Pen strokes evoke hope and fear, too

By Jason Kosena

It’s final. With the strokes from 11 of his pens, President Barack Obama signed into law the most sweeping economic recovery package in the nation’s history at a Tuesday afternoon session at Denver’s Museum of Nature & Science.

President Barack Obama delivers his economic recovery speech in Denver as Vice President Joe Biden stands by and listens. The 1,200-page stimulus bill awaits Obama’s signature on the desk to the right.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Dubbed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the $787 billion package passed by Congress is intended to reinvigorate consumer spending, restore public optimism and save jobs.

It also will add substantially to the nation’s growing deficit and to the public’s growing unease about federal spending.

“Today does not mark the end of our economic troubles,” Obama told an invite-only crowd of a couple hundred. “Nor does it constitute all of what we must do to turn our economy around. But it does mark the beginning of the end — the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs... to provide relief for families... and to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long-term growth and prosperity.”

Obama chose the museum as the setting for the historic moment as a way to emphasize the investment in “green” energy jobs the new law is expected to promote, White House officials said. To emphasize that point, Obama took a pre-speech tour of the museum’s rooftop in order to view recently installed solar panels designed to cut energy consumption.

The recovery plan — which passed the House on a straight party-line vote and the Senate with only three Republicans in support — infuses cash into infrastructure projects, health care, conservation and a myriad of progressive projects ranging widely in size, scope and purpose — including funding for the arts as well as scientific studies of global warming.

The plan also gives $400 in tax breaks to most working Americans and $800 to couples and provides states with emergency funding to combat looming budget deficits and layoffs. Furthermore, it offers tax credits to first-time homebuyers and to people who purchase new cars in 2009.

Back in Colorado for the first time since his election in November, Obama touted the stimulus as legislation that will directly benefit the state’s residents and economy.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar waves to supporters during his opening remarks.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

“What makes this recovery plan so important is not just that it will create or save three and a half million jobs over the next two years, including nearly 60,000 in Colorado,” Obama said. “It’s that we are putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas that have been neglected for too long — work that will bring real and lasting change for generations to come.”

Not everyone, however, is convinced that the plan — the most expensive ever passed by the federal government — will do much to reverse the nation’s highest unemployment rate in decades and ever-slowing economic growth.

Colorado Republicans — joined by some well-known conservative personalities including Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin — held an anti-stimulus rally on the West Steps of the state Capitol, and a small group of protesters were seen outside the museum after Obama’s event. Republican Congressmen Doug Lamborn, from the 5th district, and Mike Coffman, of the 6th, “boycotted” the event.

Republican support for the stimulus package faded quickly this month after Democrats in the House added lots of federal spending while forgoing across-the-board tax cuts.

Obama, aware of the highly partisan atmosphere he left behind in Washington, D.C., responded to such criticism by pointing out the package’s large tax cuts for working Americans.

“And about a third of this package comes in the form of tax cuts — the most progressive in our history — not only spurring job-creation, but putting money in the pockets of 95 percent of all hardworking families,” Obama said. “Unlike tax cuts we’ve seen in recent years, the vast majority of these tax benefits will go not to the wealthiest Americans but to the middle class — with those workers who make the least benefiting the most.”

The bill-signing was attended by a Who’s Who of Colorado Democratic leaders.

When asked for his views before the event, former Colorado Gov. Roy Romer said he believes the money that will come back to the states will be crucial if Colorado is to regain its economic footing.

“I think the way that you allocate (the money) is (by asking), ‘Where do you get the best bang for the buck?’” Romer said. “Where does it create the most jobs? At the same time, you have to be aware of where the hurt is. You need to be making allocations while being thoughtful of need (in certain regions).

“But, eventually, people have to go to where the jobs are.”

Vice President Joe Biden points to the crowd as he speaks about the nature of the nation’s worsening economic condition.
Photo by Jason Kosena/The Colorado Statesman

Newly elected Congresswoman Betsy Markey, D-Fort Collins, said she had been proud to vote for the bill when it came through the House, adding that it will benefit working Coloradans while helping to stimulate the economy. During a town hall meeting in Fort Collins last weekend, Markey took a number of heated questions from angry constituents who voiced concerns over the plan, its expense and whether its funds would actually create jobs and stimulate the economy.

“Sure, there are a lot of questions out there. People are anxious right now about the economy and about their jobs,” Markey said in an interview before Obama’s speech. “But I believe this is a step in the right direction. We have a lot of work to do, and it’s exciting to have the president in Colorado to sign this legislation. But there is still a lot of work to do to help stimulate the economy and create those jobs.”

Markey said the new money would be made available to states in the next 60 days, which will be welcome news to Colorado lawmakers who are struggling to balance the 2008-’09 and 2009-’10 fiscal budgets.

“I think there are a couple (ways) to use the money,” said Senate President Peter Groff, D-Denver. “I think we should make sure that some of the safety net programs that we have built up over the past couple of years are protected. And, clearly, the transportation dollars that are coming out of the package are going to be incredibly helpful to us, as well.”

Obama was in Denver for only a couple of hours before taking off from Aurora’s Buckley Air Force Base to head to Arizona, where he unveiled another major spending bill aimed at helping the ailing mortgage markets.