In the first legislative victory of the Obama administration, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” in a 244-118 vote, with 11 Democrats joining Republicans in voting against the measure. The Democrats who cast nay votes were Reps. Allan Boyd (FL), Bobby Bright (AL), Jim Cooper (TN), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Parker Griffith (AL), Paul Kanjorski (PA), Frank Kratovil (MD), Walt Minnick (ID), Collin Peterson (MN), Heath Shuler (TN), and Gene Taylor (MS). The vote was a public relations setback for President Obama as he had sought to gain the support of Republicans for the $819 billion package as evidence of his commitment to act in a bipartisan manner. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama spent three hours on Capitol Hill meeting with House and Senate Republicans in an attempt to win their support but met resistance from lawmakers in the minority party.
At the heart of the debate in the House were claims by Republicans that the Democrats were stuffing the legislation with spending for pet projects that the minority claims will not result in job creation or stimulate the economy. Republicans have been pushing for less direct spending and more tax cuts. The Republican leadership offered an alternative bill on the floor but was defeated 170-266 with nine Republicans voting against the substitute bill and two Democrats voting for it. The ranking Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, and House Minority Whip Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia offered the substitute bill. In the alternative most of the $550 billion in spending was stripped and more tax cuts were added.
Several amendments were offered and approved, including one by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) that calls for job-training funds in the bill be used for broadband deployment and another by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) that increased capital transit funding by $3 billion. The New York Congressman is a strong supporter of public transit. During the last Congress Rep. Nadler introduced H.R. 7053, which called for the creation of a Transportation Jobs Corps as a means to employ “disconnected youth” in mass transit infrastructure jobs. An amendment offered by Rep. Harry Teague (D-NM) that requires that a federal web site is created and contains links to job information that receive funding under this bill was also approved.
Following the vote President Obama issued a statement thanking the House for passing the measure. The President said in part. “This is a wakeup call to Washington that the American people need us to act and act immediately. “
The vote took place during a week when several major companies announced drastic layoffs. On Monday close to 70,000 job cuts were announced with some familiar corporate names among those announcing layoffs. The pattern of layoff was repeated the following two days as Boeing, Starbucks and Time Warner America Online announced cuts in those companies. Boeing, the giant aircraft manufacturer headquartered in the state of Washington, announced it would shed 10,000 jobs, a further blow to the company and the economy.
To further make the point about the necessity of the recovery package, earlier in the day President Obama invited a group of corporate CEO’s to the White House to discuss the legislation and show their support. Leading the group were Honeywell Chairman and CEO David Cote and IBM Chairman and CEO Samuel Palmisano. Also attending the meeting were: Steve Appleton, Chairman and CEO, Micron Technology; David Barger, CEO, Jet Blue; Greg Brown, President and Co-CEO, Motorola, Inc.; John Bryson, President and CEO, Edison International; Debra Lee, President and CEO, BET Holdings, Inc.; Anne Mulcahy, Chairman and CEO, Xerox; Antonio Perez, Chairman and CEO, Eastman Kodak Company; Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO, Google; Michael Splinter, Applied Materials; Wendell Weeks, Chairman and CEO, Corning; and Ron Williams, CEO, Aetna. Later in the evening, Mr. Obama entertained a select group of Congressional leaders and corporate executives at the White House.
The Senate now gets to take up its version of the legislation and many of the partisan lines have already been drawn albeit in a somewhat less contentious manner. If the Senate approves its bill, it will then be taken up in a House-Senate conference where partisan lines are certain to emerge.