WASHINGTON – As US workers continue to struggle with double-digit unemployment, the House of Representatives narrowly approved a 154-billion-dollar spending bill aimed at creating jobs.
US President Barack Obama's Democratic allies said Wednesday's package, which the Senate will likely not act on until 2010, would aid those looking for work and states facing shortfalls and mulling public sector layoffs.
Lawmakers voted 217-212 for the bill, which includes 48.3 billion dollars in infrastructure investments from highway construction to clean water projects and public housing programs. Related article: Fed moves to eixt stimulus package
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Obama praised the bill's passage, saying the legislation offered "some productive ideas to respond to... great need."
He thanked lawmakers for "offering new initiatives including repairing our roads and bridges, providing relief to Americans who have lost their jobs, and preventing layoffs at the state and local level."
The bill also includes provisions toughening controversial "Buy American" provisions that require the use of US-made construction materials for highways and bridges funded with money from a February economic stimulus package.
Specifically, the legislation would make it harder to waive those requirements -- a step the US Chamber of Commerce and other business associations condemned in a letter to key lawmakers.
"The result will be delayed projects, fewer projects funded, and fewer Americans put back to work," because the requirements delay construction projects, they warned.
The legislation also includes 26.7 billion dollars to help cash-strapped US states retain key public sector workers like teachers, firefighters, and police officers.
The legislation includes six-month extensions of unemployment benefits, which had been due to expire at the end of December, as well as a stopgap health insurance program that chiefly benefits the unemployed.
Democrats tapped leftover funds from a titanic financial sector bailout package to pay for about half of the new legislation.
But Republicans charged that the spending plan would add billions of dollars to programs funded under a nearly 800-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan passed in February, even though much of that money has not yet been spent.
They also said the unused Wall Street bailout monies should go to paying down the soaring US national debt.
Earlier this month, official figures showed the unemployment rate fell in November to 10.0 percent from 10.2 percent, a 23-year high.