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Obama: Caterpillar Will Rehire If Stimulus Passes

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WASHINGTON — With a breakthrough deal zooming toward his signature, President Barack Obama on Wednesday thanked lawmakers of both parties for reaching a "hard-fought compromise" on a massive plan to jolt the economy to life.

The president's brief, written reaction came after Senate leaders announced agreement on a $790 billion plan to create jobs and pump up consumer activity through spending programs and tax relief. The House leadership embraced it too.

Both chambers still must approve the final legislation before sending it to Obama, perhaps this week.

"I want to thank the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who came together around a hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs," the president said. Obama said the tax help and investments in health care, energy, education and construction projects will fuel the economy.

"I'm grateful to the House Democrats for starting this process and for members in the House and Senate for moving it along with the urgency that this moment demands," said Obama, who has mounted a daily push for the legislation, including events designed to shift the debate toward life outside Washington.

The emerging legislation includes help for victims of the recession in the form of expanded unemployment benefits, food stamps, health coverage and more, as well as billions of dollars for states. It also preserves Obama's signature tax cut _ a break for millions of lower and middle income taxpayers. Wage-earners who don't make enough to pay income taxes would get a reduction in the Social Security and Medicare taxes they pay.

Earlier Wednesday, trying to cast the plan in terms of real jobs, Obama announced that machinery giant Caterpillar Inc. plans to rehire some of its laid-off workers if Congress approves a sweeping stimulus bill.

That Obama statement came just one day before he was heading to Peoria, Ill., to visit the company's workers and keep pushing his plan. The heavy-equipment maker has announced more than 20,000 job cuts as shrinking credit and construction demands hurt orders for tractors and other machines.

Said Obama: "Today, the chairman and CEO of Caterpillar said that if the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan passes, his company would be able to rehire some of those employees." He did not specify to whom the company chairman and CEO, Jim Owens, made such a pledge.

Caterpillar spokesman Jim Dugan said he had no comment on the president's account of the company's plans but did not dispute it either. He said the company did not want to discuss ahead of time what its chairman would say during the president's visit, but that it looked forward to hosting Obama.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Caterpillar "did communicate to the White House" that it plans to reevaluate its employment situation, particularly in Peoria and downstate Illinois, based on "a big investment that could be coming shortly to put Americans back to work."

As anticipation grew for an economic bill that Obama could sign, the president kept up his pattern of getting outside Washington to promote his ideas. He spoke on Wednesday from a highway construction site in Springfield, Va., outside Washington, where work is under way but more money will be needed.

Obama said he welcomed the conversation in the nation's capital about the economic plan _ but just as quickly added that "the time for talk has passed."

"I am here today because you don't need to travel very far from that debate to see why enacting this plan is both urgent and essential to our recovery," Obama said, standing with Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine on a windy hillside near the Fairfax County Parkway connector, with bulldozers off in the distance.

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AP Special Correspondent David Espo contributed to this report.