Italy's PM wins confidence vote
Italy's lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, easily passed the confidence vote on Monday by 453 votes to 153.
He won backing from his own center-left Democratic Party (PD), as well as his coalition partners - Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party and centrists led by former Prime Minister Mario Monti.
A second vote in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon will decide whether the government gets full confirmation.
In his inaugural speech on Monday Letta sought to appease his uneasy coalition partners by promising to push for a change in the European Union's austerity policy and foster growth and jobs.
"Italy is dying from austerity alone. Growth policies cannot wait," Letta said adding that Italy's two-trillion-euro ($2.6 trillion) debt "weighs heavily" on ordinary Italians who are struggling with an 11.6 percent jobless rate.
The prime minister pledged to suspend an unpopular tax on primary residences due in June and make it fairer to less affluent taxpayers. The move fulfilled, in part, a campaign promise made by Berlusconi's PDL party.
Letta, who was sworn in with his cabinet on Sunday, also pledged not to raise the sales tax; and to reduce some payroll taxes.
He said the government reforms would bring results within 18 months or he would "take the consequences."
"The only possible outcome is success. In 18 months, I will check to see if the reform program is going as planned. If, however, everything gets bogged down, I will take the consequences," he said.
Italy has been under increasing pressure to pull its recession-hit economy out of a decade of stagnation. The situation was worsened by two months of political stalemate - prompted by an inconclusive general election in February.
Letta's appointment ended the impasse on Saturday by bringing together former rivals in a coalition government.
The new Italian government is composed of 21 ministers hailing from Letta's PD, Berlusconi's People of Freedom, and Mario Monti's centrist Civic Choice. The Cabinet also features several nonaligned members, seven women, the first Afro-Italian minister in the country's history and an average age of 53 - significantly younger than previous administrations.
Letta is scheduled to visit Germany on Tuesday for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The Italian government confirmed it would be Letta's first trip abroad since formally taking office.
He is then scheduled to travel to Brussels to meet EU president Herman Van Rompuy.
ccp, hc/ch (AFP, Reuters, AP)