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Posted by on Jan 28, 2009 in Economy, Politics | 22 comments

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 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.


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.

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  • GeorgeSorwell

    The House Republicans aren’t willing to support a stimulus package in the midst of a global economic crisis.

    When will they ever choose to work constructively with Democrats?

    They are being Bushian.

  • elrod

    The bill isn’t perfect. It has some things that should be included in a stand-alone bill, as Alice Rivlin argues. But it’s miles better than the GOP tax-cut plan.

    • brymacur09

      For an 819B spending bill, it better be PERFECT or they should NOT pass it until it is!

  • janlowens

    Texas Congressman Ron Paul has warned that passing the latest proposed economic stimulus package would be akin to pouring kerosene on an already raging fire.

    Paul, who is also a member of the House Financial Services Committee, warned that such measures will cause a recession to turn into a full scale depression possibly worse than that of the 1930s.

    During a Television interview with CNN, Paul explained why he believes stimulus funding is such a destructive policy.

    “It’s because the government is spending it. If the people were spending it it would be fine, but the government never does anything productive. They have to take money from productive individuals and spend it in non productive ways, so it’s just digging a bigger hole, getting us into bigger debt, and that is the problem.” Paul said.

    “This stimulus package is going to cost each and every American $6700 of more debt, so how can that be beneficial? If debt was the answer we would of never had a problem.”

    “We are doing exactly what we did in the 1930s, we are taking a recession and working very hard to try and turn it into a depression.” The Congressman added.
    “What we’re worried about right now, well certainly I am, is that it’s worse than the 30’s because we’re on the verge of destroying the dollar. So if you think the financial crisis is bad, and the financial system isn’t working, wait ’til you find out when the Dollar doesn’t work.”

    The Congressman told viewers that only by liquidating debt, allowing the market to operate freely and allowing prices to come down will the problem be corrected.
    Paul also spoke to those who have blamed the free market for the downturn and have suggested that deregulation is a primary cause of the financial crisis.
    “We never had a hands off approach, that’s the fallacy, and as long as we believe that we will never correct our problem. If you blame Capitalism and free markets and sound money for this then we can’t win the intellectual fight.” Paul urged.
    “If you want to regulate, regulate Government agencies, regulate the Treasury, regulate the Federal Reserve. The Federal Reserve has no oversight, they’re not even permitted to be audited by law, so that’s the kind of oversight we need. The Federal Reserve has committed trillions of dollars to individuals, corporations and banks, they don’t even have to tell us where it’s gone to.” he added.

  • Jim_Satterfield

    Ron Paul is a loon, pure and simple. Anyone who thinks that what is being done now is the same thing that happened in the ’30s either flunked history or is purposefully distorting the reality of what happened back then. He understands nothing except that he found an ideology he likes and will stick to it no matter what.

  • brymacur09

    I thought this president was going to do away with PORK spending! This is full of non-economic stimulus items! HERE we go again America! Congress still seems to be out of control in their spending.

  • jblend

    I am not sure the people on this website understand exaclty why the bill was opposed for Repubicans. First of all I think a lot of democrats are mistrakenly placing faith in Obama’s intention to reach out to Republicans on this stmulus package. Let consider this for a moment: He has a super majority in the senate and the house. Anyhting he wants is going to be passed. Why is he reaching out to republicans? If he knew this bill would be succesful he could destroy the republican party for decades. The reason why he wants to each out to republicans is because he doesnt want the dmocrats to take the fall if this stimulus fails. The reason why the house republicans voted against this bill is because of the amount of pork barrel spending in it. Only around billion of the bill is infratructure and tax cuts (that Obama proposed) The rest of it is pork, and needless programs and grants to things that will not stimulate the economy. For example contraception to low income women. This wa something that was in the “stimulus package” True fiscal conservatives are looking for tax cuts and more infrastructure funding. Since this is not present they canot vote for such a bill. But as I said before, Obama doesnt need the republicans, hes just covering himself so if he messes up he can blame the bipartisan coalition.

  • CStanley

    I don’t know how you can be called an obstructionist if you don’t have the power to obstruct. The House GOP handled this perfectly- they were respectful of Obama’s gestures but explained that Pelosi’s heavy handedness prevented them from having any input, so they weren’t going to go along just to play nice when they objected to the larded up bill. Obviously their engaging in some triangulation, pitting Obama against the Dem Congressional leadership- but the fact is that Obama really is working for bipartisanship while the Dem leadership is not. Pelosi will either need to take cues from the Chief Executive or continue ramming her own bills through (without even the support of her own party’s Blue Dogs) and then own the results. What a shame that she’s chosen to play power games instead of taking Obama’s approach of including good ideas (and purging bad ones) from both sides of the aisle.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    The House GOP handled this perfectly- they were respectful of Obama’s gestures but explained that Pelosi’s heavy handedness prevented them from having any input

    Is this actually correct? Weren’t some things dropped from the bill at Republican insistance?

  • CStanley

    George: I’ve heard conflicting accounts about two items in the bill: the contraception funding and the $2 million mall resodding. First I heard that these were taken out at Obama’s urging- now I’m hearing they’re still in but he plans to pressure the Dem leaders to take them out during the negotiations between the House and Senate.

    The latter makes sense- that they’d be left in even though the plan is to take them out- because it leaves bargaining chips so that they can appear to be more conciliatory during the next step of the process without having to give up any more.

    Even still- those are two pretty minor components compared to all the rest of the spending which is either long term in nature or geared toward increasing the social contract instead of providing stimulus.

  • GeorgeSorwell


    Isn’t it likely that only a few minor items were dropped because Republicans made the political decsion not to support the stimulus bill.

    They can’t have input if they opt out of the process.

    I appreciate your willingness to acknowledge they were engaging to some degree of triangulation. But are they just going to prefer triangulation to engagement? The economic crisis seems too important for them to just play politics.

    As a conservative, don’t you feel they should be engaged in the process in order to represent your interests?

  • GeorgeSorwell


    The money for renovating the naional mall was $200 million, not just $2 million.

    Surely, $200 million counts as a lot of money.

  • CStanley

    You’re right, I misstated the amt- but if my math is correct, that still only represents 0.024% of the total bill. If I have a dollar and I’m not willing to even give you one penny, would I be characterized as having made a reasonable offer to you?

  • GeorgeSorwell


    Again, I suggest: maybe there would have been more cut out, or other improvements, if the House Republicans had willing to take part in negotiations.

    After all, they somehow got the contraception money out, didn’t they?

  • As usual, the Republicans talk a big game about bipartisanship, but are never actually capable of compromising. Maybe their stubbornness is because they have actual principles (unlike most Dems), but too bad their principles are all f’ed up. See the last eight years for proof of that.

  • CStanley

    George: the contraception thing and the mall resodding reached the media and got out to the public- that’s why they are now potentially going to be stripped from the bill. Why do you keep insisting that the GOP just walked away from the table where the Dems were willing to negotiate? What evidence do you have for that scenario? As Jazz noted, Pelosi couldn’t even conceal her glee as she announced that none of the GOP voted for the bill. And that’s her preroagative- but she will now live with the consequences. If this debacle actually helps the economy, she’ll come out looking good and have ammunition against the naysaying GOP. But how likely do you think that is? Do you actually think that this type of spending is a good idea and likely to keep unemployment down and boost consumer spending? Seriously?

  • CStanley

    Chris: Let’s see, Dems when in the minority wouldn’t compromise with Bush and the GOP congressional leadership, but that’s because the majority defined compromise as ‘giving in to what we demand.’ Now, GOP when in the minority, won’t compromise by giving in to what the Dem leadership demands.

    OK, I think I’ve got it now.

  • CStanley

    George: Can you show me one single article or quote that backs up your idea that the GOP were asked to be included in negotiations with the House leadership?

  • Is meeting with the President to discuss it not enough?

  • GeorgeSorwell


    I am not claiming they were asked to be a part of anything by the House leadership.

    What I am claiming is that they managed to get some stuff they didn’t like out of the bill, by whatever means. I’m no expert on how the process of passing a bill works. And while certainly the majority gets to have its way, undoubtedly there’s plenty of activity that goes on behind the scenes.

    I presume those means would be available for more important items.

    And let me turn your question around on you: If contraception funding was removed because it got out to the public, maybe the public approves of the rest of the bill.

    Now, of course, I don’t think that’s the case. But I also don’t think the contraception funding deleted itself. I imagine there was some process involved.

    It seems to me that the House Republicans gave up on the process so they could make a statement. If you want to say that statement was one of fiscal responsibility, okay.

    To me, it’s a statement that Republicans prefer playing politics to the difficult work of finding solutions.

  • CStanley

    Chris, they met with him and he shot down some of their ideas (fine, that’s his prerogative) and they complained that the House leadership was shutting them out. Obama wasn’t in a position to negotiate the bill with them, Pelosi was. She refused to do so. If Bush had met with the Dem minority but the GOP house leadership still refused to talk to them, what good would that have done? I think it’s fine, and smart politically, that Obama did this, but if he doesn’t start reining in the Speaker then his overtures won’t mean anything.

    George, in another thread (I think Stickings’ post about GOP hating America or whatever) I posted a link to public opinion polls. It’s not overwhelming, but a majority don’t like the bill as it stands, majority are more concerned about increasing spending than cutting taxes, etc, etc.

    The contraception thing was the kind of issue that the media can’t resist covering, and Obama wisely saw that they didn’t need the headache of divisive culture war issues mixed in this so he told the Dem leadership to nix it. He didn’t do so on other provisions that the GOP found objectionable, simple as that. There weren’t the kind of hot button topics that the GOP could get out to the public, but in spite of that the public still agrees more with their side than with Pelosis- but she’s gonna do it her way.

    And once again, OK, fine- but she’ll reap what she sows.

  • GeorgeSorwell

    Hey CStanley–

    I’m going to give up on this thread and just keep things going over at Jazz’s thread about Michelle Malkin.

    One of things I’ll be linking over there is a Gallup poll showing 52% of Americans supported passing the stimulus plan.

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