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US House Passes $819 Billion Stimulus Package

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed an US$819 billion economic stimulus package, with money for broadband deployment, health IT and a national electric smart grid included.

The House passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on a 244-188 vote late Wednesday. None of the House's 178 Republicans voted for the bill.

Republicans had complained that U.S. President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats were pushing through the legislation without enough debate. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the legislation was needed immediately to help the U.S. economy pull out of a recession.

"I say this legislation is long overdue," Pelosi said on the House floor Wednesday.

Several Republicans complained that the bill contained too much spending and not enough tax cuts. The spending will create a larger government deficit, and the U.S. government will need to borrow money to fund all the projects in the bill, said Representative Dan Burton, an Indiana Republican.

The legislation moves the U.S. government toward "socialism," Burton added. "The kids who are growing up today are going to pay for our debt," he said. "Free enterprise, less government and lower taxes is the way to solve this problem."

The House bill, which now moves to the U.S. Senate, includes $6 billion in funding to stimulate broadband deployment across the U.S. The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Department of Commerce would administer a $2.8 billion grant program for broadband providers to roll out service to rural and other underserved areas.

In addition to the new NTIA program, the bill gives the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture $2.8 billion, to give as grants and loans to broadband providers.

The legislation also includes an $11 billion program in the U.S. Department of Energy to assist the deployment of an Internet-based smart energy grid, which could allow homeowners to track and adjust their electricity use on the Web. The smart grid program would, among other things, provide grants to electric utilities for smart-grid demonstrations projects.

The stimulus package also includes $20 billion for incentives for health care providers to adopt electronic health records; $20 billion for modernizing schools, including tech upgrades; and $400 million to replace the Social Security Administration's 30-year-old National Computer Center.

Representative Donna Edwards, a Maryland Democrat, praised the bill for focusing on broadband and on science and tech jobs. The bill could create as many as 4 million jobs, according to supporters.

"People might not know what a stimulus is, but they know what a job is," she said. "This bill that we passed today creates jobs."

The original estimate of the bill's cost was $825 billion, but the Congressional Budget Office recalculated the cost.

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