- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 14, 2010

The White House is touting “stunning” job numbers from the nearly year-old stimulus bill, drawing ridicule from Republicans who point to an economy still shedding jobs, among other evidence that stimulus money hasn’t fulfilled its billing as an employment bonanza.

With all sides agreeing that the outcome of this November’s congressional elections rides heavily on the jobs picture, the issue is being aired out at the highest levels. President Obama had planned to emphasize jobs with a stop at a Maryland job-training center Wednesday, though that was canceled so he could spend time working on relief efforts for earthquake-stricken Haiti.

But his administration is trumpeting up to 2 million jobs as a result of the $787 billion spending package Democrats pushed through Congress last February, arguing that the nation’s annual growth rate would have been as much as 2 percentage points lower if it had not been for the bill.

“An economy that was in free fall in early 2009 has, certainly in terms of [gross domestic product], stabilized dramatically,” said Christina Romer, chairwoman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, which issued a quarterly report on the stimulus.

“We’ve gone from tremendous declines to actually starting to rise again. [On] employment, we’ve gone from huge job losses to tremendously moderating job losses.”

Republicans say the numbers simply don’t wash.

“It’s telling that the Obama administration believes that they can make a credible argument of stimulus success in the face of 10 percent unemployment, while simultaneously changing the way they measure jobs ‘saved or created’ to better fit their political needs,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The government counts stimulus jobs in several ways. Ms. Romer’s report used computer modeling to estimate an impact on the economy, while the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, set up to oversee the stimulus, reports the actual number of jobs recipients of stimulus money say they created.

Mr. Issa and other critics accuse the administration of moving the goal posts last month when officials quietly changed a formula so that the Recovery Board will now count any job paid for in part with stimulus funds. Before, a job could only qualify if it would not exist but for the stimulus.

“Like former President Bill Clinton famously stated, I guess it depends on what the definition of a job is,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican. “From exaggerated claims to fake jobs in fake congressional districts, these stimulus reports have lost all credibility. The White House still doesn’t understand that American families are frightened by the growing federal debt, and local businesses are hesitant to hire back or add new workers while Congress pursues its extreme agenda of higher health care costs, higher taxes and higher energy prices.”

Ms. Romer said they changed the methodology to simplify job-reporting requirements after the Government Accountability Office criticized the Recovery Board’s first report. That report said contractors saved or created 640,000 jobs as of Sept. 30.

In addition to the jobs growth, Ms. Romer’s new report said the stimulus package added two percentage points to the GDP in the fourth quarter, after adding at least 1.5 points and possibly up to 3 percentage points in the third quarter of last year.

At the end of 2009, the government had spent $263 billion of the stimulus, with an additional $150 billion having been obligated for future projects.

Democrats seized on the CEA’s estimate of between 1.5 million and 2 million jobs as evidence that government spending measures are working to spur job growth. Though about half of the stimulus funds have yet to be spent, Mr. Obama and congressional leaders are pushing for another spending measure - already passed by the House - focusing on infrastructure and home-weatherization projects.

“This analysis shows that we are on track so far - with only half the money committed. But years of inaction and lax oversight crippled our economy - and we have more work to do to help it recover,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.

Earlier this week, an Associated Press analysis found that road and bridge projects funded by the stimulus have had little to no impact on local unemployment.

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