The Obama administration says the stimulus worked by creating millions of jobs and staving off a depression - doing so with great transparency. It should be a crowning achievement as Democrats prepare for November’s congressional elections.
Yet voters either reject or ignore those claims, with substantial majorities telling pollsters they don’t think the $862 billion package, known officially as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, signed into law 18 months ago this week, has helped much.
Inside the Beltway, the stimulus, with billions of dollars still unspent, has become a pot of loose money that both parties argue over tapping. On the campaign trail, it trips up Democrats, who have to defend record deficits to an angry electorate, and some Republicans, who have been caught taking credit for projects funded by the stimulus bill they opposed.
What is clear is that Congress and the public have lost their appetite for another big round of deficit spending.
“The data on additional stimulus are mixed at best. The electorate’s view that the initial round did not produce the advertised results or even noticeable improvement in the labor market will dominate this fall’s contests,” said William A. Galston, a former Clinton policy adviser who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
In March 2009, the Pew Research Center found general support for the stimulus, with 56 percent saying it was a “good idea” and 35 percent responding that it was a “bad idea.” By this summer, though, only 35 percent said it has helped keep unemployment from worsening, while 57 percent said it hasn’t.
Republican candidates have pounced on the public sentiment, arguing that the nation’s high unemployment rate and slow job growth show that the stimulus package simply has not worked.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Carly Fiorina, the Republican candidate trying to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said Mrs. Boxer should be wary of showing up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for stimulus-funded projects.
“It’s obvious they’re not working,” Ms. Fiorina said after meeting with a taxpayer organization in Sacramento. “When the stimulus bill was passed, our unemployment rate was 10.2 percent. Our unemployment rate is now 12.3 percent, and every study that has been done on these public works projects indicates that the projects were not shovel-ready as was promised [and] indicate that there is a huge amount of waste and abuse.”
Similar lines are playing out across the country, including in Pennsylvania, where Rep. Joe Sestak, a Democrat, and Patrick J. Toomey, a Republican, are running for Arlen Specter’s Senate seat. Mr. Specter’s vote for the stimulus forced him to switch parties and become a Democrat, and he later lost in the primary to Mr. Sestak.
“We were told that this monster spending bill would create jobs and keep unemployment below 8 percent,” Mr. Toomey said in Republicans’ weekly radio address Saturday. “Well, since then we’ve lost 3 million more jobs and the unemployment rate hit 10 percent and in some states it is still well above that.”
Like many of his fellow Republicans campaigning across the country, Mr. Toomey, a former congressman who served three terms, noted that the “so-called stimulus bill” included “$2 million to study exotic ants” and “$30 million for a spring training baseball complex.”
In Nevada, Sharron Angle, the Republican seeking to topple Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has said the package included $72,000 for a study on how monkeys are affected by cocaine.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) have been keeping track of lawmakers who opposed the bill and then took credit for projects it funded.
The DSCC list includes Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican running for Delaware’s open Senate seat, getting “caught red-handed” earlier this year taking credit for a Department of Housing and Urban Development project funded through stimulus funds. The DCCC list, dubbed the “Hypocrisy Hall of Fame,” says 129 House Republicans have taken credit for the economic bills they opposed.