The U.S. House of Representatives met in an emergency session on Tuesday to pass a $26 billion bill aimed at saving the jobs of more than 300,000 teachers, police and public service employees, and helping states cover the cost of the federal-state health care program for the poor, Medicaid.
After a day of partisan debate, the bill passed by a 247 to 161 margin.
Hours before the vote and flanked by two teachers who might lose their jobs, President Barack Obama called for passage of the bill, saying the legislation that he later signed into law would save the jobs of critical public sector employees - teachers, police, firefighters, nurses and emergency first-responders - during the coming year.
He told reporters at the White House that education and the safety of communities should not be a partisan issue. "Those interests are widely shared throughout this country. A challenge that affects parents, children and citizens in almost every community in America should not be a Democratic problem or a Republican problem. It is an American problem," he said.
The bill provides $10 billion for states to save the jobs of some 160,000 teachers. It also allocates $16 billion to help cover the cost of Medicaid. States will have money to keep some 150,000 police officers and other public sector workers on the job.
Democrats say the measure is fully paid for, in part by closing tax loopholes that encourage companies to send jobs overseas. It is also funded by reducing food stamps benefit for low income people.
House Majority Leader, Democrat Steny Hoyer says the bill is an investment in the country that does not add to the federal budget deficit. "What we're doing is making sure that our children have the proper education they need, making sure that our communities are safe, and, yes, making sure that we try to keep every job in America so that we can continue to make things in America so people can make it in America," he said.
But minority Republicans say the bill caters to teachers' unions, does not address problems in the education system, punishes companies by raising taxes, and is a bailout for states.
The top House Republican, John Boehner, says the bill is "some of the most irresponsible policy" that he has seen. He says the American people want real fiscal responsibility in Washington and that the federal government cannot afford wasteful "stimulus" spending or to cater to special interests. "The American people are screaming at the top of their lungs, 'Stop!' And Washington continues to spend, spend, spend," he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summoned members of the chamber back to Washington from their summer recess after the Senate passed the jobs bill last week.
Also on Tuesday, the House approved a $600-million border security bill to increase surveillance and security along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Senate, which passed a similar measure last week, will take up the measure after it reconvenes next month.