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Obama signs massive economic stimulus

PRESIDENT Barack Obama signed into law a US$787 billion economic stimulus plan yesterday, predicting the package of spending and tax cuts marked "the beginning of the end" of America's worst economic slide since the 1930s-era Great Depression.

Speaking in Denver, the city where he won the Democratic presidential nomination last August, Obama said the stimulus package - one of the most costly pieces of legislation in US history - cleared the way for Americans to begin "laying claim to a destiny of our own making."

By signing the bill outside of Washington, a highly unusual move, Obama signalled he would continue taking his message directly to the American people as he tries to stay above the partisan tensions still gripping the Capitol. Opposition Republicans in both houses of Congress were nearly unanimous in voting against the plan that Democrats hope will save or create 3.5 million jobs.

Shortly after signing the bill, Obama issued a long-expected order to boost US troop levels in Afghanistan, where a resurgent Taliban has retaken much of the ground it lost early in the seven-year-old war. The additional brigades would add about 17,000 troops to the slightly more than 30,000 US forces currently in Afghanistan.

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a statement.

That was a slap at his predecessor, George W. Bush, whom Obama has accused of slighting urgent national security needs in Afghanistan in favor of the war in Iraq.

Obama's stimulus passage, despite stark opposition, was a major legislative victory for the new president, who was closing out his first month in office under a storm of economic bad news and public pessimism.

Even with the promise of a huge infusion for the economy, the stock market tumbled about 4 more percentage points yesterday as investors continued selling off equities in a retreat to safer ground.

At least one state, Missouri, quickly began putting the promised funds to work. Construction crews began work on a replacement for a rural Missouri bridge minutes after the bill was signed. Officials said they believed it would be the first project supported by stimulus funds.

With the stimulus measure in place, Obama now must take vigorous steps to prop up the deeply troubled financial system, ease the pain of Americans facing home mortgage foreclosures and save the teetering auto industry.

Automakers General Motors Corp. and Chrysler, now kept afloat on a combined US$13.4 billion in federal emergency loans, said yesterday they'll need billions more in government loans than they predicted just two months ago. The two automakers also plan further job cuts and additional curtailment of auto production.

General Motors yesterday said it could need up to US$30 billion from the Treasury Department to keep operating. Included in that amount is US$13.4 billion the company has already received. Previously, GM had said it could need as much as US$18 billion.

Chrysler said it needs US$9 billion of total government financing, compared to its original request of US$7 billion. It has already received US$4 billion in government loans.

Both requests, submitted to Treasury yesterday, were part of restructuring plans the two automakers owed the government in exchange for earlier loans.

GM also said it would cut 47,000 jobs worldwide and shutter five more US factories in its massive restructuring plan. Chrysler plans to cut 3,000 jobs and eliminate three vehicle models.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters traveling to Denver with the president on board Air Force One that he would not rule out bankruptcy for Detroit automakers, even as the administration looked forward to reviewing the companies' restructuring plans.

Gibbs said it was important for the economy to have a strong and viable auto industry, adding it was up to automakers to make choices about what is most helpful to their recovery.

Gibbs also said the administration was keeping an open mind about a second stimulus effort. He stressed, however, that there were no plans currently in the works for one.

In remarks before signing the bill, Obama cautioned Americans not to expect a quick or dramatic economic turnaround and said government intervention was not at an end.

"I don't want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic troubles," Obama said before signing the legislation. "Nor does it constitute all of what we going to have to do to turn our economy around. But today does mark the beginning of the end."

Obama used the signing ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science to underscore investments the spending plan will make in "green" energy-related jobs. Colorado is one of the leading US states in the shift to renewable energy sources.

The White House announced a Web site,, that will allow tracking of where the stimulus money is spent. The White House press office also announced job growth projections for each state and congressional district.

Today, Obama will be in Arizona to unveil plans to help millions of homeowners avoid looming home mortgage foreclosures.

That will be a next and likely very costly move, designed to further bolster the stimulus program to pump federal money into infrastructure projects, health care, renewable energy development and conservation.

The stimulus plan will have to break through a stone wall of economic troubles. The unemployment rate is now at 7.6 percent, the highest in more than 16 years. Analysts warn the economy will remain feeble through the remainder of the year.


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