Obama Promotes Energy, Health Insurance in Stimulus

by Lesley Politi on February 5, 2009

By Kim Chipman and Julianna Goldman

Jan. 24 (Bloomberg) — President Barack Obama, seeking to sell his stimulus package to the public, promoted plans to build up clean-energy industries, expand health-insurance coverage and boost security at U.S. ports as part of the broader effort to pull the economy out of a yearlong recession.

“If we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse,” Obama said today in his first weekly radio and video address as president.

The administration released a report today outlining some of Obama’s priorities for the two-year recovery package. They include loan guarantees for renewable-energy investors, providing health insurance coverage to almost 8.5 million people who’ve lost jobs and enhancing security at 90 ports.

The president is trying to keep up momentum for his plan to boost the economy so that he can sign legislation by mid- February. House Democrats already have begun work on an $825 billion package of spending and tax cuts, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she will bring the package to the House by Jan. 28. The Senate released portions of its proposal yesterday.

House Minority Leader John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, criticized the Democrats’ economic-recovery plan today as a “borrow and spend” proposal that won’t work as well as proposals championed by his party.

Government Projects

Boehner, in his party’s first weekly radio and video address since Obama’s inauguration, said the “spending plan authored by congressional Democrats is chock-full of government programs and projects, most of which won’t provide immediate relief.”

“We’re committed to working with President Obama in search of swift, bipartisan action that creates jobs, not another Washington program that over-promises and under-delivers,” Boehner said today.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican congressional leaders, while expressing disagreement with some of the details, said yesterday they expect to reach an agreement on the legislation by the deadline Obama has set.

Obama met with his economic advisers today at the White House. They discussed the stimulus plan “and proposals going forward including the budget,” Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary, said in an e-mailed statement.

Participants in the meeting included Larry Summers, director of the National Economic Council; Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget; White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel; senior Obama adviser David Axelrod, and Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economic adviser, Jared Bernstein.

Economy Weakens

The new president and lawmakers are confronting signs of a weakening economy: Housing starts fell 16 percent last month, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has lost more than 7.9 percent since the start of the year. The nation lost 2.589 million jobs last year, the most since 1945, and companies including Microsoft Corp. and Deere & Co. have announced more cuts.

Obama in his address today stressed that he’s seeking long- term economic growth with the spending portion of his plan and not just a quick boost to create jobs.

“It’s one that will invest in our most important priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure that are necessary to keep us strong and competitive in the 21st century,” he said.

Renewable Energy

According to the report released along with Obama’s address, the administration has set a goal of doubling renewable energy generating capacity in three years and accelerating an overhaul of the nation’s power transmission system.

“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.

Obama says his plan would provide Americans who lose their jobs a new tax credit to keep their health insurance under a 1986 law known as Cobra, which allows many unemployed workers to pay to keep their health benefits. It also would increase Medicaid help to low-income people who don’t have access to insurance. Obama also says he would expand the child tax credit.

In a bid to make the country less vulnerable to attacks, Obama said he will boost security at 90 U.S. ports and create a better communications network for local law enforcement and public safety officials in the event of an emergency.

The report also promotes Obama’s push to modernize 10,000 schools and provide a higher education tax break to almost 4 million students.

Avoiding Needless Spending

Obama said transparency and the avoidance of needless government spending will be crucial to his plan’s success. He said taxpayers will be able to see how their money is being used on a new website, http://www.recovery.gov, once the economic stimulus legislation is approved by Congress.

“Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, and informed by independent experts whenever possible,” he said.

Obama’s advisers have said at least 75 percent of the money will be spent in the first 18 months after passage.

The legislation crafted by House Democrats includes $358 billion for public works projects, $192 billion in other spending and $275 billion worth of tax cuts. The Senate has begun work on part of its version of the stimulus plan, which includes $275 billion in tax provisions, including cuts for businesses and producers of renewable energy that differ from the House package

Source: /www.bloomberg.com

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