In a rare August recess vote Tuesday, House Democrats pushed through a $26 billion spending measure for states to pay for education and Medicaid costs while sacrificing some social and environmental programs dear to its base
The bill passed mostly along party lines, 247-161, and is paid for by rescinding billions of dollars originally authorized for the surplus, as well as cuts to food stamps and alternative energy programs.
“I’m not happy about taking the money from the energy sector or food stamps, but hopefully we can make it up in another way,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D.-Conn.) called the food stamp cut “a bitter pill to swallow.”
“For me personally, it’s like ‘Sophie’s Choice,’” said DeLauro, a reference to the novel and movie in which a survivor of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp had to choose which of her children should live or die.
Republicans called the package a “son of stimulus” bailout measure that will subsidize teacher union jobs and secure votes for Democrats facing tough reelection battles with an increasingly unpopular President.
“This is another in a long line of unaccountable spending bills,” said Rep. David Dreier (R.-Calif.).
Teachers, medical workers and police officers that Democrats say will benefit from the bill, “should not be used as pawns in a cynical political game,” Dreier said.
The National Education Association teachers union reportedly spent more than $4 million lobbying for the bill, which was passed so abruptly through the Senate last week that it arrived on the House floor without a formal title.
“They literally neglected to fill in the blanks,” Dreier said. “God only knows what other mistakes have been made in here.”
According to Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Tex.), the $16 billion earmarked for Medicaid “doesn’t have to be spent on Medicaid.”
“It can be spent on whatever purpose the state wants to spend it,” Barton said. “What this bill is really about is some sort of panic attacks on the Democratic leadership side, they see elections coming up and they need more money for their constituency.”
Some Democrats called the measure emergency funding that is needed to prevent job lay-offs. Pelosi compared it to the Russian-American space race, and said the bill “enables America to be first.”
“It’s bigger than just a job, it’s about the future,” Pelosi said.
“My grandchildren—the ones in public school—went back to school yesterday … and they cannot afford to wait for us to put teachers back in the classrooms and that is why it was urgent that we act,” Pelosi said.
Pelosi went on to say that if teacher jobs were not saved, the country would go into another deep recession “like the one we inherited from the previous administration.”
Democrats defended the bill, saying that it was paid for by cutting food stamps as well as tax increases on businesses, and will not add to the deficit.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, the package will add to the deficit in the next five years, but will eventually level off and then cut into the deficit after ten years.
“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,” said President Obama, who signed the bill just hours after it was passed.