Savoring win, Obama celebrates 'major milestone'

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Associated Press
Sunday, February 15, 2009
— President Barack Obama will sign the newly passed $787 billion economic stimulus package on Tuesday in Denver, Colorado, officials said Saturday.

The measure, aimed at combating the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s, marks Obama's first major victory in Congress, less than a month after taking office.

Obama described the bill's passage as a "major milestone on our road to recovery."

Speaking in his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama said, "I will sign this legislation into law shortly, and we'll begin making the immediate investments necessary to put people back to work doing the work America needs done."

At the same time, he cautioned, "The problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread, and our response must be equal to the task."

The bill passed Friday with lawmakers largely voting along party lines, allowing Democratic leaders to deliver on their promise of clearing the legislation by mid-February.

The Senate approved the measure 60-38 with three Republican moderates providing crucial support. Hours earlier, the House vote was 246-183, with all Republicans opposed to the package of tax cuts and federal spending that Obama has made the centerpiece of his plan for economic recovery.

Obama "now has a bill to sign that will create millions of good-paying jobs and help families and businesses stay afloat financially," said Sen. Max Baucus, a Democrat who was a leading architect of the measure.

"It will shore up our schools and roads and bridges, and infuse cash into new sectors like green energy and technology that will sustain our economy for the long term," he added in a statement.

Despite Obama's early bipartisan goals, Republican opposition was nearly unanimous to the $787 billion package. Conservatives in both houses have been relentless critics, arguing the plan is filled with wasteful spending and that greater tax cuts would be more effective in creating jobs.

"A stimulus bill that was supposed to be timely, targeted and temporary is none of the above," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said in remarks Friday on the Senate floor. "And this means Congress is about to approve a stimulus that's unlikely to have much stimulative effect."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, in the Republicans' radio address Saturday, contended Democrats settled "on a random dollar amount in the neighborhood of $1 trillion and then set out to fill the bucket."

Told that no House Republican backed the measure Friday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs reacted by citing another number: "3.5 million jobs that we look forward to saving or creating."

Obama gave a thumbs-up sign upon hearing of the package's passage in the House. He hailed the massive bill and the "spirited debate" that accompanied it, but warned that "it's only the beginning of what we must do to turn our economy around."

He said those things include implementing the separate, newly reconfigured $700 billion financial industry bailout program, stemming home foreclosures, reforming financial sector regulations and crafting what he called a "responsible" federal budget.

The legislation, among the costliest ever considered in Congress, provides billions of dollars to victims of the recession through expanded unemployment benefits, food stamps, medical care, job retraining and more. Tens of billions are ticketed for financially strapped states to offset cuts they might otherwise have to make in aid to schools and local governments, and there is more than $48 billion for transportation projects such as road and bridge construction, mass transit and high-speed rail.

Obama's much touted tax break for middle- and working-class Americans survived but was scaled back. To tamp down costs, several tax provisions were dropped or sharply cut back.

The president also won billions of dollars for two other administration priorities the expansion of computerized information technology in the health care industry, and "green jobs" to make buildings more energy-efficient and reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.

Final details included the drafting of precise language on trade. The House included a "Buy America" restriction forbidding the use of foreign steel and other products on infrastructure projects funded in the bill. Negotiators were largely going with a Senate version that is much less restrictive, saying the U.S. would abide by its international trade commitments.

The approval caps an early period of accomplishment for the Democrats, who won control of the White House and expanded their majorities in Congress in last fall's elections.

Since taking office on Jan. 20, the president has signed legislation extending government-financed health care to millions of lower-income children who lack it, a bill that President George W. Bush twice vetoed. He also has placed his signature on a measure making it easier for workers to sue their employers for alleged job discrimination, effectively overturning a ruling by the Supreme Court's conservative majority.

After the Senate passed the stimulus package, Obama took his first significant break since taking office on Jan. 20.

Obama and his family are spending the President's Day holiday weekend at their Chicago home. Aides say they have no public events, and the first couple plans to go out for a Valentine's Day dinner Saturday night.

Last updated: 9:38 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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