Obama signs $787B stimulus

ByMimi Hall and David Jackson, USA TODAY
February 17, 2009, 6:26 PM

WASHINGTON -- The economic stimulus package President Obama signed on Tuesday gives a huge boost to a host of social programs, research proposals and construction projects that Democrats and advocacy groups have been promoting for years.

The $787 billion stimulus legislation contains new spending on health care, education, energy and the environment, including for programs to teach math and reading in poor school districts, build high-speed rail systems, study disease prevention, weatherize homes and more.

"We're putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas that have been neglected for too long," Obama said in Denver, as he signed into law what he called "the most sweeping economic recovery package in our history."

Conservatives and Republican leaders in Congress say the plan won't do enough to stimulate the broken economy and will leave a staggering debt.

"It's a hodgepodge of government spending," said Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., his party's chief vote counter. "Every single bit of this is borrowed money."

To fund government spending, the Treasury borrows money from investors by selling Treasury bills, notes and bonds.

Dan Mitchell of the libertarian Cato Institute called the package a "Trojan horse" that houses "a combination of payoffs to different Democratic constituencies."

Among the new programs and stepped-up funding:

•On energy, a home-weatherizing program has been getting $250 million a year. It will get $5 billion over the next year and a half as part of $50 billion slated to cut energy costs.

"They are funding programs that have been starved for years under the Bush administration," says Daniel Weiss, director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress, a think tank run by John Podesta, Obama's transition director.

High-speed rail programs also will be funded for the first time, with $8 billion out of $48 billion overall for transportation projects.

•On education, a $13.7-billion-a-year program to provide academic help to children in high-poverty areas will get a $10 billion increase.

"The money's going to bring us a long way toward what should have been provided over the past several years," says Joel Packer of the National Education Association.

•On medical research, Obama hailed "the biggest increase in basic research funding" for the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The NIH will get $10 billion for research and construction, much of it at the behest of Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. He was one of only three Republicans in Congress to support the package.

Not all liberal groups were happy with Obama's recovery plan.

Families USA, a health care advocacy group, praised the legislation for including $87 billion for states to help prevent cuts in Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor.

But director Ron Pollack said he is disappointed there were no funds to expand Medicaid to laid-off workers. "The absence of temporary Medicaid coverage for unemployed workers represents a regrettable lost opportunity to help families during their period of greatest need," he said.

Contributing: Julie Appleby

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