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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

House Expected to Vote Today on Stimulus Package

NEW YORK ( -- President Barack Obama will face the first real test of his push for a stimulus package on Wednesday, as the House of Representatives prepares to vote on the bill later in the day.

Obama and House Democrats etched out plans for an $825 billion package in the weeks leading up to the president's inauguration, and two House committees have amended and modified the provisions for $550 billion in spending and $275 billion in tax cuts over the last two weeks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Tuesday called the bill "most critical piece of legislation [Congress] will consider this session," arguing that the bill supports jobs, tax cuts and accountability to taxpayers.

Policy experts believe the bill will pass easily, since Democrats have an overwhelming majority in the House.

But Republicans have expressed concern about the large amount of spending in the bill, and have criticized the tax cut provisions for not going far enough.

"This Democrat bill won't stimulate anything but more government and more debt," said Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., on Tuesday. "House Democrats [will] use a time of national crisis to fund big government priorities under the guise of stimulating the economy."

Obama has called for bipartisan cooperation on the bill, and met with House Republican leadership on Tuesday in an attempt to gain support across both aisles.

"I don't expect 100% agreement from my Republican colleagues, but I hope that we can put politics aside," Obama said after the meeting.

"The main message I have is that the statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation," the president said. "The American people expect action."

As a result of the new president's lobbying efforts, many analysts believe that Obama will get some of the bipartisan support he wants, even if some Republican concerns aren't met.

"The president will get the bill passed the way he wants it," said Tim Speiss, head of the Wealth Advisory Practice at Eisner LLP. "He has been making the rounds to woo votes, and I don't think [House Minority Leader] John Boehner, [R-Ohio], is going to get anywhere."

Next steps for stimulus

On Tuesday, key Senate committees took up the Senate's separate but similar version of the bill. Next week, the full Senate will vote on its version. Should both the Senate and House pass different versions, the two bills would have to be conferenced together. Then, both chambers would have to vote on the new, conferenced version in the coming weeks.

Speiss believes the final bill will closely mirror the House's more expensive version, since several provisions that the Senate excluded will likely be put back in after a compromise. For instance, the Senate may agree to the House's $50 billion taxable bond and Cobra continuation provisions, if the House agrees to include the Senate's $18 billion Social Security funding.

"You may see a horse trade, but [the final bill is] going to look more like the House plan, with only fringes of what the Senate modified," Speiss said. "But the centerpieces of both plans - especially the Making Work Pay tax credits -are almost identical anyhow."

Congress has put the legislation on a fast track, as many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that fast action is needed to help pull the economy out of a deep recession. Democratic leaders have said they aim to get the bill to Obama's desk for him to sign before Congress' Presidents Day recess in mid-February.

Even opponents of many of the Democrats' proposals have said that a compromise will likely be reached by the mid-February deadline.

"There's unanimity that our economy needs help," said House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Friday, "And there's also a desire to move a package that would help rescue our economy, help American families, small businesses, entrepreneurs, and the self-employed."