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Congressional Republicans hoping to rebound from a second straight drubbing at the polls have placed a very large bet against the $825 billion stimulus package that is the centerpiece of President Barack Obamas early agenda.
The 244-188 vote led by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) is fraught with political risk. Boehner has sought to avoid the label of the party of no and push alternatives, but his Conference appears unwilling to back anything but another round of tax cuts.
That had Democrats saying Republicans are stuck in the past by opposing the package while the nation is in crisis.
Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.) said Republicans run a double risk in voting against the stimulus, since it could confirm the minority as the party of no, and because it would mean rebuffing an astronomically popular president who went out of his way to seek their input.
Its very hard to do what many Republicans did yesterday to walk out of a meeting and talk about how reasonable the president sounded and talk about how respectful he was of their ideas, and then to say, By the way, were still opposed to what hes attempting to do, Davis said.
A handful of freshman Democrats announced their strong support for the package on Wednesday, and said Republicans seemed out of touch with the crisis in the country and the shift in the political winds.
Its almost Alice in Wonderland, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said of Republican attempts to eliminate spending from the measure. Youd never know there was a major election with a huge shift and a clear mandate for a different direction.
Freshman Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) said local schools and governments are in crisis. Like the economy, they need help now, he said.
Four thousand nine hundred of my friends in my hometown lost their jobs yesterday, he said. We are in an economic emergency. There is a tremendous sense of urgency in the country, and this nation demands action. Thats why we are standing up as freshman Democrats.
Democrats can point to local school districts that wont have to lay off teachers and will be able to build new schools, and road projects that will be able get off the ground, Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) said. This bill brought school districts in my district upwards of $97 million, he said.
Although the bill doesnt have earmarks, its full of programs Members are eager to brag about to their constituents. Tax cuts for the middle class, billions of dollars for green energy, health care for the recently unemployed, boosts to food stamps and college aid, to name a few.
It feeds the hungry, shelters the homeless and heals the sick, freshman Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) said.
But its exactly those social programs that are anathema to conservative Republicans, some of whom are proposing cuts in spending, not increases.
Boehner held out some hope that a compromise might yet emerge from conference with the Senate, one that could garner GOP support. Theres a lot of water thats going to flow over the dam over the next few weeks, he said.
But given that the GOP has summarily rejected the bulk of the Democrats spending proposals, such a compromise appears elusive.