The economic stimulus package was developed to deal with the deepest economic crisis faced by the United States since the Great Depression. This was a vote forced by a procedural effort by the Republican minority to try to prevent the House from taking up the legislation funding the package.
Supporters of the legislation claimed it would create and save jobs, help state and local governments, prevent deep cuts in health, education, and law enforcement services, reduce taxes for working families and small businesses, and invest in the long-term health of the economy. During the debate, Rep. Obey (D-WI), who chairs the Appropriations Committee and was managing the bill on the House floor, said that “(T)he forecasters at the Congressional Budget Office, Moody's Economy.com, Macroeconomic Advisors, and the Obama Administration have all estimated that enactment of this legislation could create or save 3 to 4 million jobs.”
Among the areas to which spending was targeted by the measure were infrastructure, housing, alternative energy sources and retrofitting, environmental cleanup, transportation, health services and facilities, nutrition, education and training, law enforcement, and science. The liberal-leaning Brookings Institute said it found the measure to be “well-designed to stimulate spending quickly, because it focuses on low- and moderate income people.”
House Republicans argued against the bill because they claimed that, while it contained tax reductions, it inappropriately emphasized increased spending increases. Their position was that tax reductions would create more jobs, would work faster, and was more likely to stimulate economic growth. They also said the emphasis on spending would significantly increase the deficit, federal borrowing, and inflation.
Rep. Lewis (R-CA), the Ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, was leading the opposition to the economic stimulus conference report. He argued that that “. . . funding for roads, highways, flood control measures, and other job creating infrastructure projects were downsized in order to increase the size and scope of (non job-producing) government programs.” Lewis also said: “(T)here are Members on both sides of the aisle who would support reasonable transportation and infrastructure projects as well as reasonable tax reform, but that is not what is before us today.”
Lewis went on to complain that the conference report was being considered too hastily and that “. . . no one in the Congress has any idea what is really in this legislation . . . it became available to Members and the public on a web site at 12:30 a.m. this morning, less than 12 hours ago. . . . The House should not vote on the largest spending bill in the history of the United States when no one on either side of the aisle has any real idea of what's in it. “
The question of whether the House should take up the legislation passed by a vote of 232-195. All 232 “aye” votes were cast by Democrats. Nineteen other Democrats joined all one hundred and seventy-six Republicans and voted “nay”. As a result, the House was able to take up the legislation funding the economic stimulus package developed in response to the severe economic downturn.