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Obama's stimulus proposal advances in Congress

The bill moves forward in the House over Republican efforts seeking deeper tax cuts.

January 23, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Amid grim new evidence of economic weakness, legislation at the heart of President Obama's recovery plan advanced in Congress on Thursday over the persistent opposition of Republicans seeking deeper tax cuts.

"We are very pleased with the progress," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) after $275 billion in tax cuts cleared the House Ways and Means Committee on a party-line vote, 24 to 13. Democratic leaders have promised the measure will be ready for Obama's signature by mid-February.

"It will create jobs immediately, and it will also lay the foundation for economic stability as we go forward," Pelosi said.

But Republicans said there was no reliable estimate of the bill's effect on employment.

"The American people deserve to know what they are getting for their nearly $1 trillion," said Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the tax-writing committee.

In all, the measure costs $825 billion, a total expected to grow as it makes its way through Congress.

On the key vote of the day, Democrats closed ranks to preserve a tax break for this year and 2010 that would mean $500 for many workers and $1,000 for millions of couples, including those who earn so little they don't pay federal income tax.

Democrats also turned back a GOP attempt to jettison a new federal subsidy to help laid-off workers pay for health insurance and to waive income taxes on unemployment benefits for two years.

They argued that the GOP proposals would favor upper-income earners who, they said, benefited disproportionately from tax cuts passed during the Bush administration.

"We need to be dealing with people at the bottom of the income scale," said Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).

Separately, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a $2.8-billion program that would expand broadband Internet service into underserved areas. It also approved various programs costing an estimated $27 billion to promote energy efficiency.

The panel, working late into the night, also passed a $20-billion effort to speed the creation of electronic health records, and approved more money to help states afford increased enrollment under Medicaid, the healthcare program for low-income residents.

In all, the additional spending for healthcare programs totals about $150 billion over five years.

During a recession, enrollment traditionally rises in programs such as Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment insurance as workers lose their jobs and their incomes.

Republicans in the House and Senate are developing alternatives to the legislation, and Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the GOP House leader, announced a meeting next week with Obama.

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