A nearly $820 billion stimulus package passed the House of Representatives Wednesday without a single Republican vote. The bill now moves to the Senate, where it stands a better chance of picking up at least a modicum of bipartisan support.
Approval of the bill is a victory for President Barack Obama and comes only eight days after his inauguration -- the swiftest passage of such a massive package in American history. The vote was 244-188, with 11 Democrats crossing party lines and opposing the measure.
Obama ventured to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and met separately with House and Senate Republicans in hopes of garnering their support. He invited roughly a dozen GOP moderates to the White House Tuesday evening for an extended discussion -- and cookies and soda -- with chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. And before Wednesday's vote, six House Republicans, five Senate Republicans and an equal number of Democrats gathered for a White House meeting.
Obama also persuaded House Democrats to remove provisions related to family-planning from the stimulus and -- over the objections of many Democrats -- inserted large tax cuts for businesses that Republicans wanted.
None of it was enough.
After the vote, Republican Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that he hoped the zero-vote showing would persuade Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to make changes to the bill during negotiations between the House and Senate.
"The onus is on Speaker Pelosi. She needs to meet with us. She needs to open her doors. We need to begin to work truly in a bipartisan fashion," he said. "We're trying to work with the White House. President Obama said he has no pride of authorship, so we want to go forward and make sure that we get a stimulus bill that works."
Cantor said that Republicans objected to what they saw as excess spending in the bill. "I think we demonstrated here that the kind of bill they put together without any input from us was not a stimulus bill. You can call it a safety net bill, a relief bill. It was a spending bill," he said.
Asked by the Huffington Post what spending provisions Republicans would support, Cantor said, "I think that if you have infrastructure programs that are meaningful, impactful, and put jobs back into place immediately within the first twelve months, you have a legitimate case for that to be a stimulus."
The stimulus plan provides some $550 billion in direct investment for modernizing infrastructure, expanding broadband, and improving health care delivery systems. Funding is also aimed at shoring up state and local budgets that have gone deeply into the red, preventing layoffs of state workers.
With unemployment at its highest level in a quarter-century, the banking industry wobbling despite the infusion of staggering sums of bailout money and states struggling with budget crises, Democrats said the legislation was desperately needed.
"Another week that we delay is another 100,000 or more people unemployed. I don't think we want that on our consciences," said Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and one of the leading architects of the legislation. "There are an awful lot of people in this chamber who think like Herbert Hoover," he said, referring to the president whose term is forever linked in history with the Great Depression.
Ultimately, though, Cantor said the emphasis should be on cutting taxes, rejecting the Keynesian theory that when private sector investment recedes, the government must step in and be the employer and investor of last resort.
"Keynesian economics doesn't hold a candle to the entrepreneurship that made this economy so prosperous up until the last six months," said Cantor.
He allowed that some Republicans may be open to supporting a future stimulus package, with changes, but only if Obama could persuade Pelosi to work with him and his colleagues.
"I hope he can go and call Speaker Pelosi and tell her to work with us," he said.
But in an interview to air tomorrow, Pelosi stood by the package and said Americans will hold Democrats responsible.
"Well, we are definitely stepping up to the plate to say we'll be accountable. We have the well being of the American [people] at stake and we're going to do what is best for them....We will be accountable for it," the Speaker told CBS News.
"That's why the choices we made had to be very carefully made because we had to deliver on meeting the needs of the American people and I'm very proud that," she said. "One week and one day after President Obama gave the nation hope, took us in a new direction, suggested some initiatives for change, that we in this House of Representatives have echoed his call to action for swift and bold action to help the American people. That's what I'm very proud of. Republicans have had their chance. They decided to oppose -- that's their choice."
With additional reporting by the Associated Press.