President Barack Obama has the first major victory in Congress of his young administration, a $787 billion stimulus bill that includes tax cuts and federal spending aimed at easing the worst economic crisis in decades.
Obama "now has a bill to sign that will create millions of good-paying jobs and help families and businesses stay afloat financially," said Sen. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat who was a leading architect of the measure that cleared both houses on Friday on party line votes.
"It will shore up our schools and roads and bridges, and infuse cash into new sectors like green energy and technology that will sustain our economy for the long term," he added in a statement.
Hours earlier, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell offered a different prediction for a bill he said was loaded with wasteful spending.
"A stimulus bill that was supposed to be timely, targeted and temporary is none of the above," he said in remarks on the Senate floor. "And this means Congress is about to approve a stimulus that’s unlikely to have much stimulative effect."
In a struggle lasting several weeks, lawmakers in the two political parties both emphasized they wanted to pass legislation to revitalize the economy and ease frozen credit markets. But the plan that the administration and its allies eventually came up with drew the support of only three Republicans in Congress — moderate Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Their support was critical, though, in helping the bill squeak through the Senate on a vote of 60-38, precisely the number needed for passage. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown cast the 60th vote in favor in a nearly deserted Senate, hours after the roll call began. He arrived after a flight aboard a government plane from Ohio, where he was mourning the death of his mother earlier in the week.
The House vote was 246-183.
The legislation, among the costliest ever considered in Congress, provides billions of dollars to aid victims of the recession through unemployment benefits, food stamps, medical care, job retraining and more. Tens of billions are ticketed for the states to offset cuts they might otherwise have to make in aid to schools and local governments, and there is more than $48 billion for transportation projects such as road and bridge construction, mass transit and high-speed rail.
Democrats said the bill’s tax cuts would help 95 percent of all Americans, much of the relief in the form of a break of $400 for individuals and $800 for couples. At the insistence of the White House, people who do not earn enough money to owe income taxes are eligible, an attempt to offset the payroll taxes they pay.
In a bow to political reality, lawmakers included $70 billion to shelter upper middle-class and wealthier taxpayers from an income tax increase that would otherwise hit them, a provision that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said would do relatively little to create jobs.
Also included were funds for two of Obama’s initiatives, the expansion of computerized information technology in the health care industry and billions to create so-called green jobs the administration says will begin reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil.
Friday’s events capped an early period of accomplishment for the Democrats, who won control of the White House and expanded their majorities in Congress in last fall’s elections.
Since taking office on Jan. 20, the president has signed legislation extending government-financed health care to millions of lower-income children who lack it, a bill that President George W. Bush twice vetoed. Obama also has placed his signature on a measure making it easier for workers to sue their employers for alleged job discrimination, effectively overturning a ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority.