This vote was on passing a $787.2 billion economic stimulus conference report. It also counted as the vote on waiving a procedural objection against the bill. Both the House and Senate had previously passed different versions of an economic stimulus bill. When the two chambers differ on a measure, members of the House and Senate meet to work out those differences in what is known as a conference committee. The conference committee produces a conference report, which contains the agreement reached on the final bill.
The conference report is less than what the Senate had passed earlier ($838 billion). It also would allow extra bonus depreciation for certain businesses, suspend bolster and expand unemployment benefits, grant a tax credit for the first $400 in Social Security withholdings on an individual’s paycheck, and expand the first-time homebuyer tax credit to $8,000. The measure also contains spending to increase Medicaid payments to states, additional funding for health insurance assistance to individuals, grants to states and local schools for education, grants for public housing, transportation-related projects and nutrition assistance.
John McCain, R-Ariz., raised what is known as a "point of order" against a portion of the conference report that designates its spending as emergency spending (which is not counted as increasing the deficit). A "point of order" is a procedural motion senators may bring up when they feel a bill, amendment or other motion violates certain rules set out by Congress to govern itself. Unless senators vote to waive those rules – which usually takes 60 votes, a large margin in the Senate -- the bill, amendment or motion in question can be killed by the point of order. McCain raised a point of order against the bill that it violates these rules. Baucus then made a motion that the rule be waived in this case, which is what this vote was on. This vote also counted as the final vote on the conference report itself.
Republicans spent much of their time arguing that the bill, which would spend an unprecedented amount of money, will saddle America’s children and grandchildren with astounding amounts of debt. They spent most of their time offering amendments that would have slashed the bill’s spending and instead bolstered tax cuts and tax credits. Some also complained that they were not included enough in the process of drafting the final legislation.
“What I am concerned about, at my deepest level, is that this step, as huge as it is, is only one of many that we are going to see. We had the Wall Street bailout of $700 billion. We hear there may be another $500 billion coming on housing and that kind of thing, because there’s not much housing benefit in this. This endangers our heritage. It is not a little bitty matter. I am proud of my colleagues who have said no. I believe it is the right vote and I hope and pray that yet it might fail,” said Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.
Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said critics of the bill haven’t put forward any workable solutions, and that the tax cuts that Republicans keep proposing didn’t work under President Bush’s first bailout round, so there’s no reason to try it again.
Republicans “cannot have it both ways. They cannot ask us, as Democrats, to stand with President Bush when he tried to solve it and then walk out the door when we face this crisis under President Obama. We have invited the Republicans to join us, and three stepped forward. I salute them for their courage in doing so. I hope more will do that in the future,” Durbin said. “A lot of the arguments are about the impact on the next generation. Consider the impact on the next generation of Americans if their parents lose a job. Consider the impact on kids in the next generation if their home is foreclosed upon. Consider the impact on the next generation if they are forced out of college because their parents cannot pay the bills. In this bill, we address each of those issues, providing tax relief to working families, creating up to 4 million jobs, giving people a chance to stay in their homes and trying to help them pay for a college education.”
By a vote of 60-38, the Senate passed the conference report. This same vote also counted as a vote on waiving the procedural objection against the measure. Every Democrat present voted for the motion and for the conference report. All but three Republicans present voted against the motion and against the conference report. The end result is that the rules were waived, allowing the conference report to survive. The same vote also passed the conference report, which would provide $787.2 billion in tax cuts and other spending to help stimulate the economy.