WASHINGTON - President Obama's Democratic allies in the House yesterday muscled through a year-end plan to create jobs, mixing about $50 billion for public-works projects with almost $50 billion for cash-strapped state and local governments.
The unemployed would get continued benefits. Conspicuously absent from the plan were Obama's recently announced initiatives to give Social Security recipients $250 payments, a tax credit for small businesses that create jobs, and a program awarding tax credits to people who make their homes more energy efficient.
Not a single Republican voted for the plan, which passed on a 217-212 vote after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi worked the floor for an hour before it passed. The measure now goes to the Senate, which won't consider the legislation until next year and which generally has a smaller appetite for such deficit-financed economic-stimulus measures.
Given increasing anxiety among Democrats over huge budget deficits and the party's poor marks with voters for its spending, the measure could face a tough road. Almost 40 Democrats voted against the plan, mostly moderates and junior members elected from swing districts.
According to documents released by Democrats, the measure would cost $154 billion. But there's also an additional $20 billion from the federal treasury to keep the highway trust fund afloat.
The measure blends a familiar mix of money for highway, transit, and water projects and aid to help communities retain teachers and firefighters. There is also $41 billion for a six-month extension of more generous unemployment benefits and $12 billion to renew health-insurance subsidies.
Many of the ideas are renewals of programs started in February's $787 billion stimulus bill, which has earned mixed reviews from the public as unemployment has hit 10 percent.
Republicans branded the new bill "Son of Stimulus" and were withering in their assessments.
"More spending, more debt. Same lousy policies that haven't produced jobs all year," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R., Ohio).
Democrats said that economists largely credit the earlier stimulus measure for the fledgling economic recovery.
"The situation is worse than we thought and getting better more slowly than we hoped, but it's clearly getting better," said Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.).
On its last day of what has been a tumultuous year, the House also voted to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and took action to prevent the government from defaulting on its mushrooming debt.
The Senate, meanwhile, could be looking at another week of work as Democrats struggle to pass a health-care overhaul and act on other must-do measures. It is expected to vote tomorrow or Saturday on the defense bill passed by the House.
The $636 billion Pentagon bill includes $128 billion to pay for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan but leaves for later negotiations on how to pay for the 30,000 additional troops recently ordered to Afghanistan. It includes a 3.4 percent pay increase for service members.
The measure passed, 395-34, with almost no debate. Defense measures generally enjoy wide bipartisan support, although this year Republicans objected to using the legislation as the base bill to which other less popular measures were attached.
Those included two-month extensions of several acts that are to expire at the end of the year. There are continued unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless; a 65 percent health-insurance subsidy for the unemployed; highway and transit funding; three provisions of the antiterror USA Patriot Act; and an act that shields doctors from a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments.
Those short-term extensions, a result of the House and Senate failing to work out differences, will require Congress to revisit these issues in February and could spell trouble for the crowded Democratic agenda. Democrats have said they want to devote the early days of next year to such critical issues as jobs, financial-regulatory overhaul, and a clean-energy bill.
Republicans sought to score political points on the need to raise the $12.1 trillion debt ceiling so the Treasury can continue borrowing, adding to the national debt.
Democrats had wanted to raise the ceiling to nearly $14 trillion so that Congress would not have to address the issue until after next year's election, but they ran into opposition from deficit hawks in their own party who wanted to tie the legislation to either creating a deficit-reduction task force or passing "pay-as-you-go" legislation requiring that increases in the deficit be offset by tax increases or budget cuts.
In the end, Democrats settled for a $290 billion increase that will keep the government solvent for six more weeks. It passed, 218-214, with no Republican votes.
The White House is promoting a $5 billion increase in tax breaks for clean-energy manufacturing in hopes of contributing to job growth and expanded use of renewable energy.
The tax credits are part of the jobs plan that President Obama announced last week. If Congress approves
the initiative, new or expanded factories that make products such as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric vehicles would get a 30 percent tax credit.
A similar $2.3 billion tax credit was included in the
$787 billion stimulus plan this year.
In announcing the administration's support for an expansion of the program yesterday, Vice President Biden said that the first round of tax credits was an "overwhelming success" and that there were more qualified applicants than expected.
Biden said a strong manufacturing sector would play
a vital role in the economic recovery.
"I don't understand why we can't once again produce cutting-edge technology that will create 21st-century jobs that are here in America, not abroad," he said.
- Associated Press
Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the jobs bill were Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Joe Sestak (D., Pa.).
Voting against the bill were John Adler (D., N.J.), Michael N. Castle (R., Del.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Patrick Murphy (D., Pa.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).