The Congressional Budget Office on Tuesday downgraded its estimate of the benefits of President Obama's 2009 stimulus package, saying it may have sustained as few as 700,000 jobs at its peak last year and that over the long run it will actually be a net drag on the economy.
CBO said that while the Recovery Act boosted the economy in the short run, the extra debt that the stimulus piled up "crowds out" private investment and "will reduce output slightly in the long run — by between 0 and 0.2 percent after 2016."
The analysis confirms what CBO predicted before the stimulus passed in February 2009, though the top-end decline of two-tenths of a percent is actually deeper than the agency predicted back then.
All told, the stimulus did boost jobs and the economy in the short run, according to CBO's models. At the peak of spending from July through September 2010, it sustained anywhere from 700,000 to 3.6 million, which lowered the unemployment rate by between four-tenths of a percent to 2 percent.
The Obama administration had promised 3.5 million jobs would be produced at the peak of spending.
For this current quarter CBO said the stimulus is sustaining between 600,000 and 1.8 million jobs, which has improved the unemployment rate by as much as 1 percent versus what it otherwise would have been.
The White House did not return a message seeking comment Tuesday afternoon, but officials there previously have said the Recovery Act stopped the economy from falling into another Great Depression.
"The point is, what is uncontestable is that those infrastructure projects that were funded by the Recovery Act were very well managed, came in on budget or under budget and led to the creation of many, many jobs by an outside, independent analyst" White House press secretary Jay Carney said in September, as Mr. Obama was proposing another round of stimulus spending.
That new proposal called for $447 billion in expanded tax breaks, additional aid to states to hire teachers and emergency workers, and more infrastructure spending.
That broad effort has stalled, though on Monday Mr. Obama signed a slim portion of the package that offers tax breaks to businesses that hire veterans, and that repeals a 3 percent contract withholding requirement for government contractors.
On Tuesday, top House Democratic leaders sent a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner urging support for the extension of unemployment benefits, last year's payroll tax cut and higher payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients before they all expire at the end of this year.
"Independent economists from across the political spectrum estimate that failure to pass these essential pieces of legislation could reduce economic growth by much as 2 percentage points next year," the leaders, including top House Democrat Rep. Nancy Pelosi and her two chief lieutenants, said.
CBO has re-evaluated the stimulus every three months, and its estimates for the total cost have varied. Initially the package was pegged at $787 billion, rose as high as $862 billion at one point, and is now projected to be $825 billion once all the money is paid out.
The nonpartisan agency also has changed its model for the spending's impact on the economy, and the new calculations show the Recovery Act did less than originally projected.
CBO said it has concluded there is less of an indirect multiplier effect of federal spending.
Those changes caused it to drop its estimates for total employment sustained by the spending in 2011 from between 1.2 million and 3.7 million down to between 600,000 and 3.6 million.
As for the long-term situation, CBO said its basic assumption is that each dollar of additional federal debt crowds out about a third of a dollar's worth of private domestic capital.
CBO said there is no crowding out in the short term, which is why the Recovery Act boosts the economy in the near term.
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