US House passes economic stimulus plan, without Republicans

Washington  - The US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed an unprecedented 819-billion-dollar economic stimulus package to help pull the world's largest economy out of its worst recession.

The Democrat-dominated House passed the bill by 244 to 188, with not a single Republican voting for it, and 12 Democrats joining the nay vote.

The bill, President Barack Obama's first step toward what he hopes will be his first legislative victory, now goes to the Senate.

It was expected that the stimulus vote would fall largely along party lines, despite a push by Obama for bipartisan support and his rare visit to Capitol Hill Tuesday to do some arm-twisting among minority Republicans.

Shortly after the vote, Obama said he was grateful to the House for moving the stimulus plan forward and promised that his administration "will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington."

It was a first test for Obama, who has made the stimulus - called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act - a centrepiece of his efforts to revive the struggling economy.

Earlier Wednesday, Obama attempted to convince skeptical legislators to back his plan, which includes a mixture of government spending projects and tax cuts for consumers and businesses.

"I know there are some that are skeptical of the scale and size of this recovery plan," Obama said at a White House event.

While Obama called for both parties to work together, debate on the bill was at times very polarized and exposed sharp ideological divisions in the House chamber.

Some Republicans argued they had been excluded from the legislation crafting process. Democrats grumbled that Republicans failed to recognize the results of November's general election, when the centre-left leaning party expanded its majorities in both houses of Congress and claimed the White House.

"How many more Americans will lose their health insurance as well as their jobs as well as their retirement security?" David Obey, a Democrat from Wisconsin and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said during the debate. "We need to compare the cost of this package to the cost of doing nothing."

Obey said that "the cost of doing nothing would be catastrophic."

Opposition Republicans presented their own stimulus plan ahead of the vote, which they said was about half as large, composed primarily of tax cuts and would create 6.2 million jobs according to their own analysis.

The House voted against a Republican amendment, which would have cut a significant chunk of the bill's spending provisions and substantially expanded the amount of tax cuts.

But Democratic leaders said the opposition's alternative marked a continuation of former president George W Bush's widely unpopular administration.

"The economics that got us into this mess have been wrong, again and again, on the economy," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "Americans voted for change. They voted for a new direction. That's what we're going to get."

Obama has argued his stimulus will save or create 3-4 million new jobs over the next two years with investments in infrastructure, renewable energy, health, education and other sectors, as well as tax cuts for 95 per cent of US workers.

House minority leader John Boehner criticized Obama's stimulus as "a lot of wasteful spending that won't create jobs and won't help preserve jobs in America."

"We think there's a better way," Boehner said. They have a partisan bill, yet for some reason they expect bipartisan support."

On Wednesday morning Obama held what he called a "sober meeting" with dozens of top business leaders from around the country. "Even as we discussed the seriousness of this challenge, we left our meeting confident that we can still turn our economy around."

US firms cut 2.6 million jobs over the course of 2008. More than 70,000 additional job cuts were announced by US companies just in the past week.

"But we must each do our share," Obama warned. "Part of what led our economy to this perilous moment was a sense of irresponsibility that prevailed from Wall Street to Washington."

If the plan is passed, Americans will be able to track how their money is being spent on the website recovery. gov, the president said. (dpa)