US Congress passes stimulus plan
With the enormous package, Obama claimed the biggest political victory yet of his nascent administration.Washington -- American President Barack Obama on Saturday hailed a 787 billion dollar economic stimulus plan passed by Congress as "a major milestone" and promised to sign the bill into law shortly.
With the enormous package that aimed at reviving a foundering US economy, creating millions of new jobs and stemming the home foreclosures which helped spark the global financial meltdown last year, Obama claimed the biggest political victory yet of his nascent administration.
"This is a major milestone on our road to recovery, and I want to thank the members of Congress who came together in common purpose to make it happen," Obama said in his weekly radio address.
The Congress late Friday approved the package of tax cuts and fresh spending to salvage the broken American economy, with the Senate voting 60 to 38 to pass the measure after it cleared the House of Representatives by a 246 to 183 margin.
The passage sets the stage for Obama to sign it into law by his self-imposed February 16 deadline, timing that his spokesman Robert Gibbs said was possible provided the paperwork was completed quickly.
Obama expressed confidence that the plan "will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years, ignite spending by business and consumers alike and lay a new foundation for our lasting economic growth and prosperity."
The legislation, a product of hard-fought negotiations this week, allocates 120 billion dollars to infrastructure spending, including money for highways.
It also features nearly 20 billion dollars for renewable energy and 11 billion to modernize the American electrical grid -- steps former vice president Al Gore warmly endorsed weeks ago as a major down payment on Obama's strategy for fighting climate change.
The bill includes tax cuts -- expected to benefit 95 percent of American families -- and tens of billions of dollars for extending unemployment benefits, bolstering healthcare for the least well-off and funds to help cash-strapped states avoid cuts in services like education.
A provision inserted by Senate Democrats would also prohibit cash bonuses for top executives at large companies that receive money under the government's bailout program, American newspapers reported Saturday.
But Obama's victory was bittersweet, as lawmakers approved a compromise stimulus that was smaller than the president had requested. Most Republicans rebuffed his appeals to join Democrats in backing it.
"This isn't Monopoly money,” said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “It's real. It adds up, and it has to be paid back, by our children and by their children."
"Republicans have been supportive of a stimulus plan all along," said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, delivering the Republican party's response to the president Saturday. However, they are skeptical about whether one of the largest American government outlays in history would create jobs, she added.
"Over the past few weeks, a serious difference of opinion has emerged over what an economic recovery plan should include," Murkowski said. "Democrats, it seems, settled on a random dollar amount in the neighborhood of a trillion dollars and then set out to fill the bucket."
In his address, the president vowed to spend taxpayer dollars "with unprecedented accountability, responsibility, and transparency."
He said once the plan is put into action, a new website -- recovery.gov -- will allow Americans to watch where the money goes and weigh in with comments and questions.
But he cautioned that the stimulus package would be the beginning rather than the end of efforts to turn the economy around because "the problems that led us into this crisis are deep and widespread.”
Obama said wide scale reforms are needed for the road to recovery. “For our plan to succeed, we must stabilize, repair, and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses,” he said. "We must write and enforce new rules of the road, to stop unscrupulous speculators from undermining our economy ever again."
He also said the US government must stem the spread of foreclosures and do everything it can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes.
Over the long term, measures would be needed to tame the country's burgeoning federal deficit, the president said. However, he expressed confidence that Americans would be able to overcome the hardships.
"It will take time, and it will take effort,” he said. “But working together, we will turn this crisis into opportunity and emerge from our painful present into a brighter future."