The U.S. Senate has passed an $838 billion economic stimulus bill, designed to create millions of new jobs and jolt the economy out of recession. President Barack Obama called the vote "good news," but he cautioned there is more work to be done to turn the economy around.
The vote in the Senate on Tuesday was 61 to 37, with only three Republicans joining majority Democrats to approve the massive economic recovery package, which combines government spending and tax cuts.
The three Republicans who crossed the aisle to support the measure are Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Ailing Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy, who has brain cancer, made his way to the Senate floor to cast his vote to make sure Democrats had the 60 votes needed.
President Obama got word of the bill's passage while he attending a town hall meeting in the economically-stricken area of Fort Myers, Florida. He interrupted his question-and-answer session to share the news, bringing members of the crowd to their feet to cheer.
"That's good news and I want to thank all of the members of the Senate who have moved the process forward," the president said. "We've still got to get the House bill and the Senate bill to match up before it gets sent to my desk, so we got a little more work to do over the next couple of days. But it's a good start. And you know why it passed - because they knew I was coming down to Fort Myers and they did not want to mess with people in Fort Myers. Right!
As Mr. Obama pointed out, the Senate measure now must be reconciled with a slightly different version of the bill adopted by the House of Representatives, before he can sign the final version into law. The president has urged the two chambers to quickly pass a compromise bill, saying that every day of delay means more Americans lose their jobs, their savings and their homes.
Just before Tuesday's Senate vote, Senate Minority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell spoke for most Republican lawmakers in their rejection of the economic stimulus plan. "This bill misses the mark. It is full of waste; we have no assurance it will create jobs or revive the economy," McConnell said. "The only thing we know for sure is that it increases our debt and locks in bigger and bigger interest payments every single year."
Democratic Senator Max Baucus disagreed with his colleague. He agreed with most Democrats that with the economy in steep decline, the only solution is for the government to stimulate recovery by spending.
"Every single dollar in this bill is stimulative. Every dollar. All economists will say that," said Baucus.
Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid promised to try to hammer out the details of a compromise measure with House leaders, and to get a final version of the stimulus package to the president as soon as possible.