffs announced just this week.

“He said he wanted action, bold and swift, and that is exactly what we are doing,” Pelosi told reporters before the vote.

The New York Times had a similar lead but also included this:

But the size and substance of an economic stimulus package remain in dispute, as House Republicans blamed Democrats for a package that tilted heavily toward new spending instead of tax cuts

All but 11 Democrats voted for the plan and 177 Republicans voted against it. The 244-188 vote came a day after Mr. Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to seek Republican backing — if not for the package then on future issues.

“This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years,” Mr. Obama said in a statement after the vote. “I can also promise that my administration will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington. Once it is passed, every American will be able to go the Web site recovery.gov and see how and where their money is being spent.”

The administration remains hopeful that some Republicans will support the final compromise between the House and Senate. Mr. Obama followed the House vote with cocktail party at the White House for the Congressional leaders of both parties. The House Republicans, including Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, were fresh from their votes against the recovery package.

Yet the failure to win Republican support in the House seemed to echo the early months of the last Democratic administration, when former President Bill Clinton in 1993 had to rely solely on Democrats to win passage of a deficit-reduction bill that was a signature element of his presidency.

Mr. Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had met Tuesday night at the White House with 11 moderate House Republicans, none of whom ended up supporting the bill.

Several reports recently have noted that the nation’s Governors have been rooting for this plan to pass. USA Today tells why:

States and local governments would be the big winners in an $825 billion economic stimulus program set for a House vote Wednesday.

More than $200 billion would go to states, enough to offset $100 billion in projected budget shortfalls they now face in the next two years, plus fund big spending increases. The money could spare states from politically painful program cuts, tax increases or both. Two-thirds of the federal money is aimed directly at states’ biggest spending items: education, health care and roads.

California would get $22 billion over two years, estimates the Federal Funds Information for States (FFIS), a state-financed research group. Texas and New York would get $16 billion each. The smallest take: $578 million for Wyoming, which has a surplus and is considering a property tax cut.

“This will let us balance our budgets in a way that avoids making draconian cuts,” says North Carolina House Speaker Joe Hackney, a Democrat and president of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

His state, which would get $5.5 billion over two years, faces a $2 billion shortfall through June 30.

Nationally, states confront $32 billion in projected budget shortfalls this year and $64 billion in 2010, according to a December estimate by NCSL. NCSL spokeswoman Michelle Blackston says states still will watch their budgets tightly. “This will supplement, not supplant, state spending,” she says.

President Obama supports a large stimulus plan, including aid to state and local governments, and is scheduled to meet today with Republican congressional leaders.

The question: will it help stimulate the economy? A Reuters report points out some of the things that have raised eyebrows:

Will spending $50 million to promote arts in the United States help stimulate the U.S. economy? How about $335 million to educate people about sexually transmitted diseases?

Those items and more form part of an $825 billion economic stimulus that may grow larger, creating a feeding frenzy in Congress as lawmakers seek to fund their wish lists.

On Wednesday night, stimulus legislation cleared the House of Representatives, where members hew more closely to party ideology than the Senate. The 244-188 vote was along party lines, with every Republican voting against the bill designed to fight the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would seek to begin debate in the Senate on Monday. President Barack Obama wants the package approved by mid-February.

There are plenty of spending measures in the legislation aimed at directly helping generate economic growth and assisting people in need, from $275 billion in temporary tax cuts to $300 billion in assistance to the unemployed and to cash-strapped states reeling from the economic downturn.

But it is the litany of other, seemingly nonemergency items that is upsetting some stomachs on Capitol Hill, like the $15.6 billion in Pell grants for college students, $6 billion for modernizing college buildings, $600 million to buy new cars for government workers and $150 million in repairs to the Smithsonian Institution.

Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, a conservative, called the bill a huge mistake that he would vote against.

“I’m convinced that they (Democrats) are seizing this as an opportunity to fund programs to a degree that they could never have funded before simply by calling it a way to create jobs,” he said.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has a letter of support for the bill from 146 economists, including five recipients of the Nobel Prize for Economics. Democrats argue the legislation will do what it is intended to do — give the economy a fast jolt.

Meanwhile, weblog opinion was predictable and mirrored the Congressional partisan polarization on the issue. Most writers who strongly supported Obama felt the measure should pass and those who didn’t like Obama echo the points raised by GOPers and talk show hosts.

Here’s a sampling of some opinion (including some excerpts from two mainstream newspapers who have gotten blogging down to a fine art):

–The New York Times’ lively The Caucus blog:

Oh, how we’d love to be a fly on the wall at the White House reception, where President Obama has invited Congressional leaders — including major House Republicans who voted against the economic stimulus package just a short while ago.

Granted, the bill still has to go through the Senate, where it’s sure to get more fly-specking, even though the Democratic leadership has picked up several seats through this last election. House Republicans tried to offer a plan to include more tax cuts, to no avail.

….Want to guess the vote in the Senate, given the fact that a lot will go through the meat grinder next week?

–Andrew Malcolm on the LA Times’ equally lively Top of the Ticket blog:

So much for bipartisanship for now.

Today’s House vote on the $819-billion economic stimulus package was a stark one — 244 to 188.

244 Democrats on one side.

177 Republicans and 11 dissenting Democrats on the other.

Despite President Obama’s very public bid for Republican support, he got none. Nada. Zippo. A slap in the face for the Great Change Agent in return for a good faith reaching out?

Or a clever move by his savvy staff, lead by ex-House member and Democratic political infighter Rahm Emanuel to dramatically portray the GOP in isolation, showing Republicans as opposed to the “economic stimulus” to help the nation’s troubled economy and families? Not every Democrat went along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s proclamation.

On the Republican side of the aisle, the vote showed that despite their shellacking at the polls in the last two congressional elections, Republicans are one thing for sure — united. House Minority Leader John Boehner and his enforcers were perfect disciplinarians, and they drilled home the message that their party suffered there not because it opposed expanded government spending but because it insufficiently opposed such spending.

Mover Mike:

Obama sought to make this a bi-partisan bill, seeking cover in case it doesn’t work. Republicans thinking there’s a better way, voted against the bill. If it works, then Democrats can take all the credit. If it fails, Republicans can say, “Can we try our way, now?”

John Amato:

The HOUSE just passed the economic stimulus plan 244-188 as not one Republican voted for the bill. Wow, what a shock. Giving the Boehner’s all that bipartisan love really served President Obama well.

Respublica:

Wouldn’t you just know it. The evening of the day the House votes on the stimulus bill with every last republican voting no…along with 13 democrats…is when the Obamas are having senate and house leaders of both parties to dinner. A toast. Who’ll give it?

Hot Air’s Allahpundit:

Final vote: 244-188. It was 242-190 moments before they gaveled it — with every last Republican voting no — but two no votes switched at the last minute and they didn’t say who they were. I assume they’re Blue Dogs, but I’ll check. Either way, for good or ill, this is entirely the Democrats’ baby now.

Update: Here’s the guest list on that White House shindig, which should be loads of fun after this vote.

My DD’s Todd Beeton:

See, Mr. President, we told you you don’t need Republicans.

…To Obama’s credit, notice The AP’s frame here: it’s a “swift victory” for Obama who has been making “pleas for bipartisan support.” Obama is winning this debate even though the Republicans think they can make him out to be the bad guy who is going back on his promises. Well played, Mr. President, so far. Unfortunately, presumably the Senate version IS going to need at least one Republican vote although I suspect that won’t be as difficult for Obama to secure as it was in the House. Debate in the Senate could begin as early as Monday.

Marc Ambinder:

Not a single House Republican voted in favor of the stimulus bill.

It may well be the third inning of nine — this is a Robert Gibbs analogy — but it’s Democrats who are crowding the plate.

Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen:

If the House Republican caucus, en masse, isn’t willing to support a stimulus package in the midst of a global economic crisis, it’s hard to imagine when, exactly, GOP lawmakers are going to work with the majority party in a constructive way.

After lengthy debate, Republicans weren’t swayed by the evidence, or the polls, or the president. They came into this in united opposition, and with Democrats unwilling to give them more of Bush economic policies, that’s the way they stayed.

This isn’t exactly a surprise. I suspect the Republican Party looked at this as a pragmatic political test — if the stimulus plan works, and the economy improves, Obama and Democrats will claim credit and reap the political rewards, whether the GOP supported the proposal or not. If the stimulus plan falls short, and the economic effects are limited, Republicans want to be able to say, “We told you so.” Given this dynamic, there really wasn’t much of an incentive for the GOP to do the right thing.

Of course, the last time we saw a vote like this one was probably the 1993 vote on Clinton’s first budget — every single Republican in the chamber voted against it, hoping to prove, once and for all, that they were right about economics and Democrats were wrong. If memory serves, that budget was the first step towards the longest economic expansion on record, the creation of 22 million jobs, and the total elimination of the federal budget deficit.

Stephen Green aka Vodkapundit quotes Nancy Pelosi and then has his own comment:

“The ship of state is difficult to turn,” said the California Democrat. “But that is what we must do. That is what President Obama called us to do in his inaugural address.”

True that. But the ship of state isn’t at all hard to scuttle — which is exactly what is going to happen if we keep spending like this.