- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Saying it wasn’t a “politically easy decision,” President Obama on Wednesday commemorated the one-year anniversary of the $862 billion stimulus package and aimed a few verbal shots at Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill but sought stimulus-funded projects for their districts.

“No large expenditure is ever that popular, particularly at a time when we’re also facing a massive deficit,” Mr. Obama said, “but we acted because failure to do so would have led to catastrophe. We acted because we have a larger responsibility than simply winning the next election.”

Mr. Obama alluded to controversies that have surrounded the bill, such as reports of wasteful spending and its failure to keep U.S. employment below 8 percent as promised, but he said criticisms of the bill are overblown. He said 2 million American workers who otherwise would be out of work are employed thanks to the legislation and stressed that one-third of the spending consisted of tax cuts.

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But one year later, Republicans are just as critical of the bill, which they describe as a failure.

The scale and scope of the stimuluss failure has been breathtaking, said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. One year ago we were assured that unemployment would be tamed, investment would be kick-started, and good jobs would be created. Instead, nearly four million Americans have lost work, and American confidence in governments ability to solve problems has been shattered. From the long list of pork projects it funded to the slow crawl of its bureaucratic process to the administrations abandonment of its metric to even track jobs, this experiment in big-government economics has been a demonstrable train wreck.”

Mr. Obama took aim at those members of the GOP who voted against the bill — as did all House Republicans and all but three Senate Republicans — but touted stimulus projects back home. As The Washington Times reported earlier this month, several Republicans in both chambers even directly lobbied federal agencies for stimulus money.

“The bill still generates some controversy,” he said, “and part of that is because there are those — let’s face it — across the aisle who have tried to score political points by attacking what we did, even as many of them show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their districts.”

Most of the stimulus money spent the first year went to tax cuts, subsidies to states so they wouldn’t have to lay off government workers, and payments to the poor and unemployed. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, says the law kept 6 million people out of poverty in 2009, and the administration says it provided extended unemployment benefits to 20 million people.

The administration promises that in stimulus’s second year, spending on infrastructure projects will pick up — beginning with an announcement Wednesday of $1.5 billion for transportation work.

When he signed the law, Mr. Obama said it would save or create 3.5 million jobs over two years, and his administration projected that unemployment would be kept to 8 percent. Instead, unemployment rose past 10 percent and now stands at 9.7 percent, and the economy has shed about 3 million jobs.

Mr. Obama said the government’s “work is far from over,” and he reiterated his call for Congress to pass additional legislation aimed at creating jobs.

“Businesses are the ends of job creation in this country — they always will be — but during a recession when people pull back and people stop spending, what the government can do is provide a temporary boost that puts money in people’s pockets and keeps workers on the job, cuts taxes for small businesses, generates more demand, gives confidence to entrepreneurs that maybe they don’t have to cut back right now,” he said.

Given the enormous size of the stimulus bill, Mr. Obama said it has been carried out “cleanly, smoothly, transparently.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this article.