Obama Signs Stimulus To Jump Start Economic Recovery

President to end economic stimulus battle the way he began it: on the road.

February 17, 2009, 11:37 AM

Feb. 17, 2009— -- An optimistic President Obama signed a massive economic stimulus bill in Denver this afternoon, enacting a law he has said is necessary to avoid catastrophe.

"Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles," Obama said today at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. "Nor does it constitute all of what we must do to turn our economy around. But it 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; to provide relief for families worried they won't be able to pay next month's bills; and to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long-term growth and prosperity."

Signing the measure at a location far removed from the politics of Washington, Obama called the legislation "the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history." The president appeared at the museum that features solar panels and other environmental technology, a venue where he talked about new green jobs and other opportunities that the stimulus is designed to spur.

"There is no better place for this signing ceremony than right here in Colorado, the home of the new energy economy," said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter before the president spoke.

With an estimated 20,000 people losing their jobs each day, the stimulus package is worth an estimated 5 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

"We're talking about huge jobs cuts that are going to be made less huge, and it's a big deal for the economy," said Paul Krugman, 2008 Nobel Prize winner in economics and an ABC News consultant, on "Good Morning America" today.

The White House today officially launched a new Web site, www.recovery.gov to show how the funding for the economic recovery package is allocated to federal agencies. Once the money starts going to states, the site will feature a searchable database, allowing Americans to see how and where the money is being spent.

The $787 billion stimulus package cleared its final legislative hurdles on Capitol Hill Friday night, marking a big win for Obama despite a vote sliced nearly perfectly along party lines. Republican Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine and Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania were the only GOP lawmakers in either chamber to support the stimulus measure.

"I'm particularly pleased that this bill includes investments in areas I've worked my whole political career," said Vice President Joe Biden, speaking in Denver Tuesday before the president.

Obama took an optimistic tone today as he continued to navigate a fine line between alarm and hope. This has been the president's challenge -- conveying urgency to prod action, as seen in photos showing the president lobbying lawmakers, while simultaneously avoiding a panic and instilling confidence.

"I'm constantly trying to thread the needle between sounding alarmist but also letting the American people know the circumstances that we're in," Obama said on "Nightline" last week.

As he prepared to sign a law viewed as an early milestone of his presidency, historians said Obama's oratory has so far helped where his actions have been wanting.

"You see Obama sputtering a lot in January and February 2009," said presidential historian Doug Brinkley. "It's his rhetoric that keeps saving him."

The president is, of course, a student of history. Obama has praised the way President Ronald Reagan was able to make America feel good again, and Obama's aides say he has been guided in recent weeks by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Obama is said to admire FDR's fireside chats for his ability to explain problems so the average American could understand them and feel confident a solution was coming. When writing his speeches, FDR would think of a workplace where one man was painting a ceiling, another fixing a car and a third sat at a cash register, and he would purposefully try to tailor the speech to those citizens.

Obama reads some of the e-mails sent to the White House from struggling Americans, which aides say helps him focus on the nature of the problems.

Still, Brinkley said Obama may have a ways to go in his pitch before he can credibly claim the oratorical mantle of FDR.

"It needs to be packaged a little bit better so it's just not an argument of what company should we bail out," Brinkley said.

'Cutting Back the Cutbacks'

Economists are assessing when and where the average American will start to see the money.

As early as March, states will receive $150 billion to prevent layoffs of policemen, firemen, teachers and other jobs.

"Those positive effects are already happening," Krugman said. "States which were planning really savage cutbacks in their employment, in their construction projects and so on, are cutting back the cutbacks. And so we're seeing that the job losses, though they're still going to happen, are not going to be as bad as they were. States are already taking that into account. So the stimulus started working before it began."

Next the country could see another $180 billion for roads, school and mass transit projects, through local projects such as repairing bridges and schools.

"It won't really start until the summer, and, at the peak, will come much later than that," Krugman said. "The thing about infrastructure is that it takes time."

In June, individual taxpayers will also see an additional $13 dollars per week in their paychecks.

"Basically everybody's going to be getting a small but persistent tax break, so add it all up and it ends up being a pretty significant thing," Krugman said.

Another $8 billion is allocated for creating a system of high-speed passenger trains. Added in the 11th hour, it is the largest single piece of infrastructure spending in the bill.

The stimulus also gives Education Secretary Arne Duncan $100 billion to spend.

On Sunday, White House senior advisor David Axelrod said the stimulus would have an immediate impact on the economy.

"All over the country you're going to see shovels in the ground," Axelrod said on "Fox News Sunday." "You're going to see construction projects underway. The other thing you're going to see are people not being laid off -- police and firefighters and teachers -- because states now are going to have funding to forestall those kinds of things. So I think you'll see an effect of it, but in terms of the overall economy we're in the worst recession since World War II and it's going to take -- it took us a long time to get into this mess -- and it's going to take us a while to get out of it."

Obama, too, said in his weekly radio address that the economic stimulus package is just the first step.

"For our plan to succeed, we must stabilize, repair and reform our banking system, and get credit flowing again to families and businesses," Obama said in his radio address this weekend. "We must write and enforce new rules of the road, to stop unscrupulous speculators from undermining our economy ever again. We must stem the spread of foreclosures and do everything we can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes."

Indeed, next up on his economic recovery agenda, the president will discuss his administration's plans to tackle home foreclosures on Wednesday in Phoenix.

Congress has already scheduled an accountability hearing for March 5 on the stimulus package.

ABC News' Jake Tapper, Z. Byron Wolf, Sunlen Miller and Jonathan Karl contributed to this report.