Obama tastes first major victory with $787 bn stimulus plan (Second Lead)

February 14th, 2009 - 11:46 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Feb 14 (IANS) President Barack Obama has scored a major victory with his Democratic party managing to push a huge $787 billion stimulus bill through the US Congress in the face of near unanimous opposition from the Republicans.

Obama is expected to Monday sign into law the package of tax cuts and federal spending that he has made the centrepiece of his plan to pull the country out of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The vote in the House Friday on the compromise version of the measure was 246-183 with not a single Republican voting for it. Seven Democrats also voted against it. In the House’s original bill, 11 Democrats and all of the Republicans voted against it.

But in the Senate three Republicans - Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania - again broke ranks to allow passage of the measure trimming billions of dollars from the original bills with a 60-38 vote.

The Senate roll call extended into the night Friday to allow time for Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown to fly back from Ohio, where his mother died earlier in the week. His was the decisive 60th vote for the bill.

Brown was flown back to Washington on a plane provided by the White House, Brown’s office said, because the vote is “official business” and there are no commercial flights available that would allow him to cast his vote and then return to Ohio for his mother’s funeral Saturday morning. He was to fly back to Ohio immediately after the vote.

The votes Friday came after differences between House and Senate were reconciled Wednesday after a furious day of negotiations on Capitol Hill involving House and Senate leaders, administration officials and the three moderate Republican senators.

The Senate’s original version of the bill narrowly passed by a 61-37 vote - one more than needed. But Friday Democrats had to be content with just 60 as Senator Edward Kennedy, who returned to Capitol Hill for votes this week, returned to Florida to continue his recovery from brain cancer.

Obama made an impassioned final plea earlier Friday for passage of the plan, arguing that it is a critical first step on the road to economic recovery.

“I don’t need to tell you that we are in tough economic times,” Obama said to a group of business leaders at the White House hours before the most important congressional vote of his young administration.

The final stimulus package with an estimated 35 percent tax cuts and 65 percent spending is likely to land on Obama’s desk by the Democratic leadership’s self-imposed deadline of Presidents Day Monday.

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