WASHINGTON — House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chief vote-counter for Democratic lawmakers, was confident the House would pass an $825 billion economic-stimulus bill today, though with little of the Republican support sought by President Obama.
The stimulus measure in its current form would bring South Carolina about $3.2 billion, much of it by late 2011, including a $905 million infusion to eliminate the state government deficit.
Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat, and House Budget Committee chairman John Spratt, D-S.C., said they'd vote for the recovery package. The state's four House Republicans anticipated voting against it.
With an expanded 256-178 Democratic majority, the House was expected to pass the stimulus plan along mostly party lines.
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Clyburn said almost 1 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last two months, with South Carolina's unemployment rate reaching 9.5 percent, the third-highest in the country.
"This is the bleakest economic environment we've seen since World War Two," Clyburn said. "America needs bold action to stimulate the economy and put people back to work."
Spratt, opening a committee hearing on the economy, said each week brings gloomier news.
"Whether one looks at the housing starts or the foreclosure statistics ... there's bad news all around us," Spratt said. "We simply cannot afford to let this economy get away from us, so we must do what's necessary to put it back on its feet."
Republicans said the stimulus package's cost has ballooned in recent weeks, and that it now has too few tax cuts and too much government spending.
"Our efforts must be (focused) on creating an economic environment where the private sector, not the public sector, will thrive," said Rep. Joe Wilson, a Lexington Republican. "We cannot afford to saddle our children and grandchildren with ever more debt through a nearly trillion-dollar gamble that many economists agree is not targeted to stimulate job creation in a timely manner."
Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody's Economy.com and a former adviser to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign, said the recovery plan would save or create 37,200 jobs in South Carolina by the end of next year, decreasing its unemployment rate by 1.7 percent.
"The House stimulus bill will not reverse the current recession, but it will provide a vital boost to the flagging economy," Zandi said in an analysis of the measure.
Aides to Rep. Henry Brown said he was leaning toward voting against the stimulus plan, but the Hanahan Republican told key constituents he would fight to include funds for the proposed $2.4 billion Interstate 73 from Michigan to South Carolina.
"I'm hoping we can get a sizable amount for I-73," Brown told more than 50 Grand Strand government and business representatives.
Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, though, told the visitors that the expressway to speed tourists to the state's Atlantic beaches likely would not get part of the stimulus funding because the bill is free of earmarked appropriations.
The I-73 project also is too early in its development stages to meet Obama's requirement that stimulus spending be limited to highway projects on which construction can start within six months.
South Carolina is slated to receive nearly $480 million in extra funds from the recovery bill to build and repair its roads and bridges. It would get more than $291 million to construct and renovate K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
In Washington, Obama held separate meetings with Republicans in the House and the Senate, saying he was open to their ideas but warning that Congress must act now to reverse the nation's economic slide.
"Statistics every day underscore the urgency of the economic situation," Obama told reporters after his meeting with House Republicans. "The American people expect action."
Urging lawmakers to "keep politics at a minimum," Obama added: "There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that. In some cases, they may just not be as familiar with what's in the package as I would like."
Rep. Gresham Barrett, interviewed on major TV networks as part of a House GOP "stimulus quick-response team," said he had found the new president "very charming and very sincere."
But the Westminister Republican said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hadn't allowed Republican lawmakers much input into the bill.
Kristie Greco, a Clyburn spokeswoman, flatly rejected that claim.
"For them to argue that they've not been part of this process is a farce," Greco said.
Pelosi distributed a "fact sheet" detailing Republican involvement in crafting the legislation:
• 24 hours of hearings last week by three House committees;
• 13 Republican amendments in the measure; and
• "business-friendly tax incentives" and no earmarks.
"We don't need Republican votes to pass this bill," Greco said. "The nation's in crisis. Something bold and decisive needs to be done."