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Obama's US$819B stimulus gets okay

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives approved a historically huge US$819 billion stimulus bill on Wednesday night, offering an early legislative victory in Barack Obama's presidency even as he failed to win over Republican support.

Obama has been hammering economic themes, but he was unable to sway the opposition in the first test of his bipartisanship goals. The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimously opposed.

With unemployment at its highest level in a quarter-century, the banking industry wobbling despite the infusion of staggering sums of bailout money and states struggling with budget crises, Democrats said the legislation was desperately needed, while Republicans argued that the bill was short on tax cuts and contained too much spending.

"This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years," the president said in a written statement released moments after the House voted. He later welcomed congressional leaders of both parties to the White House for drinks as he continued to lobby for the legislation.

Earlier, Obama declared, "We don't have a moment to spare" as congressional allies hastened to do his bidding in the face of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The increasingly troubled economy is the first major test of Obama's presidency. How he handles the volatile situation, and the effect of his stimulus package on the economy, could set the tone for his first year in office, if not his entire term.

The vote sent the bill to the Senate, where debate could begin as early as Monday on a companion measure already taking shape. Democratic leaders have pledged to have legislation ready for Obama's signature by mid-February.

Republican House leader John Boehner said the measure "won't create many jobs, but it will create plenty of programs and projects through slow-moving government spending." A Republican alternative, comprised almost entirely of tax cuts, was defeated, 266-170.

On the final vote, the Democratic bill drew the support of all but 11 Democrats, while all Republicans opposed it.


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