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US Congress passes stimulus plan
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The U.S. Congress Friday finally approved a massive stimulus package, an unprecedented attempt by the U.S. government to revive the sagging economy.

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks on the economic stimulus package to be voted on Capitol Hill, during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, February 13, 2009. [Xinhua/Reuters Photo] 

The 787 billion dollar package was approved by a vote of 246-183 in the House but with no Republican support. It advanced in the Senate by a vote of 60-38, three centrist Republicans joined Democrats to move the legislation forward.

Senator Sherrod Brown, who was in Ohio for his late mother's memorial service, flew back to Washington and cast the decisive 60th vote for the bill.

As the 1,071-page bill works its way toward President Barack Obama's desk, analysts believe that the new president was emerging as the biggest winner. Obama has set a Feb. 16 deadline for the bill.

"Barack Obama, in just a few short weeks as president, has passed one of the biggest packages for economic recovery in our nation's history," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The approval also capped 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, said U.S. media.

The final version on the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Conference Report" was completed just before 11 p.m. Thursday night and posted online.

In addition to roughly 286 billion dollars in tax cuts and 54 billion dollars for cash-strapped states, the package contains 311 billion dollars in appropriations, including 120 billion dollars in infrastructure, 14.2 billion dollars for health care, 105.9 billion dollars for education and training.

It also includes more than 37.5 billion dollars for energy infrastructure, 24.3 billion dollars for those impacted by the economic crisis and 7.8 billion dollars for law enforcement and other programs.

Obama hailed the bill, noting it will create over 3.5 million jobs in the next two years.

"It's a plan that will ignite spending by businesses and consumers, make the investments necessary for lasting economic growth and prosperity and save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years," said Obama in an address to business leaders at the White House earlier Friday.

"The goal at the heart of this plan is to create jobs, not just any jobs but jobs doing the work America needs done," said the president.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill could increase employment in a range of 800,000 to 2.3 million jobs by the fourth quarter of 2009 and 1.2 million to 3.6 million by the fourth quarter of 2010.

Republicans have fought for more tax relief and less spending, but House Minority Leader John Boehner complained, "all the talk we've heard about bipartisanship ... has gone down the drain."

Former Trade Representative Carla Hills welcomed the package. "I think what we should do is to give our economy a jolt, and importantly, give our consumers and our businesses a vote of confidence, so consumers come back to the market, and the businesses are able to produce for that market," she told Xinhua.

Despite a growing sense of urgency, many economists across the political spectrum still believe the massive bill might reduce the damages caused by the current economic crisis, but could not quickly pull the U.S. economy out of its downward spiral.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University and former chief economist at the World Bank, said that the stimulus package was "probably too little, especially given that it is badly designed (and) we haven't yet fixed the mortgage problem so the financial sector is likely to continue bleeding."

Leading U.S. business groups also scolded the "Buy American" provisions, which prohibit the purchase of foreign iron, steel and manufactured goods for any stimulus-funded infrastructure project, warning it would delude the bill's impact and lead to a global trade war.

"The 'Buy American' provisions ... will signal to our trading partners around the world that the U.S. is returning to the bad old days of protectionism and economic nationalism," Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association, said in a statement.

Obama also knew the difficulty, warning the bill is only the beginning of his efforts to revive the ailing American economy.

"Passing this plan is a critical step, but as important as it is, it's only the beginning of what, I think, all of you understand is going to be a long and difficult process of turning our economy around," said Obama.

"To truly address this crisis, we will also need to address the crisis in our financial sector to get credit flowing again to families and businesses," said the president.

"We need to confront the crisis in the housing sector, that has been one of the sources of our economic challenges, I will discussing that extensively soon," he added.

(Xinhua News Agency February 14, 2009)

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