Biden Says Deal Near on Massive U.S. Stimulus Package

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The Obama administration is nearing agreement with congressional Democrats on a huge emergency spending bill intended to jolt the 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."

The vice president-elect said that people expecting a bounty of pet projects in the massive economic stimulus plan should think again

"It's important for the American taxpayer to know that this is not going to be politics as usual and we will not tolerate business as usual in Washington," Biden said at the start of a meeting of Obama's top economic staff at transition headquarters.

"I know it's Christmas, and I know it's the Christmas season," he said, "but President-elect Obama and I are absolutely, absolutely determined that this economic recovery plan will not become a Christmas tree."

Biden said "there will be no earmarks" in the proposal -- referring to the sort of special-interest projects that members of Congress often attach to various pieces of legislation.

The goal had been for the incoming White House and the Democratic-controlled Congress to devise the broad outlines of a plan by Christmas. The negotiators are on a tight schedule, as Obama and congressional leaders want to have lawmakers act on the plan in early January, so that it is ready to be put into place as soon as possible after Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

Among the details still being polished, he said, are total spending figures -- expected to range between at least $650 billion and perhaps as much as $850 billion -- as well as where it will go. Biden said the sides are very close.

"There is overall agreement on both right now, that we're getting down to a specific number and the nature of the investments we're going to be making," he said.

The plan is expected to significantly increase federal spending on health care, education, infrastructure like roads and bridges, aid to states, and energy. Ideas include weatherizing 1 million homes, shifting to a paperless health system, investing in disease prevention and modernizing schools.

"As our economy worsens, the need for a bold economic recovery grows every day," the vice president-elect said.

The recession already is the longest since the 1981-1982 slump, which lasted 16 months. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who will chair Obama's National Economic Council, predicted that "without substantial policy action" the nation would almost certainly face the most severe economic downturn since World War II.

The meeting was scheduled to keep Obama's economic revival efforts on the front burner even while the president-elect and his family are on an extended vacation in Hawaii, and while an announcement on the actual package is some time off. The meeting was chaired by Biden in Obama's absence, and included Summers as well as Obama domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes, along with Carol Browner, who will head a new White House office on energy, and other incoming aides.

A chief focus was the message that the Obama administration promises to be a careful steward of the money.

Biden and Summers stressed that the money will be spent only on worthwhile efforts: to create jobs in the short-term but also to lay the groundwork for future prosperity.

Biden said that "every dollar will be watched" to see it is spent effectively, that only what is needed to turn the economy around will be spent "and no more" and that "make-work" projects will not be allowed.

Also Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., held a conference call with Democratic governors on the need for the package to include relief for cash-strapped state budgets. Those on the call included the governors of Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin and Massachusetts, said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Reid.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.