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Obama Marks First Major Presidential Achievement

President Barack Obama marked his first major political achievement on Tuesday when he signed the economic stimulus bill into law in Denver, Colorado. The question now, most analysts say, is whether Mr. Obama will be able to build momentum with his stimulus victory for the political battles yet to come.

At the signing ceremony in Denver, President Obama described the stimulus plan as the essential work of keeping alive the American dream of economic prosperity.

"It is the beginning of the first steps to set our economy on a firmer foundation, paving the way to long term growth and prosperity," he said.

The stimulus plan is a combination of government spending and tax cuts aimed at jump-starting the economy by creating jobs and boosting consumer spending.

Mr. Obama made passage of the plan his top priority in the early days of his administration. Even some of his critics acknowledged it was an impressive political debut.

Karl Rove, the political strategist for former President George Bush, spoke on NBC television's Today program.

"It is a great accomplishment, 667 hours and 10 minutes - that is how long the president has been president, and they got this bill done in less than that time," he said. "On the other hand, it was rushed at the end."

Even with the stimulus bill becoming law, the debate among economists over whether the plan will actually save or create jobs continues.

Economic experts Will Straw and Phillip Levy debated the plan on VOA's Encounter program.

"It has measures that will put Americans back to work. It has measures that will help those most affected by the crisis," said Straw.

"I think if we look at how we got into this crisis, we have a failure of the financial sector, we have a downward spiral in the housing sector," Levy said. "And this plan doesn't really address either of those."

In his dealings with the Democratic-led Congress, President Obama took a bipartisan approach at first, hoping to win Republican support.

But in the end, only three Republicans supported the bill in the Senate, and no Republican voted for it in the House of Representatives.

Longtime political observer Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News says the new president might have learned a lesson about the limits of bipartisanship.

"He's got a ways to go, but I think he should be applauded for trying," he said. "But I think even he and his aides are a little taken aback by how difficult it was to get the stimulus package through. He got virtually no Republican support."

Nonetheless, Obama supporters are happy with quick congressional passage of the stimulus plan and offer it as a demonstration of the president's calm, cool leadership style in a time of economic crisis.

"What I see is a man who has a remarkable capacity to keep calm no matter how serious the currents that are flowing in politics," said former Democratic senator and presidential candidate George McGovern, who was a guest on VOA's Press Conference USA program.

Even supporters acknowledge that the massive stimulus plan is a huge gamble. But they say the federal government had to act, given the severity of the economic crisis.

Political expert Tom DeFrank told VOA's Issues in the News program that Mr. Obama showed great skill in getting the plan passed, and that now the president must hope it does what it is intended to do - revive the nation's economy.

"But I think the bottom line politically is that he has only been president a little more than a few weeks and he got, in pretty quick order, a huge stimulus package," he said. "Now, of course, it has to work."

Opinion polls show Mr. Obama remains popular with the public. But administration officials caution that it could be next year before there are signs of economic recovery. And analysts say the likelihood of more job losses in the months ahead could put the president's political skills to the test.