Stimulus spending’s goal now 5% less

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The White House on Wednesday moved the goalposts for judging the success of President Obama’s stimulus spending bill, saying it now wants to have 70 percent of the money spent before the end of fiscal 2010 — 5 percent less than the goal set during the congressional debate over the stimulus bill.

In a report to Mr. Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who the president put in charge of overseeing the stimulus efforts, laid out the new goal: “We remain ahead of schedule in most programs and, due to efficiencies and sound management, many projects are coming in under budget. As you know, we set a goal of outlaying 70 percent of Recovery Act expenditures by the end of 2010.”

But during the debate on Capitol Hill, the White House repeatedly said the goal was to spend 75 percent of the money by Sept. 30, 2010, which is the end of the fiscal year. The bill’s total 10-year price tag is $787 billion.

“We believe, looking at the package as it exists, that 75 percent of the money will be spent out in an 18-month period of time with great stimulative effect,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in January.

The rate of spending was a crucial issue during the congressional debate, as Republicans and some Democrats said the bill should be used to get the economy going in the near term, not to become a vehicle for adding long-term government spending.

Tom Gavin, a spokesman for the White House Office of Management and Budget, said it was always thought that the spending rate would be between 70 percent and 75 percent, and that the general goal has been hit.

“There’s not that much difference,” he said. “What we’re trying to do here is get these dollars out as quickly as we can, as responsibly as we can, as transparently as we can.”

Mr. Gavin said OMB has calculated about 71 percent of the money will be doled out by Sept. 30, 2010. That’s lower than the prediction made by the Congressional Budget Office, the government’s chief scorekeeper, which in February said 74 percent of the money would be spent by the end of fiscal 2010.

The difference between 71 percent and 74 percent of the package is $23.6 billion, while the difference between 70 percent and 75 percent is $39.4 billion.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that, three months in, only 6 percent of the $787 billion in the bill has been paid out, with much of that in payments to states for social service programs.

In his report to Mr. Obama, the first in a series to be done every quarter, Mr. Biden said he believes jobs have already been saved or created by stimulus money. The goal is to save or create 3.5 million jobs total, though economists say there’s no real way to gauge whether the stimulus is responsible for saving jobs.

Mr. Biden said more than 3,000 transportation constructions projects have been funded in 52 states and territories, and touted Mr. Obama’s Making Work Pay tax credit, which has begun to add some money back to most workers’ paychecks.

The administration says it can create or save another 600,000 jobs in the next 100 days.

But Republicans said there are examples of money being misspent, and said even with the stimulus bill, jobs continue to disappear.

“Our nation has lost about 2 1/2 million jobs since the beginning of the year, and families and small businesses are making difficult choices every day during this recession. It’s time for Washington to do the same - and that means cracking down on the type of wasteful ‘stimulus’ spending that we have seen far too much of in the last three months,” said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

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