Obama takes the slow train to Washington

US President-elect Barack Obama kicks off his three-state 'Whistle Stop Tour' today mirroring Abraham Lincoln’s historic 1861 journey by train from Philadelphia to Washington.

Mr Obama will speak in Philadelphia around 10am local time before he and his family depart on their journey accompanied by a group of “everyday Americans” who have met Mr Obama or Vice President-elect Joe Biden at some point and told them a compelling story.

Capacity crowds are expected at inauguration celebration in Washington and the 135-mile trip, various stops along the way, is aimed at allowing as many people as possible to participate in the celebrations.

Yesterday, Mr Obama made a pitch for his massive economic stimulus plan at a Midwestern factory that manufactures wind turbine parts, saying his proposal would help create solid jobs in up-and-coming industries.

“Renewable energy isn’t something pie in the sky. It’s not part of a far-off future. It’s happening all across America right now,” Mr Obama told workers yesterday in this Cleveland suburb. “It can create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries if we act right now.”

Just days before taking the oath of office as the 44th president, Mr Obama used the factory as a backdrop as he sought to generate support from the public - constituents of sceptical Republicans and Democrats in Congress – for his pricey plan to pull the country out of recession.

Mr Obama held the campaign-style event a day after the Senate agreed to give him access to the second half of last fall’s $700bn (€526bn) financial industry bailout and House Democrats unveiled an 825 billion dollar stimulus package.

One of the largest bills ever to make its way through Congress, it calls for federal spending of roughly $550bn (€413bn) and tax cuts of $275bn (€206bn) over the next two years to revive the sickly US economy. It also focuses heavily on energy, education, health care and jobs-producing highway construction.

Seeking to counter critics’ claims of excessive spending and too few tax cuts, Mr Obama cast the package as necessary to create long-lasting, well-paying jobs in industries such as alternative energy, and help hard-hit industrial states such as Ohio now and in the future.

“It’s not too late to change course – but only if we take dramatic action as soon as possible,” Mr Obama said. He pledged: “The first job of my administration is to put people back to work and get our economy moving again.”

Meanwhile, plans were going ahead for an outdoor inauguration despite cold weather forecasts for next week.

Somewhere between one million and two million people are expected to make their way to Washington for the swearing in ceremony and inaugural parade.

Some 240,000 tickets have been issued for the festivities at the Capitol, with 28,000 seats.

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