WASHINGTON -- Summoned back from summer break, the House on Tuesday pushed through an emergency, $26 billion jobs bill that Democrats said would save 300,000 teachers, police and others from election-year layoffs. President Barack Obama immediately signed it into law.
Lawmakers streamed back to Washington for a one-day session as Democrats declared a need to act before children return to classrooms minus teachers laid off because of budgetary crises in states that have been hard-hit by the recession.
Republicans saw it differently, calling the bill a giveaway to teachers' unions and an example of wasteful Washington spending that voters will punish the Democrats for in this fall's elections. The legislation was approved mainly along party lines by a vote of 247-161.
The aid for the states is to be paid for mostly by closing a tax loophole used by multinational corporations and by reducing food-stamp benefits.
Among South Carolina's six House members, Democrats Jim Clyburn and John Spratt voted for the measure and Republican Reps. Joe Wilson, Henry Brown, Gresham Barrett and Bob Inglis opposed it.
Clyburn, the House majority whip, said the education portion carries $143.7 million for South Carolina, saving the jobs of 2,400 teachers and other public school employees while preventing layoffs of police officers and firefighters across the state.
"Keeping American jobs at home and saving the jobs of our teachers, cops and firefighters is important," Clyburn said. "It will help keep our communities safe and keep classrooms from getting too big."
South Carolina is also slated to get $138 million in extra Medicaid funds to provide health care for poor people.
Obama, joined by teachers at a Rose Garden ceremony, said, "We can't stand by and do nothing while pink slips are given to the men and women who educate our children or keep our communities safe."
The Senate narrowly passed the measure Thursday, after the House had begun its August break.
The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or to ensure that more teachers won't be let go. The Education Department estimates that could save 160,000 jobs.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said his department would streamline the application process to get the money to local school districts quickly. He said three-fourths of the nation's districts have said they would be opening the school year with fewer teachers and "we wanted to avert a crisis for this year."
An additional $16 billion would extend for six months increased Medicaid payments to the states. That would free money for states to meet other budget priorities, including keeping more than 150,000 police officers and other public workers on the payroll.
The $26 billion package is small compared to previous efforts to right the flailing economy through federal spending. But with the election approaching, the political stakes were high.
"Teachers, nurses and cops should not be used as pawns in a cynical political game" resulting from "the Democratic majority's failure to govern responsibly," said Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif.
"Where do the bailouts end?" asked Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio. "Are we going to bail out states next year and the year after that too? At some point we've got to say, 'Enough is enough.' "
Democratic Rep. Jay Inslee said his state of Washington would get funds to keep 3,000 teachers. Republicans, he said, "think those billions of dollars for those corporate loopholes is simply more important than almost 3,000 teachers and classrooms in the state of Washington."