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House Passes Stimulus Minus GOP 'Yes' Votes


This is Morning Edition from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is on assignment in Tehran. I'm Renee Montagne in Washington.

Eight days into Barack Obama's presidency, the House passed the massive economic recovery bill Mr. Obama called for in his inauguration speech. It totals more than $800 billion, and aims to jolt the economy with a combination of tax cuts and spending. The vote came a day after the president took the unusual step of going to Capitol Hill to woo Republicans. He did win some praise from them, but no votes. NPR's Audie Cornish reports from the Capitol.

AUDIE CORNISH: There was one point on which both sides could agree. California Republican David Dreier sums it up best.

Representative DAVID DREIR (Republican, California): Our constituents are hurting. We're all feeling the pain of this economic downturn. The question is, what action will we take?

CORNISH: To Georgia Democrat David Scott, the answer was clear.

Representative DAVID SCOTT (Democrat, Georgia): This country is looking for us to provide the kind of leadership that is needed. They don't want us to hang around the docks like little boats, they're looking for us to go way out where the big ships go. We must think big and bold. Our economy is crumbling around us.

CORNISH: Only 11 Democrats voted against the bill, which is divided one-third for tax cuts, two-thirds direct spending. The cuts include college tuition credits, expanded relief for low-income workers, and a payroll tax refund of $1,000 per eligible family. The rest of those billions go to stimulus spending. Republicans questioned whether some items were more of a Democratic wish list than an economic recovery plan. Congressman Ken Calvert of California.

Representative KEN CALVERT (Republican, California): The bill provides a mind-boggling $365 billion for labor, health and human service programs. The strategy under this bill is to throw billions of dollars in every bureaucratic direction, cross our fingers and hope for the best.

CORNISH: And it was spending of which the GOP had little or no say, said Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

Representative JERRY LEWIS (Republican, California): It's one thing to seek constructive input in the hopes of building bipartisan consensus on a bill as important as this package. But that clearly has not happened.

Representative PAUL RYAN (Republican, Wisconsin): We thought we were going to have bipartisanship here. That's what we were promised. None of that has occurred here.

CORNISH: That was Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan. President Barack Obama had spent days courting GOP members like him, meeting lawmakers in both the House and the Senate. Mr. Obama made concessions, such as dropping a multi-million-dollar family planning provision, widely criticized by the opposition as having little to do with job creation. But the alternative plan presented by Republicans and based on largely on tax cuts, made little headway with Democrats and their leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; House Speaker): This is an initiative for the future. And some of the initiatives they have put forth are really the same policies that got us into this terrible economic crisis that we are in.

CORNISH: And Democrats lined up to defend stimulus provisions, such as the $41 billion in grants for local school districts and $32 billion to modernize the electric energy grid. House Majority Whip James Clyburn.

Representative JAMES CLYBURN (Democrat, South Carolina): Our package is balanced. It has middle-class tax-cuts. It has business tax-cuts. It has investments in our physical infrastrucutre. It is the right mix of spending and tax breaks to get America working again. This legislation is pro-growth and pro-business.

CORNISH: But not bipartisan. The measure passed 244 to 188 without a single Republican vote. President Obama issued a statement last night thanking the House for approving a plan that would create millions of jobs. He also called on the Senate, which takes up the bill next week, to overcome partisan differences. That could be a challenge. The bill that is taking shape on that side is estimated to cost even more money. Audie Cornish, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.