Stimulus Signed, Obama Moves To Foreclosures

In Arizona Wednesday, President Obama outlines a plan to help homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages. He's promised to devote at least $50 billion to the effort to stem the rising tide of foreclosures. This is the second piece of the president's economic recovery strategy. The first piece became law Tuesday when he signed the massive economic stimulus bill.

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President Obama introduces the next phase of his economic recovery plan today. This one is aimed at homeowners who are struggling to pay their mortgages. He's promised to devote at least $75 billion to the effort. This comes a day after Mr. Obama signed the massive economic stimulus package into law. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

President BARACK OBAMA: It is great to be back in Denver.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama traveled to Denver's Museum of Nature and Science to sign the stimulus measure. He recalled that it was in Denver last summer that he accepted his party's nomination for the White House, promising to give every American a chance to improve his life.

President OBAMA: And I'm back today to say that we have begun the difficult work of keeping that promise. We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time, and that's why we're here today.

(Soundbite of applause)

HORSLEY: Sitting at a wooden desk borrowed from the Colorado governor's mansion, Mr. Obama signed the $787 billion stimulus bill - a combination of tax cuts and new government spending he hopes will backfill the deep hole the recession has left in the nation's economy.

Mr. Obama says the stimulus is also intended to lay a foundation for new opportunities in healthcare, education and alternative energy. He was introduced at the signing ceremony by Blake Jones, whose small Boulder-based company installs solar panels on homes and businesses.

Mr. BLAKE JONES (Owns Alternative Energy Company): We also specialize in designing systems for museums that have good rooftops for presidential tours.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HORSLEY: Jones wasn't laughing a few months ago when business slowed so much he worried about having to lay off half his 55 workers. Now, thanks to the green energy investments in the stimulus bills, Jones is planning to hire more workers to tackle what he calls wrench-ready projects.

Mr. JONES: We're just one small business creating one to two dozen jobs. The point I want to stress is that there are thousands of small businesses just like ours that will be doing the same thing.

HORSLEY: Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, whose executive mansion has its own solar panels, says developing alternatives to fossil fuels is only part of the objective.

Governor BILL RITTER (Democrat, Colorado): It's also about creating new economic opportunities so parents can keep food on the table, so they can send their kids to college, so they can afford healthcare.

HORSLEY: Overall, the Obama administration hopes the stimulus package will save or create some three-and-a-half million jobs over the next two years. Some economists say it'll be hard to meet that target, since the measure was scaled back in order to win a bare minimum of Republican support, and since some major components of the package promise little in the way of job creation.

Mr. Obama acknowledges the stimulus is only the beginning of what's needed. His advisers are also working on plans to stabilize the banking system, rewrite financial regulations, and protect homeowners who can't pay their mortgages.

President OBAMA: We must stand the spread of foreclosures and falling home values for all Americans and do everything we can to help responsible homeowners stay in their homes.

HORSLEY: It's that last challenge the president addresses today in Arizona, which has the nation's third-highest foreclosure rate. He's calling for the government to share the cost of restructuring millions of home loans, a measure with a price tag of $75 billion.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs suggested on Air Force One yesterday even people who can pay their mortgage have a stake in seeing this work.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (White House Press Secretary): Ten thousand people face foreclosure every day in this country, and it's a problem that not only affects the individual homeowner and their family but oftentimes has a direct impact to home values in the neighborhood that that house or homes are on.

HORSLEY: The president cautioned in Denver yesterday none of these economic fixes will be easy. But with efforts like the stimulus bill, he said, an economic crisis can be turned into an opportunity.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Phoenix.

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Obama Signs Stimulus Bill

President Obama signed the $787 billion economic stimulus package into law on Tuesday, setting in motion a wave of spending and tax cuts intended to lift the country out of a 14-month recession.

The plan aims to create or save about 3.5 million jobs, many of them in infrastructure and renewable energy projects.

Obama said the measure marked "the beginning of the first steps to set our economy on a firmer foundation."

He said the plan will put Americans to work in jobs that will build the foundation for growth in the future, and that the plan is one phase of a broader plan to put the economy back on track.

The White House launched a Web site, www.recovery.gov, to allow the public to track how the stimulus money is spent.

Obama signed the measure at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, a century-old building that recently had 465 solar panels installed on the roof. The site was selected to highlight the provisions in the stimulus package that aid the growth of the renewable energy industry.

The measure also includes a $400 tax break for most individual workers and $800 for couples. It gives aid to states, provides financial incentives to buy homes and cars, increases unemployment benefits and food stamps, and subsidizes health insurance for laid-off workers and the poor.

The president faced a supportive crowd at the museum, but conservatives planned to protest the measure on the steps of the state capitol.

I don't want to pretend this marks the end of our economic problem, nor does it represent all we are going to have to do," the president said. But Obama said the most sweeping economic recovery package in U.S. history would put the country back on track for economic growth.

Obama was scheduled to unveil yet another part of his economic recovery effort Wednesday in Arizona: a plan to help millions of homeowners avoid foreclosure. Phoenix has one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.

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