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Obama Signs Stimulus Bill

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Obama signed the economic stimulus bill today, putting hundreds of billions of dollars into the pipeline. It's an effort to breath new life into the nation's sputtering economy. The formal signing ceremony took place 1,689 miles from Washington, DC, far from the partisan battles that led up to passage of the measure last week. Mr. Obama signed the bill in Denver, where he kicked off a two-day campaign-style trip through the Mountain West. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Shortly before he signed the stimulus bill at Denver's Museum of Nature and Science, President Obama climbed on the roof of the building to inspect a large solar collector. It's the kind of green energy investment the president hopes to encourage with the stimulus, while at the same time bringing a little sunshine into the nation's cloudy economy.

President BARACK OBAMA: I don't want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we're going to have to do to turn our economy around. But today does mark the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.

HORSLEY: A week ago, when he was pushing Congress to pass the stimulus, Mr. Obama visited Elkhart, Indiana, which has suffered the nation's biggest spike in unemployment. The jobs picture here in Denver, by contrast, is somewhat better than the national average. That allowed Mr. Obama to talk not just about immediate job needs, but about the long-term possibilities opened by the stimulus in areas like energy, health care and education.

Pres. OBAMA: We're putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas.

HORSLEY: Even with that long-term focus, though, the urgent need for jobs now wasn't far from anyone's mind. The Boulder, Colorado company that installed that solar panel here at the museum has 55 employees, half of whom were in danger of getting pink slips in recent months as work dropped off. Now, instead of layoffs, CEO Blake Jones is thinking of hiring additional workers, thanks to the $50 billion in green energy incentives included in the stimulus bill.

Mr. BLAKE JONES (CEO, Denver Museum of Nature and Science): We're hoping that the thousands of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, roofers, salespeople, marketing people and executives that have been laid off by the building industries, that they'll consider joining us in the solar industry to help us install millions of solar panels in homes and businesses throughout the United States.

HORSLEY: Nationwide, the Obama administration hopes to save or create some three-and-a-half million jobs through the stimulus, including 59,000 here in Colorado. Some economists say it will be tough to meet that target with the scaled-down measure that cleared Congress last week. Parts of the stimulus, like a $70 billion provision to limit the Alternative Minimum Tax, do little to generate jobs. Overall, about two-thirds of the stimulus package consists of new government spending, including $46 billion for transportation projects. Colorado Governor Bill Ritter had a wish list totaling about one-and-a-half billion dollars for his state alone. Ritter thanked the administration for consulting with him and his fellow governors.

Governor BILL RITTER (Democrat, Colorado): They asked, they listened and they included our ideas for short-term job creation and long-term economic growth in the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

HORSLEY: The stimulus bill also includes what Mr. Obama called the most progressive tax cut in the nation's history: $115 billion for working families, an idea he campaigned on. That cut will mean a little more money left in worker's paychecks every week or two, which the government hopes they'll spend quickly. That money should start showing up in checks, then rippling through economy within a few months. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

HORSLEY: Tomorrow the president will be in Arizona to talk about his foreclosure mitigation plan. We've been hearing about as many as 10,000 foreclosures a day, until some of the big banks put a halt to that, just recently, while they wait to see what the government does. Today, the president also talked about other legs of the stool being financial regulation to prevent this kind of meltdown from happening again. And then, over the longer term, addressing the nation's deficit - trying to get the fiscal House in order.

President Obama said today that the signing of the stimulus measure is not the end of our economic troubles, but to sort of paraphrase Winston Churchill, he said, it is the beginning of the end.

BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Scott Horsley in Denver. Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.