GWEN IFILL: The House gave final approval today to a bill Democrats said will save thousands of public sector jobs. The vote, engineered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was 247-161.
Congress is supposed to be on summer recess, but the House returned today for a one-day session about jobs, strapped states, and election-year politics.
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-Calif): As long as we can come back and create jobs, we will take every opportunity to do it.
REP. JEB HENSARLING, (R-TX): We are here today because the speaker of the House has declared us in emergency session. There’s a national emergency. Apparently, Congress has not spent enough money.
GWEN IFILL: A few hours later, the House passed a $26 billion measure that includes $10 billion to help save the jobs of 160,000 teachers and $16 billion to pay for six more months of state Medicaid funding. Democrats said this will allow affected states to shift funds to other priorities, like keeping more than 150,000 police officers and other public workers employed.
The measure has already passed the Senate, and the president quickly signed it this afternoon. Joined in the White House Rose Garden this morning by two teachers and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Mr. Obama appealed for action.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We can’t stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe. That doesn’t make sense. And the money will only go towards saving the jobs of teachers and other essential professionals. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
GWEN IFILL: But Republicans dismissed the appeal as pure politics. Congressman John Kline of Minnesota said states are operating education budgets that they simply can’t afford.
REP. JOHN KLINE, (R-Minn.): At best, inflating state education spending for another year will kick the can down the road, merely postponing the tough decisions and allowing states to overextend themselves for another year. At worst, another bailout will make states more dependent on the federal government and more susceptible to Washington’s political whims.
GWEN IFILL: Republicans also objected to the way the bill will be paid for, in part by raising taxes on U.S. companies doing business overseas.
Outside the House chamber, Minority Leader John Boehner went further, charging, the bill was really an election-year payoff to public employee unions.
HOUSE MINORITY LEADER REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R-OH): This bailout to the teachers unions is some of the most irresponsible policy that I have seen. The American people are screaming at the top of their lungs: Stop.
And Washington continues to spend, spend, spend. Well, listen, I have been around my district. And I can tell you what. I have been around a few other districts. The American people know that it’s time for the spenders to go and to have real fiscal responsibility here in Washington, D.C.
GWEN IFILL: On the House floor, Democrats insisted it’s sound policy paid for in a sound way.
New Jersey Congressman Steve Rothman:
REP. STEVEN ROTHMAN,(D-N.J.): The Democrats came up with the solution. We paid for every penny of it. We’re helping the states, the taxpayers, and those in need. We’re moving the country forward. We will not allow this country to go back to the policies that brought us to the brink of disaster.
WOMAN: The gentleman’s time has expired. The gentleman’s time has expired.
GWEN IFILL: Other Democrats, like Barney Frank of Massachusetts, accused Republicans of trying to block any action that might help Democrats in November.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D-Mass.), Financial Services Committee chairman: Republicans have a two-step strategy: first of all, obstruct anything from getting better, and then point out that things aren’t getting better. I mean, the bill that is being passed today, if it had passed a month ago, we wouldn’t have the job loss we reported last week. And I think they’re fine with that. I hate to have to say this, but I think it’s very clear. They don’t want to see things get better.
GWEN IFILL: But, in the end, Democrats celebrated the passage of the measure.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: This is really a very happy afternoon for us, because the House just passed legislation that has a direct relationship to the strength of our communities, the education of our children, the safety of our neighborhoods, the stability of the economy of our states, and really points directly to our prospects for the future.
GWEN IFILL: The measure passed in both the House and the Senate largely along party lines.