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USA Today: Pelosi pledges quick passage of $600B stimulus

By Kathy Kiely

WASHINGTON -- An economic stimulus plan worth up to $600 billion and including key elements of President-elect Barack Obama's plan for a greener, more energy-efficient economy will pass the House before the inauguration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi predicted Monday.

In an interview with USA TODAY, the California congresswoman who leads the House Democrats stopped short of promising that an economic stimulus bill will be on Obama's desk by the time he takes office because Senate rules give Republicans a chance to slow the measure. In the House, where the speaker exercises complete control over the legislative schedule, 'we will begin, and we will be ready,' Pelosi said.

A new Congress, with bigger Democratic majorities, will be sworn in Jan. 6. Obama takes his oath two weeks later.

The two-year plan will include many measures that President Bush or congressional Republicans rejected in this Congress, Pelosi said. Among key components: more money for food stamps and emergency assistance to states; tax breaks for middle-income households, and money for public-works investments ranging from energy-saving technology in public buildings and schools to modernization of university research facilities. Pelosi put the price tag at $500 billion to $600 billion.

Republicans, such as House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, say cutting taxes would be more effective than increasing spending.

Although it will not be included in the initial economic stimulus plan, Pelosi said congressional Democrats eventually might introduce plans for an 'infrastructure development bank' that could attract private investment and set spending priorities.

Other legislative initiatives on Pelosi's to-do list: expand health care coverage for children, mandate equal pay for women in the workforce and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

Pelosi has kept open the possibility of calling the existing Congress back to work on economic-relief legislation or a bailout for the auto industry, but she said her hopes for accomplishing anything this year have faded.

The speaker's comments came on a day that a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll showed Congress remains unpopular with the American public: 37% said they approve of the way congressional Democrats are doing their job. The figure was 25% for congressional Republicans.

Pelosi blamed the war in Iraq, which Democrats tried unsuccessfully to begin winding down, for the low approval ratings. She acknowledged that her party may have had some impact on Congress' negative image. There may be a 'residual' effect, Pelosi said, from Democrats' successful 2006 campaign to win control of Congress by portraying it as home to a 'culture of corruption.'