The vast majority of Democratic members facing tough reelection races voted in favor of the $26 billion state-aid bill.
The bill passed 247-161 Tuesday, with 25 members not voting.
They were Reps. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) and Gene Taylor (D-Miss.).
Only Bright is thought to be in a tough reelection race, although Cooper has been distancing himself from the Democratic agenda. He was one of only three Democrats who switched from "yes" to "no" on the financial reform bill that passed June 30.
Ahead of Tuesday's House vote, Bright told The Hill he was undecided on the measure but said, "I am leaning heavily toward curbing the spending."
"I come from a very conservative district and my constituents don't believe in wasteful spending of any nature," Bright said.
Two House Democrats who are running for the Senate were nonplussed about being pulled off the campaign trail to vote for the bill.
“This is nothing to get upset about,” said Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.), who's running for retiring Sen. Evan Bayh’s (D) seat. “This is important stuff.”
Ellsworth cited his state’s popular Republican governor in explaining his “yes” vote on the legislation.
“This is legislation that Gov. [Mitch] Daniels asked for several months ago,” he said. “It’s paid for. It’s been offset, and it’s going to keep teachers in the classroom, it’s going to keep emergency workers on the job.”
Ellsworth added he would have preferred the House not to have adjourned in July. “You just gotta stay flexible in this job,” he said. “I think we stay and do the work.”
He said he planned to be back on the campaign trail Wednesday.
Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak (D), a Senate candidate in Pennsylvania, agreed with Ellsworth that the House should never have recessed.
“We should never have gone off onto the campaign trail, we should have been down here fighting to fix this economy,” said Sestak, who voted against adjournment.
Sestak was scheduled to be at a campaign rally in Scranton with former President Clinton Tuesday but was in Washington instead to vote.
Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.), who’s also running for the Senate, missed the vote because of a Democratic primary debate scheduled in Florida.
Several lawmakers had to make last-minute arrangements and cancel campaign appearances in order to make Tuesday’s vote. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced last week via Twitter the House would return to vote on the legislation, which provides $16 billion in Medicaid funding and $10 billion to prevent teacher layoffs. The Senate passed the measure last week but the House had already adjourned for August recess.
Two Republicans in tough races voted for the bill — Reps. Mike Castle (Del.) and Joseph Cao (La.).
Cao is trying to win reelection in one of the most heavily Democratic congressional districts in the country, while the centrist Castle is waging a campaign to fill Vice President Joe Biden's former Senate seat.
Another Republican who might have been tempted to vote in favor of the bill, Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii), voted "no" and slammed the measure as a "political ploy."
Djou won a May special election in a solidly Democratic district largely because his two challengers split the Democratic vote.
"Why do Hawaii taxpayers have to bailout other states who haven't been as responsible?" asked Djou. "Spending more money is always the easy thing to do, but this amounts to a tax increase."
Vulnerable Democrats who voted in favor of the aid stressed the bill does not add to the federal deficit and said the measure was vital to keeping tens of thousands of teachers in their jobs.
"I voted 'yes' to keep over 5,500 teachers in their classrooms in Ohio," said Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio), who is facing a tough challenge from Republican Steve Stivers, who narrowly lost to Kilroy in 2008.
"The only reason we had to rush back here is because Republicans in the Senate kept holding up help," Kilroy said.
Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), another endangered Democrat who has called on his party to rein in spending, said his decision to vote in favor of the bill hinged on ensuring the spending was paid for.
"This isn't going to worsen the deficit," said Minnick, noting that his state has already had to endure substantial cuts in education funding. "There's no national priority more important than educating our kids."
Republicans struck back, however.
National Republican Congressional Campaign communications director Ken Spain slammed Democratic members for "dismissing an opportunity to rein in runaway government spending and provide the fiscal discipline needed to create jobs."
And Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) called it "astounding" that Democrats would call members back to Washington to vote on the bill, and predicted that it would reverberate on the campaign trail.
"The American people are tired of the bailouts and the stimulus and all of the failed economic policies of this Congress and this administration," Pence said.
He also pushed back against the notion that the bill doesn't add to the federal deficit, saying Democrats are simply "moving money from one credit card bill to another."
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the measure was needed to alleviate financial pressure on New York and other states. “Firing 7,000 teachers in New York City is not a good thing,” she said. “And continuing to cut municipal employees is not a good thing.
“If people don’t have a job what happens? They go on, first, unemployment, then they go on welfare, then they go on Social Security disability, or whatever. So it becomes even more costly.”
Maloney characterized the bill as an “investment.”
“This is all part of the Democratic recovery,” she said. “States are hit with the double-whammy of decreased revenues and increased demands on services.”
Maloney, who faces a primary challenge on Sept. 14, said she planned to talk up the measure on the campaign trail in Manhattan.
“The bottom line is that it’s good for New York State,” the congresswoman said. “It brings $2.2 billion to New York State.”
She noted one of the stipulations of the bill was that governors would have to ask for the funds.
“So you won’t be able to have Republican governors saying, ‘I don’t want the money.’ I think that was a good addition. If they don’t want they money, they don’t have to ask for it.”