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$790 billion stimulus package speeds ahead

Plan highlights

The measure includes expanded unemployment benefits, food stamps, health coverage and money for transportation and other projects, as well as $54 billion in aid to states.

About 95 percent of workers will be eligible for Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax credit of $400 a year, or $800 for married couples.

About $21.5 billion in programs for special education and low-income kids is also included.

What's next? The House vote, possibly today or Friday, then a Senate vote. If passed by both, the bill would be sent to Obama.

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WASHINGTON — Moving with lightning speed, the Democratic-controlled Congress and White House agreed Wednesday on a compromise $790 billion economic stimulus bill designed to create millions of jobs in a nation reeling from recession. President Obama could sign the measure within days.

"More than one-third of this bill is dedicated to providing tax relief for middle-class families, cutting taxes for 95 percent of American workers," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a Capitol news conference where he was joined by moderates from both parties whose support is essential for the legislation's passage.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Reid's partner in negotiations over more than 24 intense hours, initially withheld her approval in a lingering disagreement over federal funding for school construction.

Obama, who has campaigned energetically for the legislation, welcomed the agreement in a written statement that said it would "save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track."

The emerging legislation is at the core of Obama's economic recovery program.

The president's signature tax cut was preserved — a break for millions of lower- and middle-income taxpayers of $400 per individual and $800 per couple. That's less than the $500 and $1,000 the White House originally sought, although officials said it would mean an estimated $13 per week extra per paycheck.

Wage-earners who don't earn enough to pay income taxes would get a reduction in the Social Security and Medicare taxes they pay.

Another provision will mean a one-time payment of $250 for millions of beneficiaries who receive Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and veterans pensions and disability, according to officials.

The president also won money for two other administration priorities — information technology in health care, and "green jobs" to make buildings more energy-efficient and reduce the nation's reliance on foreign oil.

The bill "will be the beginning of the turnaround for the American economy," predicted Sen. Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticut.

Republicans couldn't have disagreed more.

"It appears that Democrats have made a bad bill worse by reducing the tax relief for working families in order to pay for more wasteful government spending," said Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.

But some prominent Republicans straddled the issue.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, last year's Republican running mate and a potential White House contender in 2012, said her state was ready to accept a projected $1 billion in federal funds. But she criticized increased spending on social programs.

Pelosi was conspicuously absent from Wednesday's news conference in which members of the Senate announced the agreement.

Originally, Pelosi and House Democrats wanted a new program dedicated to school construction.

In the end, officials said the agreement added flexibility to a $54 billion State Stabilization Fund, to permit local governments to use some of the money for modernizing schools but not for building new ones.

Before congressional negotiators struck a tentative agreement, Florida officials expected to receive about $13.7 billion in the House version and $10 billion in the Senate version.

"Somewhere between $13 and $10 (billion) is where we hope we'll fall out. … And of course, we hope on the higher side,'' Gov. Charlie Crist's budget chief, Jerry McDaniel, said Wednesday.

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.

$790 billion stimulus package speeds ahead 02/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:41pm]
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