WASHINGTON — When President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion economic recovery bill to create millions of new jobs and extend safety-net programs for millions of unemployed workers and the poor, it was a stunning victory over Republican stonewalling. It was also a victory over corporate media naysayers, who are pounding a negative drumbeat against Obama and his New Deal type approach to rescuing the plunging economy.

And it came after intense grassroots lobbying by workers and others in support of Obama’s plan.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed by Obama Feb. 17 allocates $45 billion for energy efficiency programs, including $13 billion for weatherization of federal buildings and private homes, more than $10 billion to modernize the electricity grid, and $20 billion in tax incentives for wind, solar, hydro and other renewable energy. These measures alone will create an estimated 500,000 new “green” jobs.

Also included is $18 billion for environmental projects like clean water systems, flood control and pollution cleanup. These projects are expected to create another 375,000 jobs.

Along with massive funding for highway, bridge and related construction, significant money will go to high-speed light rail.

The package puts $10 billion to work in basic sciences and $10 billion at the National Institutes of Health. It allocates $3 billion for the National Science Foundation.

After a struggle led by actor-producer Robert Redford, lawmakers restored $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts that Republicans had stripped out as “frivolous.” Redford pointed out in an appeal to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the arts are labor-intensive, employing workers ranging from dancers, actors, musicians and visual artists to electricians and carpenters.

The package provides $100 billion in emergency funding for public schools, including $54 billion in fiscal stabilization for states grappling with $132 billion in budget shortfalls. It also includes $4 billion in new money for Head Start and other pre-kindergarten programs. Obama called it “the largest investment in education in our nation’s history.”

Another $87 billion will help preserve Medicaid coverage for millions of poor and unemployed people. Congress acceded to Obama’s demand that money be allocated to continue health coverage for jobless workers.

About $282 billion of the stimulus package is tax cuts for individuals and businesses, including $400 in income tax credits for individuals and $800 for couples in 2009 and 2010.

The package provides $63 more in food stamp benefits each month for a family of three and adds $25 per week to every unemployment check. It extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed through 2009. It adds $14 billion or $250 each to Social Security recipients and to veterans and recipients of Supplemental Security Income.

Before the bill’s final passage, as many as 10,000 people had converged on Capitol Hill in support of a strong recovery package.

Over 2,000 came for the Blue-Green Alliance’s “Good Jobs/

Green Jobs” conference Feb. 4-6. John Hottinger, chairperson of the Minnesota Sierra Club, said the environmental movement and the labor movement had come together for the Obama package as a “down payment” on a green economy. “What you are seeing is an entire cross-section of the American people who want to rebuild the economy in a way that is fair to working families and fair to the environment,” he said.

A few days later some 3,000 members of the American Federation of Government Employees visited Senate and House offices to support beefing up essential government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency.

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, brought busloads of members. Alicia Russell, president of Arizona ACORN, said, “Obama’s package has funds to help stop the foreclosures but the Republicans are trying to take that out.”

More than 1,000 participants in the National Legislative Summit of Community Colleges lobbied for increased Pell Grants for low-income students as well as passage of the Dream Act to open financial aid to undocumented immigrant youth, many of whom have lived here since infancy.

Deborah Wicker Jones, a leader of the YWCA in Baton Rouge, led 18 people in a day of lobbying with the “Equal Voice for American Families” coalition.

“Now, for the first time, we have someone in the White House who is listening to us,” she said. “Obama’s stimulus is a step forward but I know that this problem goes beyond just a short-term package. We need a comprehensive platform. We need solutions that come from the bottom up, not the top down.”

Despite all these cries for help, not a single House Republican voted for the recovery package. Only three Republican senators, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine, broke ranks to vote for the measure.

The president’s decision to travel to places like Elkhart, Ind., Fort Myers, Fla. and Denver to fight for — and sign — the recovery act means he will likely be on the road many times in coming months mobilizing the grassroots to push through his agenda over Republican resistance.

greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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