WASHINGTON — The Senate on Tuesday passed an $838 billion economic-stimulus bill demanded by President Barack Obama despite opposition from Sens. Lindsey Graham, Jim DeMint and all but three other Republican senators.
The massive mixture of spending, tax cuts and tax rebates, passed by a 61-37 vote, would be worth $10 billion to South Carolinians and to their state government, most of it by the end of 2011.
Graham, a Seneca Republican, ridiculed the Senate legislation as "an obscenity" and "a bunch of garbage" that won’t come close to meeting Obama’s goal of creating or preserving 4 million jobs.
"There are some things that will help South Carolina in this package," Graham said before the vote. "But for every dollar that will create jobs in South Carolina, there's another dollar that will grow government and pay for people's pet projects."
Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania were the only three Republicans to vote for the plan.
The Senate bill is similar in cost to an $819 million stimulus measure the House passed last week – without a single Republican vote - but they have significant differences.
The Senate package removes more than $291 million contained in the House plan for building and repairing South Carolina's public schools, colleges and universities.
Under the Senate bill, the state government would get $445.5 million to offset its budget deficit and education shortfalls - less than half the $905 million contained in the House legislation.
Much of the funds decreased or eliminated from the House measure are used in the Senate package to provide $1 billion in tax relief for South Carolinians - $69 billion nationwide - hit by the alternative minimum tax.
The Senate bill would give the state $882 million in extra Medicaid payments; $566 million in increased unemployment benefits; $482 million to build and repair roads and bridges; $335 million for low-income health insurance and almost $260 million for food stamps.
Senators and representatives on a conference committee immediately began negotiating the two plans’ differences, with the goal of producing a unified bill to be passed by Congress and signed into law by Obama before the President's Day holiday next week.
Aides to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn said the Columbia Democrat was disappointed that the Senate had removed school-construction funds and cut in half the state-deficit-reduction money. But he hoped the conference committee would restore at least some of the funding.
Handed a note while speaking to several hundred Floridians at a Fort Myers town hall, Obama elicited cheers by reporting the news from Washington.
"The Senate just passed the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan," Obama said. "That's good news."
Despite receiving so little Republican support, Obama has hammered Congress to pass his stimulus bill, warning that a failure to act could turn crisis into catastrophe.
The Senate passed the stimulus bill shortly after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled a financial-services rescue plan that could cost a staggering $1.5 trillion to stabilize banks, thaw lending and revive the housing market.
DeMint, a Greenville Republican who helped galvanize Senate opposition to the stimulus measure, criticized the growing government intervention in the private sector as wasteful and counterproductive.
"Democrats are now asking taxpayers for a trillion-dollar spending bill, a trillion-dollar (bank) bailout, and they will soon seek over $400 billion more for an omnibus appropriations bill filled with earmarks," DeMint said.
"I'm very concerned that this reckless spending will create a staggering deficit that will lead to inflation and higher taxes that will cripple our economy," he said.
Republicans initially cheered Obama’s post-election pledge that tax cuts would make up 40 percent of his stimulus package.
Tax cuts account for 35 percent of the Senate bill's cost, with tax rebates making up an additional 10 percent.
How much for SC
|Tax cuts||$4.26 billion = $1,000 per person|
|Tax rebates||$1.22 billion = 286 per person|
|Medicaid payments||$ 882 million|
|Other spending||$ 4.18 billion|