- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 28, 2016

As he prepares to leave office, President Obama is trying to remove the sneer from “stimulus.”

In yet another effort to frame his legacy, the president and his aides are hoping to convince Americans retroactively about the merits of the oft-derided $836 billion economic recovery act of 2009. While avoiding words such as “debt,” they are pointing to cutting the unemployment rate in half, reducing the number of home foreclosures and helping the U.S. auto industry recover.

On Friday, to “celebrate” the seventh anniversary of the stimulus law, Mr. Obama visited a battery manufacturing plant in Jacksonville, Florida, to highlight his administration’s spending on clean energy over the past seven years.

“There are few areas where our efforts to build a new economy have paid off in a bigger way than in how we manage energy, make it cleaner, make it more efficient,” Mr. Obama said, noting that the plant has hired 300 workers since 2009, including many veterans.

The federal government spent more than $150 billion from stimulus and nonstimulus funds on green initiatives from 2009 to 2014, according to an estimate from the Brookings Institution. That included $535 million in loan guarantees for Solyndra, the now-bankrupt solar energy company.

Despite the president’s cheerleading, there is ample evidence that many Americans still aren’t feeling the benefits of the recovery act. Polls measuring “right track, wrong track” sentiment consistently find that more than two-thirds of voters believe the country is on the wrong track.

An American Research Group poll last week found that 49 percent of respondents disapprove of Mr. Obama’s handling of the economy and 45 percent approve. The poll found Americans evenly divided on the question of whether the economy is getting better or worse, and 30 percent said they believe the national economy is in a recession.

The office of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Friday that seven years of Mr. Obama’s policies “have led to one of the slowest economic recoveries in American history.”

“Rather than work with Congress to rein in spending, cut taxes, and pay down the debt, the president jammed through a massive new entitlement program and an $830 billion stimulus package,” Mr. Ryan’s office said. “Today, the results speak for themselves: Stagnant wages, weak job growth, millions of Americans still unemployed and millions more living in poverty. These are not signs of economic recovery — they are signs of a weak economy held back by the federal government.”

When Mr. Obama was lobbying for the stimulus package in February 2009, he visited a Caterpillar manufacturing plant in East Peoria, Illinois. He promised that the stimulus money would repair America’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“Think about all the work out there to be done,” Mr. Obama told employees. “And Caterpillar will be selling the equipment that does the work.”

But Caterpillar Inc. announced last month that it was closing five plants, including the one in East Peoria, and cutting 670 jobs. The company said the moves were part of a worldwide restructuring that would eliminate 10,000 jobs, after sales fell in 2015 for the third consecutive year.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump frequently tells a story on the campaign trail of a friend in the construction business who decided to purchase excavating equipment from the Japanese manufacturer Komatsu instead of Caterpillar because Japan has devalued its currency to make such exports cheaper.

“He said it was impossible to compete,” Mr. Trump said in Iowa. “They so devalued the yen in Japan the difference was so much.

I said, ‘Which was better equipment?’ He said, ‘Caterpillar’s better, but the other’s good. And I have an obligation to my wife, to my family, to my company, to my employees. I have to buy what’s right.’”

Part of the president’s defense of the stimulus law is based on an unknown — his argument that the recession would have grown worse without it. It harks back to the administration’s claims in the early days of the recovery act about the number of jobs “created or saved,” another concept that was difficult to prove one way or the other.

“That recovery plan was a success,” Mr. Obama said Friday. “You ask any credible economist, and they will tell you that if we had not acted, if we had not passed the recovery act, if we hadn’t saved the auto industry, if we hadn’t taken the steps we did, we could have fallen into another Great Depression.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said last year that in calendar year 2014, the recovery act raised real gross domestic product by an annual rate of no more than 0.2 percent and increased the number of full-time jobs by somewhere between zero and 200,000. The law had its biggest impact in 2010, when the CBO estimated that it created 900,000 to 5.1 million jobs per quarter — a spread that shows how difficult it is to quantify the law’s effect.

The Republican National Committee said the recovery act wasted billions of dollars, including boondoggles such as the Solyndra loan, a $118.5 million grant to the energy storage company Ener1 that filed for bankruptcy in 2012, $121.9 million for a wind farm in Lubbock, Texas, that was completed before the stimulus began, and $20 million for a Seattle weatherization program that created just 16 jobs, to cite just a few of the ineffective projects.

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