Technology targets in Congress stimulus plan

Negotiators from the US Senate and House of Representatives have reached agreement on a $789bn (£548.8bn) spending bill intended to improve the US economy, which includes funding for various technology projects.

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Negotiators from the US Senate and House of Representatives have reached agreement on a $789bn (£548.8bn) spending bill intended to improve the US economy, which includes funding for various technology projects.

To rally support for his economic recovery bill, President Obama invited about a dozen chief executives, seven of them from technology and energy companies, to the Oval Office.

Several lawmakers announced the agreement Wednesday afternoon, just a day after the Senate had passed its $838 (£582) billion version of the stimulus package. The House passed a $819 (£569) billion stimulus package in late January.

Lawmakers didn't say immediately what had been cut from both versions of the bill to trim the bill down to $789 (£548) billion.

While nearly all congressional Republicans opposed the bill, it was time to act to keep the country from going into a deeper recession, said Senator Olympia Snowe, from Maine, one of only three Republican lawmakers who voted for the package. "The time has come to bring everyone together" for the good of the US economy, she said during a televised press conference.

Lawmakers said it was important for them to come to a compromise quickly. "Everybody gave up something in the negotiations to advance something bigger for our country and our people," said Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, during the press conference.

The compromise package now goes back to the House and Senate for approval. If passed, the package would then be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Both versions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included several tech-related provisions. The original versions contained big outlays on technology initiatives such as, in the Senate version, about $7 billion for expanding high-speed Internet access, some $20 billion for building a so-called smart grid power network and $20 billion for digitising health records. It was unclear late Wednesday if these provisions survived the final agreement.

The Senate bill included $4.5 billion to improve the nation's electricity grid so that customers can measure their electricity use through websites and, in some cases, sell back extra energy. Supporters of a smart energy grid say that the information made available can help customers cut their energy costs.

The House version of the bill included $11 billion for a smart grid.

The Senate bill also included $3 billion to push forward adoption of health IT, including electronic health records. The House version of the bill included $20 billion for health IT.

The Senate version of the bill included $7.1 billion aimed at rolling out broadband to rural and other under-served areas, compared to $6 billion in the House version. Most of the money in the Senate package would go to grants for broadband providers; the House bill included a mix of grants and tax credits.

The packages also included money for technology upgrades at several US agencies and at US schools. Both bills also included new money for research at several agencies, including the National Science Foundation.

Congressional negotiators agree on a $789 billion stimulus package, which includes funding for various technology projects.

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