Moments ago, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to approve the $845 billion stimulus package, 244-188. Every Republican member voted against the bill, although it passed on the strength of the 244-member Democratic majority. Fourteen Democrats voted against it.
For several days, President Barack Obama went through extraordinary lengths to gain Republican support for the bill. The President hosted Republican leaders at the White House, and met them for several hours of private meetings at the Capitol, almost unheard of for Presidents of the United States. During these sessions, he made clear that he wanted bi-partisan ideas and input.
In a nod to so-called conservative economic philosophy, tax cuts made up 40% of the package. According to Reuters, the bill apportioned $607 billion in direct spending, including to individuals and for infrastructure, and $212 billion for tax cuts. Many economists warn against cutting taxes during times of war, which drain the federal government of needed revenue. However, these are extraordinary times.
The President's goal is to distribute most of the funds by September, 2010, one to which Republicans have agreed. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the plan passed today may not go far enough to meet this goal; instead, it would be accomplished with a combination of payments to individuals and federal tax cuts. The CBO says several of the spending projects, such as infrastructure, would take longer to realize, because state and local governments would need time to administer the infusion of dollars.
During his hunt for Republican votes, the President repeatedly asked members to put partisan politics aside and judge the package for its ability to create jobs. Instead, Republican members could be heard on the House floor labeling the plan "socialism," merely because it contained more direct spending than it did tax cuts. It's indisputable that a combination of the two would go a long way toward jumpstarting the economy.
Coupled with the fact that the Republicans were cheerleaders for spending $850 for war in Iraq, and another $700 billion to "unfreeze" the credit market, their opposition is astounding. Both of these investments have been abysmal failures. Iraq was supposed to use oil revenue to finance its reconstruction, yet it hasn't. Additionally, Iraqis should have long ago taken control of its internal security to reduce the financial and personal toll on the Americans. Six years after the tumbling of Saddam Hussein, it largely hasn't. America still invests millions of dollars a month there.
The $700 billion expenditure to get banks lending to each other again may be the bigger failure. Congress gave $300 of the $700 billion to banks so that confidence would be restored, and banks would lend to each other, let alone to average Americans. This week, the federal government announced that the credit market, despite this massive expenditure, has not improved. Worse, Congress has not kept track of much of the money.
In sum, the Republicans have no qualms about spending $850 billion in Iraq, another $700 billion to get banks to twiddle their thumbs, yet they all voted against the economic stimulus because there is "too much spending." The most that Rep. John Boehner will reveal about their opposition is that the package contained "wasteful programs." Rarely do Americans get to hear exactly what programs are a waste. The most high profile one, the "bridge to nowhere," was sponsored by a former Republican Senator.
The overall package was improved, in that it spent more to stop the foreclosure crisis. However, the fact that the package only contained 40% in tax cuts, amounting to $300 billion, should not have precluded their support. Let the record reveal that when America needed a solution to the results of deregulation, Republicans stood on the sidelines and played politics. Their only solution to any problem seems to be massive tax cuts and privatization.
To quote one of their heroes, George W. Bush: "They have not led. We will."