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Obama signs stimulus bill; aides hint at further action

The $787-billion package is the cornerstone of a plan to create millions of jobs and reverse the economic downturn. On Wednesday the president will unveil a proposal for curbing home foreclosures.

February 18, 2009|Peter Nicholas

DENVER — Even as an aide hinted that another stimulus bill might be needed, President Obama on Tuesday signed into law the $787-billion package that is a cornerstone of his plan to reverse a dramatic economic downturn.

The stimulus is one of several White House steps designed to preserve or create about 3.5 million jobs and ease the recession.

The president will appear in Phoenix today to roll out a proposal to curb home foreclosures. Obama's Treasury secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, also is crafting a plan to stabilize banks and financial institutions.

Skepticism on Wall Street persists: The Dow Jones industrial average dropped nearly 300 points on Tuesday, or about 3.8%. Still, the president cast the stimulus, the first major piece of legislation passed on his watch, as a crucial milestone.

"I don't want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems," he told a crowd of supporters at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science before signing the bill. "Nor does it constitute all of what we're going to have to do to turn our economy around. But today does mark the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs."

Obama used 10 ceremonial pens to sign the bill, sitting at a wooden table adorned with the presidential seal.

Obama ventured 1,700 miles beyond the Beltway to underscore how the stimulus might help struggling cities recover. Unemployment in the Denver area stands at 6.3%, and home foreclosures numbered more than 1,000 in December. A state-by-state estimate issued by the White House predicted that the stimulus would produce or save 59,000 jobs in Colorado.

It may not be the last stimulus Obama pushes.

Aboard Air Force One en route to Denver, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs would not rule out another package. "I wouldn't foreclose it," Gibbs said, "but I wouldn't say at the same time that we are readily making plans to do so."

Obama was introduced in Denver by Blake Jones, chief executive of Namaste Solar, a Boulder-based solar electricity company. With Obama and Vice President Joe Biden standing behind him, Jones said his company had seen business prospects stall as the economy worsened. Passage of the stimulus will "open up markets again," he said, and help the company preserve jobs that might have been lost.

Overall, the bill sets aside $43 billion for energy programs, including those aimed at weatherizing homes and federal buildings and developing renewable power sources.

"Because of the stimulus bill, our pessimistic outlook has been injected with new hope and optimism," Jones said.

Though the bill represents a political victory for Obama, it didn't go as smoothly as he had hoped. At an early stage, the new administration was aiming for solid bipartisan support and an 80-vote majority in the Senate.

But only three Republicans wound up supporting the bill in the Senate. Not one House Republican signed on.

In his speech, Obama ignored the partisan nature of the vote. Instead, he emphasized the support the bill has received from Republican governors, mayors and various outside interest groups.

"It is a rare thing in Washington for people with such diverse and different viewpoints to come together and support the same bill," the president said.

In Washington, the partisan tone flared anew. House Republican leader John A. Boehner of Ohio predicted the package would miss the mark.

"The flawed bill the president will sign today is a missed opportunity, one for which our children and grandchildren will pay a hefty price," Boehner said. "The Democratic Congress produced a trillion-dollar, special interest, pork-laden partisan backroom deal that will do little to get our economy back on track."

Normally the White House is careful about managing public expectations, cautioning that a full economic recovery could take years. But in his remarks here, the president made ample use of superlatives. He cited provisions in the stimulus that help people who lose their jobs retain medical coverage -- part of a series of healthcare initiatives that, taken together, "have done more in 30 days to advance the cause of healthcare reform than this country has done in an entire decade," Obama said.

And he portrayed the stimulus as "the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history."

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said that the stimulus would "fall short of creating the promised new jobs, but will guarantee a larger debt burden on our children and grandchildren."

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peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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