House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said today that the size of the $789.5 billion stimulus plan expected to gain final approval in Congress this week was dictated more by politics than economic science.
The comment by the Maryland Democrat, at a conference this morning sponsored by Georgetown University and Politico, appeared to reflect the resentment of many in the House over the veto power wielded by a trio of Senate Republicans in the drafting of the final package.
Referring to the estimated $789.5 billion in new spending and tax cuts in the measure, Hoyer called it "a figure that was not scientific but political. Three Republicans decided that was the figure they would vote on, and that's the context in which we were operating."
He was referring to Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the Republicans whose votes were critical to assuring Senate approval of the measure, expected Saturday.
Hoyer said it would be tomorrow, at the earliest, before the House would vote on the package.
Approval by the heavily Democratic chamber is a virtual certainty, with the main question revolving around the number of conservative Democrats and Republicans who decide to support the revised measure.
Every House Republican, 173 in all, and 11 Democrats, including freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil of Maryland, opposed the initial version, which had an $819 billion price tag. Through a spokesman, Kratovil would not say which way he will vote on the revised plan.
Hoyer noted that the compromise measure provides less assistance to financially pressed states than the original House plan but has more money for infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, than either house of Congress initially approved.
"We hope that this package has the effect that most economists believe it will have," said Hoyer. "Some economists say, of course, that it ought to be perhaps double in size, and they may be right. But this is the size that we could get through the Congress."
He pointed out that no sitting member of Congress had ever voted on a measure as expensive as the one being considered this week.
"It is a very large sum of money to meet a crisis," he said, to "right our economy, stop the hemorrhaging of jobs and start coming out of this recession."