Signing stimulus bill, Obama courts public
President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law the most significant economic legislation passed by his young administration, then put his political clout to work trying to build public support not just for his stimulus plan but for ambitious rescue programs yet to come, iht reported.
Obama played down the politics behind the economic stimulus bill, which drew just three Republican votes in Congress. Only a handful of politicians were on stage for the signing in Denver. Instead, Obama emphasized the bill as a boon to some of his favored causes, including green-energy production and a digitization of health records.
Even as Republicans distance themselves from the plan, Obama has gone the other way, lashing his political future to it, saying that if it fails to stem the recession he does not expect to be re-elected. Unspoken is the flip side of that coin: Its success might leave Republicans looking isolated and wrong-footed.
Colorado appeared a comfortable venue for the signing of the bill, which formally became the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The state, with a history of supporting Republican presidential candidates, embraced Obama in November. Its Democratic governor, Bill Ritter, talks in Obama-like terms about bipartisanship and promoting a "new energy economy."
The signing took place at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, where a rooftop solar-panel installation unveiled in June, and inspected Tuesday by the president, is the largest such array in the state. It was exactly the sort of investment in environmentally friendly power - and U.S. energy independence - that Obama advocates.
The event came as Obama, for the second straight week, opted to spend much of his time on the road. Having last week won passage of the stimulus package in surprisingly short time, he has turned to selling it, and other steps yet to be taken, in part by talking about how the plan will affect individual companies and ordinary people.
Later Tuesday, General Motors and Chrysler were expected to come up with their own rescue proposals, which the administration will use to gauge their pleas for billions more in federal assistance. And on Wednesday, Obama will announce a plan, expected to cost $50 billion to $100 billion, to help distressed homeowners.
He will then travel Thursday to Canada - a country with a strong interest in green energy and, not irrelevantly in today's environment, one of the world's healthiest banking systems - for his first foreign visit as president.
Obama's domestic travels, at least, seemed aimed partly at wresting back the spotlight from Republicans, whose criticisms of his stimulus plan as too big and diffuse were beginning to influence public opinion, according to polls.
So far Obama's time-honored tactic of allying himself with the public against his critics in Washington seems to have had some success, though political observers find intriguing the decision of a new president to spend - by Thursday - nearly one-third of his first month in office away from the White House.
Those joining Obama on stage in Denver on Tuesday were largely green-energy developers and advocates. Vice President Joe Biden Jr. and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, a Coloradan, attended the signing, as did Ritter. But most other politicians, virtually all of them Democrats, were relegated to the audience of the invitation-only affair.
A Republican congressman, Representative Mike Coffman of Colorado, planned to join a handful of other conservative figures on the west steps of the state Capitol to voice opposition to the stimulus plan, the Rocky Mountain News reported.
Still, Colorado has emerged as a politically friendly Western base for Obama. He drew huge crowds in Denver during his presidential campaign and filled the city's 90,000-seat professional football stadium on the final evening of the Democratic nominating convention.
Colorado also symbolizes some key sectors that will profit from the stimulus plan, above all the producers of green-energy equipment like solar panels and wind turbines.
Colorado stands to receive an estimated $130 million for clean energy and weatherization programs under the new law.
Unlike two places Obama visited last week - Elkhart, Indiana, which has America's fastest-growing unemployment rate, and Fort Myers, Florida, which has the highest home foreclosure rate - Colorado is not one of the hardest-hit parts of the United States. The mortgage foreclosure rate there was 4.8 percent in the third quarter of last year, compared to 7.3 percent nationwide, according to the Denver Post.
But Arizona, where Obama will speak Wednesday about his plan for helping homeowners, last month had the third-highest number of house repossessions in the United States.