US Congess Passes Huge Economic Stimulus Bill

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The U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have both passed the final version of a huge economic stimulus package, including billions of dollars for broadband deployment and electronic health records.

The House Friday afternoon voted 246-183 to approve a compromise version of the estimated US$787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. All 176 House Republicans present voted against the bill.

Late Friday evening, the Senate voted 60-38 to approve the bill, with three Republicans joining Democrats in supporting it.

U.S. President Barack Obama pushed for the legislation and he is likely to sign the bill in the next couple of days.

The House and Senate both passed versions of the bill within the past three weeks, and negotiators from both chambers agreed on a compromise version of the bill earlier this week.

The bill includes $7.2 billion to help deploy broadband in rural and other unserved areas, $17 billion for incentives for health care providers to adopt electronic health records, and $11 billion to update the nation's electricity grid by hooking it up to the Internet.

Republicans complained that the bill included so-called pork-barrel spending and that Democrats didn't seek their input in crafting the bill. "A bill that was supposed to be about jobs, jobs, jobs has turned into a bill about spending, spending, spending," said Representative John Boehner, an Ohio Republican and House minority leader. "We owe it to the American people to get this right."

Republicans also complained they had less than 24 hours to digest the final version of the bill, about 1,000 pages long. No lawmaker has had the time to read the entire bill, Boehner said.

"This is a sad day for our country," said Senator John Thune [cq], a South Dakota Republican. "And it's a sad day for future generations who will be left paying for this billion-dollar spending bill."

Democrats argued the bill is necessary to jump-start the U.S. economy. Senator Joe Lieberman [cq], a Connecticut independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he's confident the bill will "begin the turnaround of the American economy."

Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, applauded the bill for including money for grants and loans to broadband providers that deploy in unserved areas. Residents of the rural United States need broadband to train for high-tech jobs of the future, she said.

"Broadband Internet deployment creates jobs," she said. "I want those jobs to go to Thief River Falls, Minnesota ... instead of India or Japan."

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