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The incoming Obama administration is nearing agreement with congressional Democrats on a huge emergency spending bill intended to jolt the weak U.S. economy and create 3 million jobs over two years, Vice President-elect Joe Biden said on Tuesday.
Asked whether an agreement on the shape of the stimulus bill would be reached by Christmas, Biden said: "I think we’re getting awful close to that."
But he refused to divulge how much the measure would cost taxpayers once the team of President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20.
In recent days, government sources have talked about moving a bill through Congress next month with a price tag in the range of $675 billion to $775 billion over two years.
Others have speculated on a somewhat larger overall expenditure to pay for road and bridge rebuilding, investments in mass transit systems, middle-class tax cuts and expanded aid for states and the poor.
Reacting to the worsening economy, which the government on Tuesday said shrank by an annual rate of 0.5 percent in the third quarter, Biden noted that the incoming administration has had to raise its job-creation goals to 3 million, from earlier projections of 2.5 million, over the next two years.
"We don’t think it’s going to require any significantly larger increase in investment to do that," Biden said.
In upbeat comments about the outlook for the stimulus legislation Congress will consider when it convenes on January 6, Biden said: "It’s clear that we’re all on the same page, including our Republican colleagues" on the need for a "substantial" bill to create jobs.
"We’re all getting very close to an overall number and we’re getting close to the specific kinds of investment," Biden said.
Some Republicans expressed reservations.
House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said Republicans wanted to cooperate with Obama to help the economy.
"But we have grave reservations about taking nearly $1 trillion from struggling taxpayers and spending it on government programs in the name of economic ‘stimulus,’" he said.
Boehner has suggested other ways to stimulate the economy, including providing new tax breaks to some companies.
Early this year, Congress and Republican President George W. Bush enacted an economic stimulus law costing $168 billion over two years, mostly in the form of income tax rebates and tax breaks for businesses.
As the crisis worsened, the Bush administration was given authority by Congress to spend up to $700 billion in taxpayer money to rescue the nation’s banking system.
Obama will take office with the U.S. economy in a year-long recession that has brought rising rates of joblessness and home foreclosures. Many economists predict conditions will get worse for at least the next several months.
Obama has vowed to place top priority on righting the economy and his fellow Democrats in Congress are hoping to put a stimulus bill on his desk by January 20 or shortly thereafter.
Obama’s chief White House economic advisor, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, told reporters that without action, "we will almost certainly face the worst economic downturn since the Second World War."
Biden and Summers made their remarks to reporters before a meeting of top advisors on the economy, health care and energy.
While there appears to be widespread backing for a large stimulus bill, Obama and congressional leaders also say they want to demonstrate they are serious about tackling huge government budget deficits that will only get worse with the additional emergency spending being contemplated.
Congressional aides say the stimulus bill is likely to have provisions making it tougher for the government to spend beyond its means over the long term.
Moderate Democrats in the House of Representatives also are pushing for language that would nudge Congress and Obama toward taking on reforming the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid retirement and health programs that are costing more and more as the U.S. population ages.