WASHINGTON — Taking a rare break from their summer vacation, House members returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and gave final approval to a $26 billion jobs bill that will send at least $2.5 billion to California to help balance the state budget and pay the salaries of its schoolteachers.
After the vote of 247-161 in favor of the legislation, President Barack Obama quickly signed the measure at the White House, underscoring the importance Democrats place on the bill that they view as compelling evidence of their commitment to protecting American jobs.
"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," Obama said earlier in the day, exhorting the House to send him the measure. "That doesn't make sense."
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, who ordered members back to Washington for the emergency session, said the bill will save roughly 300,000 public sector jobs. And she said that Congress needed to act to help stabilize state budgets as a way to avoid another deep recession.
"Tens of thousands of Americans will not be joining the ranks of the unemployed," Pelosi said.
"Let the American people know that we're trying to help kids get educated and make sure that those who are vulnerable get health care,"said Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles.
Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove, who voted against the plan, said the aid package would cost the average family $330 per year.
He said states should deal with their budget woes on their own, adding that "bailing out bad management doesn't improve it."
"Many people are asking why Congress is here today," McClintock said in a speech on the House floor. "I think the answer's pretty simple: We're not bankrupting the country fast enough and so we need to come back and spend more."
H.D. Palmer of California's state Finance Department said the bill will send $1.2 billion directly to the schools and another $1.3 billion that can be used to help plug the state's $19 billion budget hole. The amount is about $500 million less than Schwarzenegger's budget proposal assumes.
The bill includes $16 billion for six more months of increased Medicaid payments to states. The remaining $10 billion is for schools to rehire laid-off teachers or prevent more layoffs.
Democrats said the bill will keep more than 160,000 teachers, including 16,500 in California, in classrooms, ensuring that class sizes will not get too large.
Jennifer Kuhn, the director of K-12 programs for the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst's Office, said that while the federal money would help officials fill a lot of positions, it's uncertain whether those jobs would be filled in time for the new school year.
She thought the impact would be more apparent in the 2011-12 school year.
The bill prompted a hot debate in the House chamber.
Democrats said they were trying to help cash-strapped schools as parents get ready for a new school year, while Republicans said a broke Congress was spending money it didn't have.
Some Republicans called the plan "son of stimulus," reminding Democrats that the stimulus bill passed last year was sold as a one-time aid package.
"Here we stand, and they're back for more. … I give this whole effort an 'F,' " said Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota.
McClintock said the Obama administration and Congress, over the past two years, have increased spending by nearly 18 percent and run up more debt "than the irresponsible Bush administration did in all of its eight years combined."
At the same time, he said, unemployment has increased from 7.6 percent to 9.5 percent.
"Yet the problem, in the view of House Democrats, is that we just haven't spent enough," he said. "So we gather here today to shovel another $26 billion at the problem."
At least 45 governors, including California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, had lobbied hard for the aid package, and many states had already included at least part of the money in this year's budgets.