*Obama will sign stimulus legislation Tuesday
*Congressional approval gives Obama much-needed boost
*Republicans say much of bill's spending "wasteful"
By Matt Spetalnick
CHICAGO, Feb 14 U.S. President Barack Obama on
Saturday hailed congressional approval of a $787 billion
economic stimulus bill as a "major milestone on our road to
recovery" and the White House said he would sign the
legislation on Tuesday in Denver.
"I will sign this legislation into law shortly, and we'll
begin making the immediate investments necessary to put people
back to work," Obama said, savoring his biggest legislative
victory since taking office on Jan. 20.
The Senate cast the final vote, 60-38, late on Friday,
hours after the House of Representatives passed an identical
bill, 246-183, capping weeks of arguing over how to best jolt
the economy out of deep recession.
Obama and his fellow Democrats who control Congress failed
to win over many Republicans, falling short of the broad
bipartisan support he sought for the massive package of
increased spending and tax cuts.
But Obama brushed off partisan bickering over the stimulus
bill as "healthy differences of opinion."
"Congress has passed my economic recovery plan -- an
ambitious plan at a time we badly need it," he said in his
weekly radio address delivered during his first trip home to
Chicago since assuming the presidency. "This is a major
milestone on our road to recovery."
Obama, who had warned that economic crisis could turn to
catastrophe without rapid government intervention, said the
stimulus would "lay a new foundation" for lasting growth.
The White House has said it will take about a month for the
money to start flowing. But a primary concern for economists is
that the stimulus will come too late to do much good in 2009,
when many forecasters think full-year output will contract.
Despite that, final passage of the stimulus bill gives a
much-needed boost to the new president, whose "No-drama Obama"
image has come under strain of late.
He has had an uneven start, dealing with an uproar over the
tax problems of several top Cabinet choices and the abrupt
withdrawal last week of his nominee for commerce secretary,
Republican Sen. Judd Gregg, citing policy differences.
But Obama has kept his approval ratings high by tackling
the economy as his top domestic priority. His recipe includes
middle-class tax cuts, infrastructure spending, help for the
poor and unemployed and investment in alternative energy.
He predicts that the stimulus plan will save or create more
than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years.
But the stimulus debate in Congress has also laid bare
bitter divisions over how to boost an economy suffering a
rising jobless rate of 7.6 percent and a banking crisis that
has nearly frozen lending.
Only three Republicans voted for the measure in the
100-seat Senate, and no Republicans broke ranks to support it
the House, arguing it had too much spending and not enough tax
breaks. The final plan was split into 36 percent for tax cuts
and 64 percent in spending and other provisions.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, delivering the Republicans' radio
address, said Democrats should be mindful that funding spent on
stimulus "isn't Monopoly money" and it adds to the federal
deficit. "Much of the spending is wasteful," she said.
But Obama, pointing out that he had inherited a $1 trillion
federal deficit after eight years of Republican rule, defended
the increase in deficit spending from the stimulus as necessary
in the short-term "in order to jump-start our sick economy."
He pledged to submit a proposed federal budget in coming
weeks that will "begin to restore the discipline these
challenging times demand."
He insisted in addition to the stimulus plan, there was a
critical need to "stabilize, repair, and reform our banking
system" and stem the spread of housing foreclosures.
"We must write and enforce new rules of the road, to stop
unscrupulous speculators from undermining our economy ever
again," Obama said. But he offered no specifics.
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner faced heavy criticism
last week when he announced the administration's plan to rescue
the banking industry but gave few details.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)