Senate Approves $787B Stimulus Plan
White House brings Sen. Sherrod Brown back to D.C. for crucial 60th vote.
Feb. 13, 2009— -- In a major victory for President Barack Obama, the Senate approved the $787 billion economic stimulus bill late Friday night by a vote of 60-38.
The bill, which includes tax cuts, and billions in federal spending, now awaits Obama's signature on Monday.
Three Republicans who supported the measure on earlier votes once again cast their votes for the stimulus package. And, as expected, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, provided the necessary 60th vote for passage. He cast his vote at 10:46 p.m. after the Senate held the vote open for several hours while he flew back from his home state.
Voting in the Senate started at 5:30 p.m., but Brown was attending his mother's wake at the time and could not secure a commercial flight back to Washington. Eager to ensure the bill's passage, the White House stepped in and arranged for Brown's flight back.
Brown now will return to Ohio on an Air Force plane for his mother's funeral Saturday.
Only 98 senators voted because there is no second senator from Minnesota yet seated, and Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., who has brain cancer but came to the Capitol earlier in the week to vote on procedural motions, did not vote.
An earlier Senate version of the bill passed the 61-37. In that vote, as with today's, the only Republicans to support the bill were Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Earlier today, the House passed the stimulus bill by a vote of 246-183, although a week of negotiations and lobbying by President Obama failed to convince a single Republican to support the bill.
Republicans who don't support the bill continued to have scathing words about it, but many consider the fight over the stimulus to be lost.
"This debate is coming to an end and it really never started," complained Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., referring to the short amount of time they had to review the bill, which was completed and posted online just before 11 p.m. Thursday.
Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who withdrew his nomination to be Obama's secretary of commerce yesterday, also criticized the plan.
"What was initially advertised as a well-intended effort to boost economic growth has become sidetracked by misplaced spending and lack of attention to the true problems facing the nation, especially housing. Massive amounts of money will be spent years after this bill is signed into law, thereby undermining claims that it is stimulative," Gregg said in a written statement. "This bill, therefore, is not timely, targeted, and temporary, which is what a stimulus bill should be."
But Democrats continued to tout the plan.
Speaking to reporters after the House voted, an exultant House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., hailed the passage of the stimulus as "transformational for our country." Surrounded by her Democratic colleagues, Pelosi thanked Obama for his efforts in the stimulus bill.
"He did something faster than any other president in history. ... I salute him for his leadership," Pelosi said.
In response to a question by a reporter as to what the president thought about the House passage of the stimulus bill, Obama gave a thumbs up as he walked to Air Force One for his family weekend retreat in Chicago. The president did not react to another observation that the bill didn't get one Republican vote.
Instead of voting for the gargantuan package of tax cuts and public works spending, key Republican representatives made last ditch speeches denouncing the bill. Seven Democrats also voted against it in the House.
"It's disappointing the way this process has worked, and the outcome," House Minority Leader John Boehner, waving the bulky report in his hands, said on the House floor before the vote. "Bad process leads to bad policy and that's what we have in my view. ... I hope it works but I surely have my doubts. ... This is the epitome of what I came here to stop.
"I'm going to vote no and I'm going to hope that next time. ... You'll include us and you'll include our ideas," the Ohio Republican said, clearly addressing Democratic leaders.
Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., who represents the town of Peoria, Ill., where the president touted the stimulus Thursday, said employees from Caterpillar asked him to oppose the bill.
Obama made comments at the Caterpillar plant Thursday that the stimulus plan would mean that the company could rehire the employees it had laid off, a comment that the chairman and chief executive of Caterpillar rebutted.
House members hashed out the legislative language and final details of the $787 billion "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Conference Report" this morning after closed-door negotiations throughout the week.
Obama warned a group of business leaders today that even with the economic stimulus bill poised to be approved by Congress, the country's recovery will be "measured in years, not months."
The president told the Business Council he did not want to "repeat a litany of our challenges" but to enlist Americans' help in turning "adversity into opportunity."
Obama outlined parts of the plan, saying it would increase energy-efficient infrastructure and upgrade schools and health systems, in addition to creating 3.5 million jobs in the next two years.
Obama, who has been promoting the plan in a series of town hall meetings in cities that have been hurt by the recession, said that the budget focus needs to be long-term fiscal discipline in addition to investing in short-term projects. But he warned that getting the economy back on track may not be easy.
"Our recovery will likely be measured in years, not months. And all of us -- government, business, labor, and citizens -- will have responsibilities to meet," Obama said.
In addition to roughly $286 billion in tax cuts and $54 billion for cash-strapped states, the package contains $311 billion in appropriations, including $120 billion in infrastructure, $14.2 billion for health care, $105.9 billion for education and training, more than $37.5 billion for energy infrastructure, $24.3 billion for those impacted by the economic crisis and $7.8 billion for law enforcement and other programs.
Critics of the largest stimulus plan in U.S. history say the bill is not free of earmarks, even though Obama has repeatedly promised otherwise.
Among the items in the bill that have come under fire: $1 billion for a zero-emission plant in Illinois, $8 billion for high-speed rail projects and, while not explicitly named, a Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas Magves magnetic levitation rail line that Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., backs and $1 billion for the 2010 Census.
Some Republicans add that it is more of a spending bill than a stimulative one as the president and his Democratic counterparts on Capitol Hill had promised.
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