One year later, stimulus has mixed record

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Even some Democrats are worried about the record they have amassed over the past year.

“If I could create one job in the private sector by helping to grow a business, that would be one more than Congress has created in the last six months,” Sen. Evan Bayh, an Indiana Democrat who this week announced his retirement from the Senate, told CBS.

The administration says the recession was deeper than first imagined, but insists there’s plenty of evidence of how well the stimulus has worked. In his report, Mr. Biden says the law added several percentage points to gross domestic product growth over the last nine months of last year.

Some congressional Republican lawmakers have been accused of hypocrisy for saying the stimulus won’t work while sending letters behind the scenes asking for money for local projects. As The Washington Times reported earlier this month, those Republicans often acknowledge in their letters that the projects will create jobs.

In his report, Mr. Biden says fraud has been kept to a minimum, and the record “compares very favorably with both public and private sector experiences.”

Republicans, though, point to hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on studies such as the sex lives of female college students as examples of poor spending. And Congress issued a stinging rebuke of the U.S. Forest Service after it directed nearly $2.8 million of wildland firefighting money to Washington, D.C., for a green-jobs program. Congress let the city keep the money, but said the Forest Service must make better decisions in the future.

Pressure is building for another round of stimulus spending. The House last year passed a bill to boost job creation and the Senate plans to take up its own bill when it returns from a weeklong break.

Interest groups also are asking that education and social safety net programs be extended.

Mr. Obama included many of those extensions in the 2011 budget he sent Congress two weeks ago - something analysts said goes against the promises of temporary relief.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) says if Congress enacts all the programs Mr. Obama wants to extend, the cost will jump to $1.5 trillion over 10 years, or nearly double the initial estimate.

“It was never supposed to be the purpose of stimulus to make permanent policy” said Marc Goldwein, policy director for CRFB. The fundamental principle of stimulus is it’s a temporary infusion of money into the economy.”

He said if Congress does want to extend the programs it should pay for that. Otherwise, the U.S. risks adding to an already difficult debt picture.

But Chad Stone, chief economist at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the success of the stimulus depends on extending and expanding parts of the law, particularly unemployment benefits, COBRA health care coverage and subsidies to states.

“If that is done we will look back at ARRA and its 2010 extensions as important contributors to a recovery that is beginning to gather real momentum. If we don’t, we can look back on ARRA as a policy that kept the economy from going off a cliff and helped start a nascent recovery but one that needed to be supplemented by additional measures in 2010 and wasn’t, with the result that the recovery has been weaker than it needed to be,” he said.

When it was signed into law, the Congressional Budget Office calculated that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would cost $787 billion over 10 years, but last month CBO boosted that figure by $75 billion. The administration, however, has rejected the CBO’s assumptions and says it’s sticking with the $787 billion cost.

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