WASHINGTON — President Obama needed no help from House Republicans to pass an $819 billion economic stimulus bill this week, but when it comes to the Senate, he is hoping to win the support of moderate Republicans such as Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins.
Not a single Republican in the House voted for the massive stimulus bill, but Democrats managed to pass the measure 244-177 with only 11 Democrats voting against it. Maine Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud both voted for the stimulus plan.
The House’s stimulus plan aims to save or create an estimated 4 million jobs nationwide while assisting unemployed workers with benefits and additional food stamp funding. In Maine, the package passed by the House would spend $52 million this year on school building improvements and provide $260 million to balance the state budget, according to an analysis by Moody’s Economy.com
Pingree emphasized the fact that the bill passed by the House would go toward “shovel-ready” projects that could provide jobs within the next two years.
Michaud said he voted for the plan despite strong reservations about its cost. One measure he opposed was funding the package outside of the normal congressional budgeting process.
Obama met with House and Senate Republicans trying to convince them to support the bill and the White House has indicated it would be willing to add a tax reduction provision to the Senate measure that could increase the overall cost to $900 billion.
Snowe called the meeting with the president “exceptionally good,” adding that she found Obama to be “very straightforward, clear and concise, emphasizing his willingness to work.” Snowe said she also spoke with Obama and Vice President Biden several times this week.
Obama and the Democratic leadership are not the only ones lobbying Snowe and Collins to vote for the stimulus bill. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org announced Thursday it plans to run television ads in Maine to pressure them to vote for the measure.
Both senators said they have not yet decided if they are going to vote in favor of the stimulus package when it comes to the Senate floor. Snowe voted for the Senate Finance Committee’s $522 billion portion of the bill, which included $342 billion in proposed tax cuts. Snowe was the only Republican on the committee who voted to move the proposal forward.
As a member of the Finance Committee, Snowe pushed to get in the bill an $87 billion boost in federal Medicaid assistance to help states struggling with the cost of health care and $28 billion to digitize medical records.
Both Maine senators said they were concerned the bill could still become weighed down with unrelated legislation. The House already dropped proposals Monday to renovate the National Mall and fund a family planning initiative for Medicaid.
Collins, who also voted in favor of a version of the plan in the Senate Appropriations Committee, said some Senate proposals, including an $870 million provision to combat a potential outbreak of pandemic flu, would make good laws but have nothing to do with resuscitating the economy. She praised Obama in an interview for listening to Senate Republicans’ concerns about some of the bill’s spending provisions.
“It was impressive that the president spent so much time — more than an hour — discussing about the contents of the package,” Collins said. “I was pleased with his outreach to us, but it now remains to be seen whether he’s willing to actually make changes.”
Snowe said it is important that the bill that comes out of the Senate does not undermine the credibility of Congress.
“We don’t want initiatives in the package that don’t meet the goals of the stimulus package,” Snowe said. “After our sorry experience with the first installment of the rescue plan, we really need to ensure that we develop a process that adheres to strong principles and maintains the integrity of the programs for which it has been designed. We can’t put everything but the kitchen sink in it.”
Michaud said in a statement he will reserve final judgment on the bill until the Senate passes its version and congressional leaders hammer out a compromise between the two versions.
“I am hopeful that the Senate will not add too greatly to the cost of the overall package,” Michaud said. “Whether that is more tax cuts or spending, it will be paid for by borrowing more and more from future generations.”