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House Passes $819 Billion Stimulus Plan

The House of Representatives late Wednesday passed President Barack Obama's $819 billion plan to stimulate the economy and curtail the nation's year-old recession.

The 244-188 vote proceeded along party lines as expected. Only 12 Democrats opposed the measure, and no Republicans supported it.

Senate committees have been working on a separate version of the measure. It is not clear how quickly the Senate version will be completed, passed, and reconciled with the House measure, but Congressional leaders have promised Mr. Obama they would send him a completed bill by mid-February.

The House vote came after days of intense lobbying by the new president, including personal appeals to congressional Republicans. GOP lawmakers spurned Obama, saying the bill contains too much spending and not enough tax cuts.

Republican critics say the bill was little more than the fulfillment of a long-standing Democratic wish-list. Those critics pointed to $1 billion for Amtrak, $41 billion for local school districts and $127 billion for health care for the poor and unemployed, reports CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid.

Democrats argued that the bill was imperative with the economy in the worst shape since the Depression.

The lack of bipartisan support was a disappointment for Mr. Obama, Reid said, although the president put out a statement praising the bill's passage. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs stressed that a lot can still change in the coming weeks, calling today's events the third inning of a nine-inning game, Reid reports.

"The plan now moves to the Senate, and I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk. But what we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do,'' said Obama in his statement after the bill's passage.

The legislation includes an estimated $544 in federal spending and $275 billion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses. It includes money for highway construction and mass transit.

The Obama recovery package would be the largest spending bill ever to move through Congress. The House measure had been estimated to cost $825 billion, but the Congressional Budget Office updated the bill's price tag to $816 billion after accountants recalculated the cost. That total rose by $3 billion when the House approved a Democratic amendment for mass transit.

Read the full text of President Obama's address
Read highlights of the Obama stimulus package
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama sat down at the White House with a group of key business leaders to shore up backing for the massive spending and tax cut measure.

The group included pillars of the U.S. economy whose workforces are now taking it on the chin: I.B.M., which recently announced 2,800 layoff, Xerox (3.000 job cuts), Motorola (6,100), and Corning, which announced 3,500 layoffs just yesterday, Reid reports.

"These are people who make things, who hire people," Mr. Obama said at the start of the meeting with more than a dozen top executives. "They are on the front lines in seeing the enormous problems in our economy right now. Their ideas and their concerns have helped to shape our recovery package."

Mr. Obama expressed a sense of urgency but also said thate he and the corporate leaders "left our meeting confident that we can still turn our economy around."

But while popular perception is that Mr. Obama's plan enjoys wide support among economists, CNET's Declan McCullough writes that there is substantial skepticism in the field about the stimulus package's prospects for success.

There does seem to be one thing most can agree on, though - something needs to be done.

"I think the vast majority of economists on the liberal side, the conservative side, think we do need a stimulus along with other policy steps. But we need stimulus," Mark Zandi, of Moody's Economy, told CBS' The Early Show Wednesday.

Mr. Obama has spent his first days in office trying to drum up support for the plan. It's the first major test of his presidency; how he handles the volatile situation, and the effect of his stimulus package on the economy, could well set the tone for his presidency.

Much of the spending would be for items such as health care, jobless benefits, food stamps and other programs that benefit victims of the downturn.

The president said he understood skepticism about the size of the stimulus package, "which is why this recovery plan will include unprecedented measures that will allow the American people to hold my administration accountable." He said Americans would be able to follow the spending on a new Web site,

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