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House Passes Obama's Stimulus Package

By Jackie Calmes / New York Times

WASHINGTON — Without a single Republican vote, President Obama won House approval on Wednesday for an $819 billion economic recovery plan as Congressional Democrats sought to hold down their own difference over the enormous package of tax cuts and spending.

As a piece of legislation, the two-year package is among the biggest in history, reflecting a broad view in Congress that urgent fiscal help is needed for an economy in crisis, and at a time when the Federal Reserve has already cut interest rates almost to zero.

But the size and substance of an economic stimulus package remain in dispute, as House Republicans blamed Democrats for a package that tilted heavily toward new spending instead of tax cuts

All but 11 Democrats voted for the plan and 177 Republicans voted against it. The 244-188 vote came a day after Mr. Obama traveled to Capitol Hill to seek Republican backing — if not for the package than on future issues.

"This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years," Mr. Obama said in a statement after the vote. "I can also promise that my administration will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington. Once it is passed, every American will be able to go the Web site and see how and where their money is being spent."

The administration remains hopeful that some Republicans will support the final compromise between the House and Senate. Mr. Obama followed the House vote with cocktail party at the White House for the Congressional leaders of both parties. The House Republicans, including Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, were fresh from their votes against the recovery package.

Yet the failure to win Republican support in the House seemed to echo the early months of the last Democratic administration, when former President Bill Clinton in 1993 had to rely solely on Democrats to win passage of a deficit-reduction bill that was a signature element of his presidency.

Mr. Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, had met Tuesday night at the White House with 11 moderate House Republicans, none of whom ended up supporting the bill.

"The most important number here for this recovery plan is how many jobs it produces, not how many votes it gets," Mr. Emanuel said.

As Senate Democrats prepare to bring their version to the floor on Monday, Democrats from the House and the administration indicated they would ultimately accept a provision in the emerging Senate package that would adjust the alternative minimum tax to hold down many middle-class Americans' income taxes for 2009.

The provision, which would drive the overall cost of the package to nearly $900 billion, was not in the legislation passed by the House.

That would exceed the $850 billion limit that Mr. Obama set for Congress, according to House Democratic aides, and leave no room for other proposals that senators of both parties are sure to seek during the Senate debate next week.

While the House and Senate measures are similar, they are most likely to differ in several ways that could snarl a conference committee and delay getting a measure to the president. In particular, House and Senate Democrats are split over how to divide $87 billion in relief to the states for Medicaid, with senators favoring a formula more beneficial to less populous states.

Democrats' own differences aside, they also are under pressure from the White House to be open to proposals from Senate Republicans who might support the final legislation if their interests are accommodated, and which might draw a few House Republican supporters on a final vote next month.

The provision on the alternative minimum tax, for example, was a top priority for Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican of Iowa, who successfully added it during the Finance Committee's work on the legislation on Tuesday.

Democrats' goal is to have the stimulus package, which is roughly two-thirds new spending and one-third tax cuts, to Mr. Obama's desk for his signature by Feb. 13, before Congress leaves for its Presidents Day break.


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