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House Passes Stimulus Measure

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. It looks like the president will get what he's asked for - an economic stimulus bill to sign, on his desk by Presidents' Day. Today, the House passed the final package; the Senate is expected to finish the vote tonight. The debate has not been pretty. There have been shouting matches in the House, the two parties espousing completely opposing views of what this bill will do. And not a single House Republican voted for it. The final tally was 246 to 183. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: In the end, Democrats said the government must do something big and fast. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): For any senator to stand up and say, you know, there's only a limited amount of money we could spend on this, is to ignore the fact that if we don't make the right investment, turn this economy around, we will pay dearly for years to come.

SEABROOK: The price tag today is $787 billion, according to the most recent nonpartisan estimate. The size of the bill matches the size of the problem, say Democrats. But in the House, Tennessee Republican Zack Wamp argued it'll make a different problem worse - the federal debt.

Representative ZACK WAMP (Republican, Tennessee): Just because Republicans spent too much money after September the 11th, and lost our way on financial matters, doesn't mean the Democratic Party should be allowed to wreck our ship of state.

SEABROOK: The debate did not lack for theatrics. Another argument made many Republicans practically stand on their chairs.

Representative TOM PRICE (Republican, Georgia): We found $30 million for mice, got $30 million for mice.

SEABROOK: This is Tom Price of Georgia. He's holding up what looks like a dead hamster. It's a cat toy.

Rep. PRICE: Thirty-million dollars for mice, does that create jobs? You can't be serious. What a joke.

SEABROOK: Oh, yeah? said Democrat David Obey, as he held up a copy of the actual bill.

Representative DAVID OBEY (Democrat, Wisconsin): Got it right here. Find it and show it to me. Show it to me.

SEABROOK: The truth? There are no mice mentioned in this bill. That $30 million figure Republicans latched onto is actually the entire amount that will go to the California Coastal Conservancy, which, among other things, restores thousands of acres of endangered wetlands, where the salt marsh harvest mouse lives.

You see how these things get inflated. The rhetoric does matter, though, true or not. Part of what shaped the final outcome was the Republicans' ability to paint this as a bloated, porky spending bill. Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio is angry that the Obama administration didn't do more, faster, to counter Republicans' view of the bill.

Representative PETER DEFAZIO (Democrat, Oregon): It's instructive, hopefully it's not predictive, of the future of this administration. And it has really deteriorated some relationships here between the House and the Senate and the White House.

SEABROOK: DeFazio is one of seven Democrats who voted against their party's bill. He said the final version cut taxes too much. In the end, though, the victory here will be claimed by the Democrats. This is a big win. The loser? Well, if you judge by the rhetoric, it appears that any nascent bipartisanship here was strangled in its crib.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Seabrook
Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.