Stimulus bill Obama-bound without a vote to spare
Congress, voting largely along party lines, voted Friday to jolt the nation's struggling economy with a $787 billion stimulus package designed to provide quick tax relief and create or save 3.5 million jobs.
WASHINGTON — Congress, voting largely along party lines, voted Friday to jolt the nation's struggling economy with a $787 billion stimulus package designed to provide quick tax relief and create or save 3.5 million jobs.
The Senate approved the package by a 60-38 vote, as 55 Democrats joined three moderate Republicans — Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania — and two independents. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., did not vote, and one of Minnesota's seats remains vacant.
The Senate adopted the bill late Friday after what appeared to be the longest congressional vote in history. The 5-hour, 17-minute process was required because Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, had to return to Washington, D.C., from his home state after attending a funeral-home visitation for his mother, who died of leukemia Feb. 2.
Under a procedural deal between the parties, the bill needed 60 votes to pass. The vote began at 5:30 p.m. but from 7:07 p.m., when Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., cast his "aye," the tally hung at 59-38, until Brown arrived.
Washington's senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, voted for the bill.
Earlier in the day, the House passed the plan, 246-183. Among those voting, all 176 Republicans and seven Democrats voted no. The Washington delegation voted along party lines, with Democrats voting for and Republicans against.
The bill now goes to President Obama, who is expected to sign it Monday. Once he does, some money should flow quickly. The bill promises some relatively quick job creation by spending $27.5 billion to modernize roads and bridges, $16.4 billion for investments in high-speed rail and transit, and $53.6 billion to help states pay education expenses.
The legislation also includes up to 33 weeks of additional jobless benefits in high-unemployment states and an extra $25 a week in benefits; funds to help the poor and those with disabilities with health-care costs; and payments of $250 to retirees, Supplemental Security Income recipients and veterans who receive pensions or disability payments.
GOP critics were bitter, charging the bill was dotted with special-interest favors that had no business in emergency legislation, and that it offered too few tax cuts.
They ridiculed one of the biggest provisions, Obama's signature "Making Work Pay" tax relief, which provides at least $400 to most taxpayers. The credit, estimated to cost $116.2 billion, should mean $13 a week this year, assuming the plan begins in June, and $8 a week next year.
"Thirteen bucks a week isn't going to do a whole lot to get this economy going again," said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence of Indiana.
Republicans also objected that congressional negotiators worked largely behind closed doors this week, despite Obama's promises of transparency. And when copies of the 1,073-page, eight-inch-thick bill became available only hours before the votes, changes were scribbled in ink in the margins.
The mood among supporters was a combination of relief, euphoria — and confusion in the final hours.
The bill was pieced together only after some messy, last-minute scrambling, as lawmakers pleaded Thursday to shoehorn more pet projects into the measure. A provision was added that could give General Motors — already getting a $13.4 billion bailout — a $3.2 billion break that could lower future taxes.
Snowe and Collins, Republicans whose votes were crucial to final Senate passage, received an expanded tax break for small businesses.
Even the bill's Democratic defenders warned that the legislation wouldn't spark an instant economic turnaround. The nation has lost 3.6 million jobs since December 2007, and the bill's supporters predict the recovery of an almost equal number of jobs, but not rapidly, nor would they be the same jobs.
Backers said the bill would ease the recession's impact and perhaps allow the economy to revive sooner.
"We cannot say for certain when this crisis will end, but we do know for certain that this is when recovery must begin," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
The bill aims to provide stimulus in four general ways: tax relief, investments in the future, immediate job creation and help for people struggling.
One of the biggest tax expenses is the $70 billion "patch" in the alternative minimum tax, so that about 26 million people won't be subject to the tax this year. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., disputed the impact of this provision, noting it simply extends current policies rather than puts new money into anyone's pockets.
The Tax Policy Center, a joint project of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, two respected center-left policy-research organizations, agrees.
The other major break is the $400 "Making Work Pay" credit, which will phase out at $95,000 for individuals and $190,000 for joint filers.
Other tax cuts are targeted to boost specific industries or groups. The first $2,400 of jobless benefits this year won't be taxable. Most new-car buyers can deduct state and local sales taxes on the purchase. First-time homebuyers who purchase a home until Dec. 1 can get up to an $8,000 tax credit.
Short-term job creation is expected from the education and infrastructure spending. The $53.6 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund includes $40 billion for school districts, which could use it for school modernization, teacher pay and other expenses.
Infrastructure spending includes $27.5 billion for rebuilding roads and bridges — half of which must be committed to projects within 120 days — and $19 billion for clean-water and flood-control projects.
Material from The Associated Press and The New York Times is included in this report.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 07:13 AM
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is writing memoir
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.