SPECIAL REPORT: Senate approves $838 billion stimulus bill

| 2/10/2009

Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2009 – The U.S. Senate has approved an $838 billion federal stimulus bill aimed at creating jobs and getting the economy out of recession.

The Senate version is approximately $19 billion more than the version passed this past, week by the House of Representatives.

The Senate’s Democratic majority needed at least 60 votes to pass the bill. Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania helped the bill pass by a 61-37 vote.

Both versions of the bill contain billions in tax cuts and cash to be infused into various economic sectors including infrastructure.

“Most importantly, this plan will put people to work right now by making direct investments in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure; investments that save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again,” President Barack Obama stated during a speech in Florida to promote the stimulus plan.

Obama said the plan wasn’t perfect, but that “doing nothing is not an option.”

Both the House and Senate versions included $30 billion for highway infrastructure. That money will be sent to states via funding formula. Infrastructure dollars would most likely be spent quickly on roads, bridges, schools, government buildings and energy grids.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, attempted to add $25 billion to infrastructure spending but was forced to withdraw her amendment on Friday, Feb. 6, when Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, closed the amendment process.

Senators accepted an amendment from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-ND, to include a “buy American” provision in the bill as long as it does not interfere with established international agreements. An amendment by Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, to eliminate the “buy American” provision failed.

Officials with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association want their members to familiarize themselves with the bill and decide whether it is something they can get behind or not.

“We want truck drivers to call their members of Congress and make their feelings known one way or another,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Mike Joyce told Land Line.

“Once it is finalized, we know it will contain at least $30 billion for highway infrastructure projects. It also included $300 million for diesel emissions reduction that some of our members could take advantage of.

“We know that truckers are hurting right now, and this economy is at a standstill. Many of our members are at a standstill and have parked their rigs. We hesitate to make a judgment for them, but let’s just say that when the wheels of trucks aren’t turning, the wheels of the economy aren’t turning.”

Joyce said that if the government is putting money and resources into new roads and bridges and rehabilitating schools and overall infrastructure improvements, truckers will be the ones to deliver those products.

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, voted against the bill, saying the original intent of an infrastructure stimulus was lost along the way.

“Despite originally being sold as an infrastructure bill, the fact is this bill contains less than 7 percent for infrastructure in the entire bill,” Inhofe said in a prepared statement.

“Furthermore, despite all the references to money going to shovel-ready highway and bridge projects, investment in highways comprises only 3 percent of the package.”

Senators took a stance and did not allow “highway beautification” projects in their version of the bill whereas the House version allowed them.

House and Senate leaders must agree to final bill language before they can send the bill to President Obama’s desk for his signature.

Appointed conference committees are scheduled to begin their task later this week.

– By David Tanner, staff writer