- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 25, 2009

President Obama on Saturday put more meat on the bones of his $825 billion economic- rescue package, revealing that the plan would begin building an electrical grid for alternative-energy sources and that it would extend unemployment insurance for the third time in seven months while increasing payments.

The details did not please Republican leaders, who had expressed optimism Friday about their ideas being heard by the new president after meeting with him at the White House.

But the White House said the president’s plan is “designed not only to jump-start our economy and create jobs, but to lay the foundation for a more competitive 21st-century economy.”

“Through investments in clean energy, health care, education and other areas, the plan will address long-ignored national priorities … while making a down payment on our nation’s economic future,” said a report released as a supplement to Mr. Obama’s weekly video and radio address.

Mr. Obama promised, in the address, to begin the long process of connecting wind- and solar-energy plants, which are often in remote parts of the country and far from the main electrical grid.

“We’ll begin to build a new electricity grid that lay down more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines to convey this new energy from coast to coast,” he said.

There are 157,000 miles of transmission lines across the country, according to the Department of Energy, and “just to keep up with the increase in demand in the country, we have to build 8,000 to 10,000 miles a year,” said Anjan Bose, an electric-power engineering professor at Washington State University.

“In the big picture, [3,000 miles is] really a small amount of transmission,” he said. “But many of the places where solar and wind generators are being put in, the grid is very thin. Most of the wind resources are in the center of the country where there aren’t that many transmission lines.”

“If those lines are put into those areas, then of course it could make a big difference,” he said.

Mr. Obama also disclosed that under his plan, 10,000 schools would be modernized with “state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs,” benefiting about 5 million students. He said making 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient will save taxpayers $2 billion annually.

The White House also reported plans for “weatherizing at least 2 million homes to save low-income families on average $350 per year” and for helping about 8.5 million people to get or hold on to health care, either under a tax credit for those who recently lost a job or under Medicaid.

Unemployment insurance, which is traditionally paid out for 26 weeks but was extended twice by President Bush in June and November, would be further prolonged through the end of this year, and payments, which are usually about $300 a week, would be increased by $25 a week.

That means that some Americans who went on unemployment at the beginning of 2008 could draw the payments from the U.S. government for as long as two years continuously. The economy lost about 1.2 million jobs in 2008, and the number of new unemployment claims hit a 26-year high last week.

Mr. Obama said that a new Web site, www.recovery.gov, will track all of the government spending under the massive program, as part of an effort to identify and eliminate wasteful uses of taxpayer money.

Mr. Obama called the Web site one of several “unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my administration accountable for these results.” Recovery.gov tells viewers to “check back” after Mr. Obama’s stimulus plan is passed, “to see how and where your taxpayer dollars are spent.”

His plan, Mr. Obama said, “recognizes both the paradox and the promise of this moment: The fact that there are millions of Americans trying to find work even as, all around the country, there’s so much work to be done.”

Republicans were not impressed.

“This should be a bipartisan effort, but it doesn’t include the proposals put forward by House and Senate Republicans,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Mr. McConnell has called for a reduction in the 25 percent tax bracket to 15 percent.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, called for “fast-acting tax relief, not slow-moving government spending,” in a video and radio response to Mr. Obama’s weekly address. He has advocated that the 15 percent bracket be reduced to 10 percent, and the 10 percent bracket be reduced to 5 percent.

Mr. Obama met with his top economic advisers Saturday “to discuss the week’s developments” in Congress with the stimulus package, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. A vote is expected in the House on Wednesday.

The president has instituted a daily economic briefing — led by Lawrence H. Summers, head of the White House National Economic Council — that will function similarly to the national security briefing that Mr. Bush made into a daily occurrence after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

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