US President Barack Obama praised his predecessor Abraham Lincoln at a gala on Wednesday night for his conviction that a divided nation could be made whole, capping a day when congressional leaders agreed on a compromise US$789 billion economic stimulus package.
Obama said the package was essential for pulling the US out of its economic tailspin, staking his presidency on the stimulus plan and putting pressure on Congress by taking his case to the public, arguing that it would keep the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s from turning into a catastrophe.
On Wednesday night, the president and first lady Michelle Obama joined a crowd of Hollywood stars and Washington heavy-hitters celebrating the US$25 million renovation of Ford’s Theatre, where Lincoln was assassinated.
Calling the theater a “hallowed space” where Lincoln’s legacy thrives, Obama praised him for restoring a sense of unity to the country.
“For despite all that divided us — North and South, black and white — he had an unyielding belief that we were, at heart, one nation and one people,” Obama said. “And because of Abraham Lincoln and all who’ve carried on his work in the generations since, that is what we remain today.”
Earlier in the day, Obama called the final deal on the stimulus package a “hard-fought compromise” and expressed gratitude in a statement to Congress for its work.
“I want to thank the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who came together around a hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs,” the president said.
Obama said the tax help and investments in health care, energy, education and construction projects would fuel the economy.
The emerging legislation is at the core of Obama’s economic recovery program and includes help for victims of the recession in the form of expanded unemployment benefits, food stamps, health coverage and more, as well as billions for states that face the prospect of making deep cuts in school aid and other programs.
In announcing Wednesday’s deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, said marathon talks starting on Tuesday produced a compromise between the differing bills passed earlier by the Senate and House. The talks often were joined by White House officials.
“The middle ground we’ve reached creates more jobs than the original Senate bill and costs less than the original House bill,” Reid said.
The bill preserves Obama’s signature tax cut — a break for millions of lower and middle income taxpayers, including those who don’t earn enough to pay income taxes.
The president also won money for two other administration priorities — information technology in health care and “green jobs” to make buildings energy-efficient and reduce the nation’s reliance on foreign oil.
The bill “will be the beginning of the turnaround for the American economy,” independent Senator Joseph Lieberman said.
Republicans have continued to express opposition to the bill, despite Obama’s goal of bipartisan support. The events capped a frenzied 24-plus hours that began at midday on Tuesday when the Senate approved its original version of the bill on a party-line vote of 61-37.
“It appears that Democrats have made a bad bill worse by reducing the tax relief for working families in order to pay for more wasteful government spending,” Republican Representative John Boehner said.