WASHINGTON - Last month after taking office, President Barack Obama called upon Congress to pass a large economic stimulus bill quickly in an effort to bolster the flagging economy. The House gave him what he wanted yesterday, and the Senate followed suit late last night.
And with a White House signing ceremony expected early next week, one of the biggest experiments in government economic policy since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Depression will begin: a $787 billion attempt to create millions of jobs and pull the nation out of an increasingly dangerous financial crisis.
It reflects a quick victory for Obama on his first big legislative initiative, thanks in large part to an unusually solid display of unity by congressional Democrats and a pragmatic willingness to sacrifice cherished provisions in order to win over the handful of Republican Senate votes needed to avoid a GOP filibuster and secure final passage.
At the same time, Obama failed to obtain the wide bipartisan support he had sought. No Republicans voted for the bill in the House yesterday, and just three supported it in the Senate. And while Democrats cheered and applauded yesterday, Republican leaders denounced the bill as overstuffed, wasteful and unlikely to help revive the economy.
The Republicans' near-total opposition presages even harder fights to come on health care reform, new aid to banks and other major issues on the president's agenda.
The bill provides billions for infrastructure repair, school renovations, aid for cash-strapped states, and aid for the unemployed in the form of health care subsidies and extensions of unemployment benefits.
It also features a set of tax cuts designed to leave more money in the hands of businesses and individuals.
Republicans heaped particular criticism on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
"It's a one-party bill," said Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican whip, after the bill passed in the House by a 246-183 margin. "We weren't allowed to write one word of this bill."
Obama met with leaders of both parties at the White House and in a trip to Capitol Hill, and he increased the share of the package devoted to tax cuts in an effort to lure GOP support.
But many congressional Democrats were reluctant to make further concessions, and it appeared that the GOP made a strategic decision to stand fast against the bill.
No House Republicans supported it in earlier votes. And the same was true in the Senate, with the exception of Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who gave Democrats the 60-vote margin needed earlier this week to end debate and cut off a filibuster.
During debate on the Senate floor, Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin sounded the line many Democrats - including Obama - used to answer their critics. "What would they have us do?" he said. "They would have us do nothing."
"This president made direct overtures to bring in Republicans to try and find solutions to these problems - and they refused to do so," Durbin said.
Speaking on the House floor, Wisconsin Democrat Rep. David R. Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the sweep of the policy change represented by the bill harked back to the 1930s. He said the scale of the bill matched the economic dangers confronting the nation.
"I would suggest that this bill is big, all right. But I'll make you a deal," Obey said. "You show me a smaller problem that we have to confront and I will be happy to produce a smaller bill."
Some House Democrats were unhappy that the bill had been significantly chopped in the Senate in a bid to mollify Collins, Snowe and Specter.
So tight was the margin in the Senate, however, that Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, flew back to Washington late last night on a military jet to cast the 60th vote. Brown was attending a memorial service for his mother, and Democratic leaders kept the roll call open until he arrived.
To protest the cuts to the bill for transportation infrastructure repair, Rep. Daniel Lipinski, an Illinois Democrat, voted "present" yesterday, the only House member to do so.
"I did not want to embarrass President Obama, but I don't think Congress did Obama any favors in the way this bill was put together," he said.
Get developments on the economic crisis at baltimoresun.com/business
how maryland lawmakers voted
House of Representatives: :
Frank M. Kratovil Jr., Democrat
C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat
John Sarbanes, Democrat
Donna Edwards, Democrat
Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat
Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat
Chris Van Hollen, Democrat
Roscoe G. Bartlett, Republican
Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat
Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat