Markets Shudder; Congress Places Economic Bets

It was quite a week in economic news. The market tanked when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner showed up but didn't have a lot of details. Both House and Senate passed the stimulus bill, but Obama's hopes of a bipartisanship effort never came to pass.

Host Scott Simon and NPR News Analyst Juan Williams talk about the week in politics and the passage of the stimulus bill.

Congress Approves $787 Billion Stimulus Plan

The Democratic-controlled Congress on Friday gave final approval to President Obama's $787 billion stimulus plan, a massive spending and tax cuts package designed to jump-start the nation's sagging economy. Republican opposition was nearly unanimous.

President Obama, who has lobbied vigorously for the measure, is expected to sign it within the next few days.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aims to create or save about 3.5 million jobs, many of which will come from transportation, environmental, broadband and other infrastructure projects. But despite the president's early efforts to win bipartisan support for the plan, it failed to win the backing of a single House Republican, and only three moderate Republicans voted for it in the Senate.

The measure won approval in the Senate late Friday night by a vote of 60-38. Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown cast the decisive vote after flying back to Washington aboard a government plane from his home state of Ohio, where he was mourning his mother's death. GOP Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Obama's former rival for the White House, decried what he saw as the lack of bipartisanship in the legislation.

"We want to work together with the other side," McCain said. "And this is not the example that I think the American people want us to exercise."

The House passed the measure earlier Friday on a 246-183 vote with no Republican support. Seven Democrats also voted against the package, and one Democrat voted present.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said the bill is an investment in the nation's success. "By investing in new jobs, in science and innovation, in energy, in education ... we are investing in the American people, which is the best guarantee of the success of our nation," she said.

But not everyone agreed. "This legislation falls woefully short," said House GOP Leader John Boehner of Ohio. "With a price tag of more than $1 trillion when you factor in interest, it costs every family almost $10,000 in added debt. This is an act of generational theft that our children and grandchildren will be paying for far into the future."

The Congressional Budget Office said the compromise package would cost $787.2 billion, slightly less than the $789 billion lawmakers had earlier estimated.

White House and congressional negotiators worked quickly this week to reach a compromise on competing versions of the legislation, putting them on track to meet Obama's goal of signing the bill into law by Presidents Day on Monday.

Speaking to a group of business leaders at the White House earlier Friday, Obama said the economic downturn has brought opportunities, as well as hardships.

"We have a once-in-a-generation chance to act boldly and turn adversity into opportunity, and to use this crisis as a chance to transform this economy for the 21st century," Obama said.

Obama said support from the business community and organized labor paved the way for the bill's quick passage. He has spent much of the week building support for the stimulus plan, a component of his strategy for lifting the country out of recession.

"Once Congress passes this plan and I sign it into law, a new wave of innovation, activity and construction will be unleashed all across America," Obama told a crowd in East Peoria, Ill., where he visited a Caterpillar equipment plant on Thursday. "Rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our dangerous dams and levees so we don't face another Katrina — think about all the work out there to be done — and Caterpillar will be selling the equipment that does the work."

The legislation, more than 1,000 pages long, was posted on the House Rules Committee Web site late Thursday. About 65 percent of the money ii0aqe measure goes toward spending, while about 35 percent goes toward tax cuts, including:

• $27.5 billion for highway projects

• $340 million for watershed and flood-prevention operations and watershed rehabilitation

• $2.5 billion for distance learning, telemedicine and broadband programs

• $150 million for economic development assistance programs

• $4.7 billion for a broadband technology opportunities program

• $6 billion for local clean water initiatives

• $21 billion to aid laid-off workers with employer-provided health insurance through COBRA

• $53.6 billion to help states deal with budget deficits

• $36.2 billion for energy spending

• $19.9 billion for aid to poor families

• a tax credit of up to $400 for low- and middle-income individuals and $800 for families

• a one-time payment of $250 to recipients of Social Security and government disability

Meanwhile, Obama economics adviser Lawrence Summers warned the public against thinking the plan would be a quick fix for the nation's ailing economy.

"We're not promising some silver bullet for the economy," Summers said in an interview Friday on NBC. "Indeed, what really is very important about President Obama's approach is his commitment to working this through step by step in its many aspects."

With additional reporting by other NPR staff and wires

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