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Obama defends his $787-billion stimulus plan

WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama vigorously defended his $787-billion stimulus Wednesday, insisting it rescued Americans from the worst of the economic calamity and ripping Republican critics who called it a waste.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched a sweeping effort to convince skeptical Americans that the stimulus has been beneficial on the one-year anniversary of a plan that was pushed through Congress by Democratic majorities.

Obama, in a White House speech, said he believed the stimulus would save or create 1.5 million jobs in 2010 after having saved or created as many as 2 million thus far.

His point was to show that the stimulus, while admittedly unpopular, had the effect of keeping the U.S. economy from plunging into a second Great Depression.

"Our work is far from over but we have rescued this economy from the worst of this crisis," he said.

As Obama spoke, many administration officials were fanning out across the country this week to promote projects that have been funded by the stimulus to show Americans its results.

For instance, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $1.5 billion yesterday in stimulus grants to local and state governments to back 51 transportation projects.

The White House hoped that once Americans in their towns and cities saw the results of the stimulus, they would realize it has helped.

Obama has much work to do to persuade Americans who are still struggling to find work amid a 9.7 percent jobless rate.

A CBS News/New York Times poll last week found that only 6 percent of Americans believed the package had created jobs. Another poll by CNN/Opinion Research showed a majority opposed the stimulus program.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, when all is said and done, the package will end up costing $862 billion because unemployment compensation has been costlier than expected.

All this comes as Obama and his Democrats face pressure to show results in an election year in which their large majorities in Congress could be at risk.

Republicans eager to score political points e-mailed out to reporters the original administration estimates from a year ago that showed the U.S. jobless rate would only rise to 8 percent under the stimulus.

"In the first year of the trillion-dollar stimulus, Americans have lost millions of jobs, the unemployment rate continues to hover near 10 percent, the deficit continues to soar and we're inundated with stories of waste, fraud and abuse," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

"This was not the plan Americans asked for or the results they were promised," he said.

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