[ Manila Bulletin Online ] February 19, 2009
By STEPHEN COLLINSON
DENVER, Colorado (AFP) — President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed his huge $ 787-billion stimulus bill into law, declaring the ‘’beginning of the end’’ of the worst US economic crisis in 80 years.
‘’We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time,’’ Obama said, before putting his name on the most sweeping economic kick-start legislation in generations, in Denver, Colorado.
The president, who has been warning darkly of economic ‘’disaster’’ without quick action by the US government, adopted a more hopeful tone as he signed the bill, which may have deep implications for the success of his presidency.
But US stocks plunged on Tuesday as investors worried about whether government action would save the ailing economy, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 258.62 points (3.29 percent) to 7,591.79 at 1631 GMT.
Obama however said the bill’s enactment marked a watershed.
‘’I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn the economy around,’’ Obama said in the city where he vowed to unleash a wave of change in his convention speech in August.
‘’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.
‘’The beginning of what we need to do to provide relief from families worried they won’t be able to pay next month’s bills.
‘’The beginning of the first steps to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to longterm growth and prosperity,’’ the president said.
Obama signed the bill on a wooden desk in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, which has a pioneering solar plant, an example of new generation energy sources funded in the bill which Obama says will retool the US economy.
But even as he headed west to enact the historic law, passed at lightning pace for a new president, a clutch of other threats crowded his agenda, including the reeling auto industry and the mortgage crisis.
The White House meanwhile released state-bystate details on what it said would be the impact of the stimulus, which represents a huge multi-billion dollar gamble for Obama’s presidency and is known as the ‘’American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.’’
The figures also included detailed estimates of how many jobs the plan would create in each congressional district, an apparent attempt to pressure Republican House of Representative members who unanimously opposed the bill.
The new bill aims to create or preserve 3.5 million jobs, many of them socalled ‘’green jobs,’’ as the country confronts its highest unemployment rate in 16 years standing in January at 7.6 percent.
Obama aides had warned the unemployment rate would shoot into double figures if Congress refused to pass the plan.
Roughly one-third of the stimulus funds will be spent on tax cuts, totaling $ 286 billion, in an effort to boost consumer spending, a key engine of the world’s largest economy.
But a further $ 120 billion is being allocated to ‘’shovel-ready’’ infrastructure projects, for such things as transportation, road-building, improving the power grid and renewable energy installations.
But there has been Republican anger at the size of the package, and the bill was pushed through Congress only after a bruising battle. In addition to the Republican House boycott, only a handful of senators supported it.
‘’Our nation is in recession, and responsible action is required to help our economy protect and create jobs, this isn’t it,’’ said House Republican minority leader John Boehner in a statement on Tuesday.
‘’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.
On Tuesday, Obama was to learn more about how the auto industry, one of the pillars of the US economy, plans to ride out the economic downturn which has slashed sales and brought the Big Three carmakers to their knees.
General Motors and Chrysler must report to the Treasury by the end of the day on their restructuring plans, a condition of a $ 17.4-billion auto industry bailout funded by taxpayers.