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How stimulus bill reignited the partisan divide

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Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom

(Read caption) Conservative economist Martin Feldstein (right) testified with former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich before House Democrats Jan. 7.

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So much for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

The bonhomie of early January, when liberals and some conservatives came together to call for a large stimulus package, has disappeared. As details of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 emerged after the House of Representatives approved the measure Wednesday, conservatives started to snipe at the largest spending bill in US history.

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"An $800 Billion Mistake" was the headline over a Washington Post op-ed by Martin Feldstein, President Reagan's chief economic adviser, who had testified earlier this month in favor of a stimulus.

"For a similar amount of money, the government could essentially cut the payroll tax in half," wrote Lawrence Lindsey, a former Federal Reserve governor and Bush adviser, in The Wall Street Journal Thursday. "This would put $1,500 into the pocket of a typical worker making $50,000, with a similar amount going to his or her employer."

The criticism from the outside mirrored the 244-to-188 party line vote in Congress. Despite President Obama's bipartisan outreach, not a single Republican crossed the line to support the package.

So where do we go from here?

It's not the size of the bill that worries conservatives, necessarily. It's how the money is being spent with lots of federal government say over who gets what. Instead of 400,000 taxpayers deciding what to do with, say, their $1,000 tax rebates, the House bill will give $400,000,000 for habitat restoration.

And the bill won't give the state of Illinois a penny of stimulus money (in most cases) until it gets rid of its impeached governor.

The complete lack of GOP support in the House spells potential trouble in the Senate, where Republicans have the votes to filibuster the bill (for an analysis, click here).

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Creating a new consensus, it seems, may prove just as challenging as building a new economy.