House Votes to Clear State Aid Bill

Posted August 10, 2010 at 2:36pm

The House — back in Washington for a brief and highly unusual mid-August session — sent a $26 billion state aid package to President Barack Obama Tuesday for his signature.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) summoned lawmakers back from their six-week recess to clear a bill that Democrats hope will bolster their vulnerable Members’ re-election prospects and give a shot in the arm to the party’s largely stalled jobs agenda.

Pelosi indicated Obama would sign the bill quickly, perhaps as soon as this afternoon.

The measure, which will provide funds to keep teachers and other government workers from losing their jobs and boost federal Medicaid matching funds, passed 247-161. Three Democrats — Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) — opposed the bill, along with all but two Republicans present.

The cost of the bill was offset with provisions that would close what Democrats said are tax “loopholes” that make it easier for companies to ship jobs overseas.

Lawmakers’ return to Washington rekindled partisan message warfare over the proposal, which Republicans blasted as the latest in a long string of government bailouts. Democrats touted the bill as essential to help the struggling economy and make sure teachers are available when school reopens in the coming weeks.

Tuesday’s session, though short, likely will provide fodder for both sides in the coming weeks and months.

“Let’s be very clear on what this is: This is shutting down loopholes that reward big corporations for shipping jobs overseas,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said, noting that the outsourcing issue bolstered Democrat Mark Critz’s bid in May to replace the late Rep. John Murtha (D) in Pennsylvania’s GOP-leaning 12th district. “Different candidates will have to decide which issues to emphasize, but this is certainly Exhibit A about how out of touch Republicans are.”

A Democratic strategist said GOP opposition could be used as the basis for ads against Republican incumbents.

“Can you imagine how lethal a 30-second spot would be of House Republicans rushing back to Washington to fire thousands of hardworking teachers, cops, and firefighters in order to protect corporations that ship jobs overseas to India, China and Mexico,” the strategist said.

Republicans, meanwhile worked quickly to capitalize on Democratic opposition to a GOP resolution, which was voted down earlier Tuesday, that would have limited legislative action in any lame-duck session this year. The National Republican Congressional Committee targeted vulnerable Democrats on Tuesday afternoon with a release that accused Democrats who opposed the resolution of opening the door to “a whole new round of job-killing legislation” in the weeks shortly after the Nov. 2 elections.

Although the state aid bill passed by a comfortable margin, the case for the legislation was not clear cut to some Democrats in competitive districts.

Just hours before the vote, Bright — a freshman in a competitive race — said he had not yet determined whether he would vote for the bill but that he was leaning against it, citing concerns about the deficit.

“I’ve been listening and talking to people in my district,” Bright said. “I’m hearing a lot of folks who are continually concerned about federal spending.”

Bright said he understood leadership’s rationale in bringing Members back for a vote on the measure, but added that he wished there was a way for Members to act on legislation remotely. “Today we’d have saved millions and millions of dollars, and it should be something that we explore,” he said. “There’s no reason for me — as a new Member — to come back and spend a number of hours and a lot of taxpayer money in the way of travel to come back and make these votes today when I could do it electronically from home.”

Another Democrat in a tough race — Maryland Rep. Frank Kratovil — said that while he supported the bill because he agreed with its substance and it was fully offset, the measure could be a tough sell.

“Politically, it’s similar to the stimulus in the sense that what we’re doing is making sure that there aren’t additional layoffs … that the economy doesn’t again dip,” said Kratovil, a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

But Kratovil acknowledged that Democrats once again will be in the difficult position of trying to prove a negative: that they prevented the economic situation from getting worse. “It’s the right thing to do, but it’s a difficult message to sell when people still feel like they are hurting,” he said.

Rep. Dina Titus — who, like Bright and Kratovil, is a member of the DCCC’s “Frontline” program for vulnerable incumbents — said her state of Nevada badly needs the teacher and Medicaid money, adding that, in her suburban district, “education probably ranks as the most important issue.”

“If there’s any support that crosses party lines, it’s support for education,” Titus said. She added that she was not worried about time away from her district because she would be gone for only about 22 hours.

“So I’m not missing much time in my district,” she said.