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House Democrats pass Obama stimulus plan

Handing the new administration a big win, theHouse Friday passed President Barack Obama's $787 billion plan toresuscitate the economy.

The bill was passed 246-183 with no Republican help. It now goesto the Senate where a vote was possible late Friday to meet adeadline of passing the plan before a recess begins next week.

All but seven Democrats voted for the bill -- a 1,071 page,8-inch-thick measure that combines $281 billion in tax cuts forindividuals and businesses with more than a half-trillion dollarsin government spending. The money would go for infrastructure,health care and help for cash-starved state governments, amongscores of programs. Seniors would get a $250 bonus Social Securitycheck.

Told that no Republican backed the measure, White House presssecretary Robert Gibbs reacted by citing another number: "3.5million jobs that we look forward to saving or creating."

Republicans said the package won't work because it has toolittle in tax cuts and spreads too much money around to everydayprojects like computer upgrades for federal agencies.

"This legislation falls woefully short," said House GOP LeaderJohn Boehner of Ohio. "With a price tag of more than $1 trillionwhen you factor in interest, it costs every family almost $10,000in added debt. This is an act of generational theft that ourchildren and grandchildren will be paying for far into thefuture."

The final $787 billion measure has been pared back from versionspreviously debated in order to attract support from three SenateGOP moderates -- Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and ArlenSpecter of Pennsylvania. Their help is essential to meeting a60-vote threshold in the Senate. The bill originally passed theSenate by a 61-37 tally, but Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.,suffering from brain cancer, is not expected to vote. SherrodBrown, D-Ohio, was planning to fly in after a memorial service forhis mother to cast the deciding vote.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., who withdrew his nomination to beObama's Commerce secretary, said he would vote against the bill.

Democrats lavished praise on the measure, which combines taxcuts for workers and businesses with more than a half-trilliondollars in government spending aimed at boosting economic demand.

"By investing in new jobs, in science and innovation, inenergy, in education ... we are investing in the American people,which is the best guarantee of the success of our nation," saidHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

The plan is the signature initiative of the fledgling Obamaadministration, which is betting that combining tax cuts of $400 ayear for individuals and $800 for couples with an infusion ofspending for unemployment assistance, $250 payments to people onSocial Security, and extra money for states to help with theMedicaid health program for the poor and disabled will arrest theeconomy's fall.

Local school districts would receive $70 billion in additionalfunding for K-12 programs and special education and to preventcutbacks and layoffs and repair crumbling schools. There's about$50 billion for energy programs, much of which goes to efficiencyprograms and renewable energy.

Some $46 billion would go to transportation projects, not enoughto please many lawmakers.

Negotiators insisted on including a $70 billion tax break tomake sure middle- to upper-income taxpayers won't get hit by thealternative minimum tax and forced a reduction of Obama's signaturetax break for 95 percent of workers.

The AMT was designed 40 years ago to make sure wealthy peoplepay at least some tax, but is updated for inflation each year toavoid tax increases averaging $2,300 a year. Fixing the annualproblems now allows lawmakers to avoid difficult battles down theroad, but economists say the move won't do much to lift theeconomy.

Republicans pointed out a bevy of questionable spending itemsthat made the final cut in House-Senate negotiations, includingmoney to replace computers at federal agencies, inspect canals, andissue coupons for convertor boxes to help people watch TV when thechangeover to digital signals occurs this summer.

"This measure is not bipartisan. It contains much that is notstimulative," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Obama's rival forthe White House. "And is nothing short -- nothing short -- ofgenerational theft" since it burdens future generations with somuch debt, he added.

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