President Obama has signed into law a controversial spending bill aimed at saving hundreds of thousands of teacher, police officer and public health worker jobs in states grappling with budget cutbacks in a down economy.
The $26 billion package, which was approved by the House in a largely party-line vote earlier Tuesday, includes $10 billion to keep an estimated 160,000 teachers on the job, and $16 billion to help states meet their Medicaid payments for six months. Democrats say the aid to states could also help keep 150,000 police officers and other workers on payrolls.
The Senate passed the controversial measure last week after House lawmakers had already left for their six-week summer break forcing Speaker Nancy Pelosi to summon members back to Washington for the rare August vote.
"We can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe," said President Obama during remarks in the Rose Garden ahead of the vote.
Republicans have sharply criticized the package, calling it more misguided government spending and accusing Democrats of political pandering ahead of the November elections.
"We are broke. We do not have the money to bail out the states," John Boehner, the top House Republican, told reporters this morning. "This bailout to the teachers' unions is some of the most irresponsible policy I've seen."
Republicans used the word "bailout" seven times during the seven minute press conference.
"We are not bankrupting the country fast enough and so we need to come back and spend even more," said California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock, slamming the one-day emergency session.
Democrats insist the bill is fully paid for with tax increases on some large businesses and cutbacks in spending on food stamps, but Republicans have objected to the types of Americans footing that bill.
"They pay for it on the backs of those businesses that are out there today working very hard in difficult economic times to create jobs. They do it on the backs of the poor with the food stamp program. And they pay for it on the backs of those of us wanting to improve the environment," said Republican Rep. David Drier. "It's nothing more than smoke and mirrors to claim that this is somehow paid for."
With the November midterm elections now three months away, today's vote sets the stage for a major debate in the upcoming campaign over government spending.
Democrats say they are trying to save U.S. jobs and fighting Republican opposition to important economic stimulus measures. Republicans say they are trying to rein in the Democrats' runaway spending and curb a record federal government deficit.
"The American people are screaming at the top of their lungs to Washington, 'Stop, stop the spending, stop the job-killing policies,' and yet Democrats in Washington refuse to listen to the American people," Republican Boehner of Ohio said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, countered, "We're coming back because it makes no sense from a jobs perspective, and it makes no sense from the perspective of our children's education, to have an insufficient number of teachers in the classroom. I mean, it's as simple as that."
Nothing less than control of the House is at stake in the November election. All 435 House seats are up for grabs with Republicans needing to gain 39 in order to take back the majority.
If Democrats can convince voters that their economic recovery plans are working, they could have a good shot at keeping control on Capitol Hill. Republicans meanwhile hope voters will see the Democrats' economic policies as failed and dangerously adding trillions in red ink to the nation's tab, signaling a time for change.