December 7, 2008 in Nation/World

Obama outlines spending plan

Program focuses on infrastructure, modernizing public buildings
By Michael D. Shear Washington Post

WASHINGTON – On the heels of more grim unemployment news, President-elect Barack Obama on Saturday offered the first glimpse of what would be the largest public works program since President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the federal interstate system in the 1950s.

Obama said the massive government spending program he proposes to lift the country out of economic recession will include a renewed effort to make public buildings energy-efficient, rebuild the nation’s highways, renovate aging schools and install computers in classrooms, extend high-speed Internet to underserved areas and modernize hospitals by giving them access to electronic medical records.

“We need to act with the urgency this moment demands to save or create at least 2 1/2 million jobs so that the nearly 2 million Americans who’ve lost them know that they have a future,” Obama said in his weekly address, broadcast on the radio and the Internet.

Obama offered few details and no cost estimate for the investment in public infrastructure. But it is intended to be part of a broader effort to stimulate economic activity that will also include tax cuts for middle-class Americans and direct aid to state governments to forestall layoffs as programs shrink.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has called for spending $400 billion to $500 billion on the overall package. Some Senate Democrats and other economists have suggested spending even more – potentially $1 trillion – in the hope of jolting the economy into shape more quickly.

On Friday, the government reported that 533,000 jobs were eliminated in November, the largest one-month drop since 1974, raising unemployment to 6.7 percent. And last week, the National Bureau of Economic Research officially declared that the country has been in a recession since last December.

Republicans in the House oppose Obama’s plan, saying they favor a series of tax cuts that they say would put money in people’s pockets and encourage businesses to expand domestically.

Democrats said that even if a recovery act quickly passed the House early next year, it could take longer in the Senate, where fiscally conservative Republicans have expressed concern about adding to the soaring deficit with a massive new round of government spending. Even with at least 58 Democratic votes in the new Senate, Republicans could easily hold up a final vote, they said.

In his address, Obama offered the first outline of how he wants to direct the public works spending.

The largest share would go to roads and bridges and could be used to accelerate long-delayed repairs and expansions. Responding to concerns that new transportation money might be caught up in red tape at the state level, Obama said states must quickly invest in road and bridge construction and repair or lose the federal dollars.

Obama would also direct a “massive effort” to make federal buildings energy-efficient by replacing aging heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs. Obama said the effort to “green” the federal government would save taxpayers billions.

Much of the public works program would be aimed at improving technology. The government would pay for new computers in schools, new medical technology in hospitals and doctors’ offices, and a nationwide push to bring broadband to parts of the country that cannot yet access the Internet at high speeds.

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