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Obama hails stimulus plan as ‘major milestone’

Published on 14/02/2009

WASHINGTON - "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 comments came after the US Congress late Friday approved the package of tax cuts and fresh spending to salvage the broken US economy, handing the president his biggest political victory yet.

The Senate voted 60-38 to pass the measure hours after it cleared the House of Representatives by a lopsided 246-183 margin, setting the stage for Obama to sign it into law before his self-imposed February 16 deadline.

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, trains and expanding broadband Internet access.

It also features nearly 20 billion dollars for renewable energy and 11 billion to modernize the US electrical grid — steps former vice president Al Gore warmly endorsed weeks ago as a major downpayment on Obama’s strategy for fighting climate change.

The bill includes tax cuts — expected to benefit 95 percent of US 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 into the bill by Senate Democrats would also prohibit cash bonuses and almost all other incentive compensation for top executives at large companies that receive money under the government’s huge bailout program, US newspapers reported Saturday.

But Obama’s victory was bittersweet, as lawmakers approved a compromise stimulus plan that was smaller than the president had requested, and most Republicans rebuffed his appeals to join Democrats in backing the measure.

"This isn’t Monopoly money. It’s real. It adds up, and it has to be paid back, by our children and by their children," said Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid argued the stimulus plan would strengthen the US economy by creating millions of jobs.

In his address, the president promised to spend taxpayer dollars "with unprecedented accountability, responsibility, and transparency."

He said that once the plan is put into action, a new website — recovery.gov — will allow any American 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.

"For our plan to succeed, we must stabilize, repair, and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses," said Obama. "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, the president said measures would be needed to tame the country’s burgeoning federal deficit.

But he expressed confidence that Americans will be able to overcome the hardships.

"America, we will prove equal to this task," he said. "It will take time, and it will take effort, but working together, we will turn this crisis into opportunity and emerge from our painful present into a brighter future."