New York Times
The House interrupted its summer recess on Tuesday to approve $26 billion in aid to school districts and states to prevent large-scale layoffs of teachers and public employees and to engage in another partisan fight over policy priorities.
After the vote of 247 to 161 in favor of the legislation, President Obama quickly signed the measure at the White House, underscoring the importance Democrats place on the bill that they view as compelling evidence of their commitment to protecting American jobs.
“We can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe,” Mr. Obama said earlier in the day, exhorting the House to send him the measure. “That doesn’t make sense.”
The Senate broke an impasse over the $26 billion measure last week and sent it to the House, which was called back into session by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to approve the bill.
Its backers said the measure would allow tens of thousands of public school teachers, government employees and emergency workers to keep working and help distressed states provide health care to the poor.
“I don’t understand how anyone, Democrat or Republican, can be against keeping teachers in the classroom, keeping cops on the beat and keeping firefighters protecting our homes,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland and the majority leader.
Just two Republicans crossed party lines to support the measure; three Democrats opposed it.
Leading Republicans harshly rejected the bill, saying it was just the latest case of overspending by Democrats. They characterized the legislation as another in a string of bailouts that would not create new jobs. They also said Congress was coming to the rescue of states that had mishandled their own finances.
“We are broke,” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said about the federal government. “We do not have the money to bail out the states. It’s time for them to get their arms around their problems and not look to Washington to bail them out.”
As they convened to take up the state aid bill, House members also by voice vote approved $600 million in new spending for border enforcement that had been approved by the Senate last week. But because of a jurisdictional issue, the measure must be approved one more time by the Senate before it can be sent to the White House.
Senate leaders were exploring whether they could act before the end of the week and get the measure to the president’s desk.
On the aid package, Democrats noted that the $26 billion cost of the measure would not be added to the deficit, but would be offset by revising a corporate tax provision that affects companies that do businesses overseas as well as by making future cuts in food-stamp spending.
Representative David R. Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, had been pressing for months to allocate the money, which he said was needed because state and local budgets had still not recovered from the recession.
“We do the country no favors if we allow the weakness of the economy to strip qualified teachers from our schools, which in turn would result in exploding class sizes and a decline in educational opportunities for children,” Mr. Obey said.
In its haste to pass the measure last week, the Senate failed to fill in the title of the measure, leading to Republican ridicule.
“In its mad rush, the Senate passed the ‘blank’ act of ‘blank,’ ” said Representative David Dreier of California, the senior Republican on the Rules Committee. “God only knows what other mistakes have been made here.”
Representative Jeb Hensarling, Republican of Texas, said of the decision to call back the House: “This is a national emergency. Apparently Congress has not spent enough money.”
Republicans also said that Congress would not have needed to consider the measure if Democrats had not failed to take up regular spending bills, forcing Congress to work on problems in a piecemeal basis. And they called it a favor for members of teachers’ unions who are allied with Democrats.
“It will make the teachers unions happy,” said Representative John Kline, Republican of Minnesota, “but it won’t make teaching in schools better.”
Illustrating the political implications of the vote, Americans for Limited Government, a conservative group, quickly issued statements attacking Democrats considered vulnerable in November for their votes on the measure. But education and health groups joined the National Governors Association in applauding the House vote.
Democrats say they believe the outcome weighs in their favor politically, and the fact that all but three Democrats voted for it showed the confidence that lawmakers had in the measure. Democrats said it would allow them to court teachers and emergency workers while emphasizing the contrast with Congressional Republicans who opposed the package.
“There could not be a better example of the differences in priorities between Republicans and Democrats than this legislation,” said Tim Kaine, the head of the Democratic National Committee.