WASHINGTON — The House on Friday passed a bill intended to revive the economy with $61-billion of federal spending, but the Senate blocked consideration of a similar bill, and President Bush issued veto threats against both.
The economic recovery package, approved in the House by a vote of 264-158, has little chance of becoming law on its own. But it could become a bargaining chip in negotiations between Congress and the White House over Bush's $700-billion proposal to shore up the nation's financial system.
Moreover, Democrats said the legislation served a political purpose, giving them an opportunity, they said, to put Republicans on record against helping people who are struggling in a sluggish economy.
Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill "would make life a little less miserable for people who have been hit hard by the economic chaos that's swept over the country."
Another Democrat, Rep. Sander M. Levin of Michigan, noted that the measure provided money to extend unemployment benefits. "If we don't act," Levin said, "more than a million people will exhaust their unemployment benefits before the end of the year."
But Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said the bill would do little to stimulate the economy. "It's meant to stimulate the electoral prospects of a couple of hundred members of Congress," he said.
The House and Senate versions of the stimulus legislation would not only extend unemployment benefits, but increase food stamp allotments and provide more federal money to states to finance health insurance for low-income people on Medicaid.
Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said the measure would "help avert cuts to state Medicaid programs," so states could meet the medical needs of people who had lost jobs and health benefits provided by employers.
The legislation also would provide money for highways, bridges, airports, mass transit, school repairs, water projects and other public works.
In February, Bush signed a bipartisan bill to revive the economy by sending rebate checks to millions of taxpayers. But Democrats said more was needed because the economy in many places was still anemic.
On Friday, the Senate voted 52-42 for a motion to consider its version of the stimulus bill, which would cost $56-billion. Supporters needed 60 votes.
In threatening a veto, the White House said the bills "will not provide short-term stimulus or long-term growth for the economy."