- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

UPDATED:

DENVER (AP) — Racing to reverse the country’s economic spiral, President Barack Obama signed a mammoth stimulus package into law Tuesday and readied a $50 billion rescue plan for Wednesday announcement to help legions of homeowners who are facing foreclosure.

There was no recovery yet for beleaguered automakers, who were back in Washington for more bailout billions. The United Auto Workers union said it had agreed to tentative concessions that should help Detroit’s struggling Big Three, but Chrysler LLC said it was cutting three vehicle models and 3,000 jobs and still needed a new $5 billion cash infusion from the government. General Motors Corp. received a fresh $4 billion.

Anything but reassured, Wall Street dove ever lower. The Dow Jones industrials fell 297.81 points, closing less than a point above their lowest level in five and a half years. Obama focused on the $787 billion stimulus plan, an ambitious package of federal spending and tax cuts designed to revive the economy and save millions of jobs.

Most wage-earners will soon see the first paycheck evidence of tax breaks that will total $400 for individuals and $800 for couples.

The stimulus package was a huge victory for Obama less than one month into his presidency. But he struck a sober tone and lowered expectations for an immediate turnaround in the severe recession that is well into its second year.

“None of this will be easy,” he said. “The road to recovery will not be straight. We will make progress, and there may be some slippage along the way.”

Still, he declared, “We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time.”

Underscoring energy-related investments in the new law, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden flew separately to Denver where the president signed it at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science before roughly 250 people including alternative energy business leaders. Earlier, the pair examined solar panels on the museum’s roof.

On Wednesday, Obama will outline another big piece of his recovery effort — a $50 billion plan to help stem foreclosures — in Arizona, one of the states hardest hit by the mortgage defaults that are at the center of the nation’s economic woes.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner mentioned the housing program last week as he rolled out a wide-ranging financial-sector rescue plan that could send $2 trillion coursing through the financial system. Obama is expected to detail how the administration plans to prod the mortgage industry to do more in modifying the terms of home loans so borrowers have lower monthly payments.

More than 2.3 million homeowners coast-to-coast faced foreclosure proceedings last year, an 81 percent increase from 2007. Analysts say that number could soar as high as 10 million in the coming years, depending on the severity of the recession.

In Denver, Obama said the stimulus package had received broad support in Washington and elsewhere, though Democrats pushed it to passage with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House.

One of the biggest public spending programs since World War II, the new law is designed to create jobs in the short term and to boost consumer confidence to battle the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. It also makes down payments on Obama’s health care, energy and education goals.

Taking the long view, Obama cast the law as just “the beginnings of the first steps” to jerk the country out of a crisis he inherited from GOP President George W. Bush.

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