- The Washington Times - Friday, March 6, 2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio | As the job market continued to hemorrhage, President Obama on Friday rebuked critics of his $787 billion stimulus plan by highlighting 25 police jobs in Ohio that had been cut until Washington sent money under the massive spending package.

“For those who still doubt the wisdom of our recovery plan,” Mr. Obama said, “I ask them to come to Ohio and meet the 25 men and women who will soon be protecting the streets of Columbus because we passed this plan.”

On the same day that the Labor Department reported that 651,000 jobs were lost in February, Mr. Obama attended a graduation ceremony for the Columbus cadets in a large convention hall, the Aladdin Shrine Center, where pictures of crossed scimitars decorated the walls.

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Mr. Obama cited the job numbers and said that the U.S. has now lost 4.4 million jobs since the economic crisis began, calling that figure “astounding.”

“We inherited a big mess,” he said.

In spite of the criticisms he has received on the scope and design of the stimulus, Mr. Obama said the graduation ceremony strengthened his resolve.

“I look at these young men and women — I look into their eyes and I see their badges today, and I know that we did the right thing,” Mr. Obama said.

That did not stop Republican leaders such as Rep. Tom Price, the Republican Study Committee chairman from Georgia, from saying that the job numbers were the result of the Democrats’ “job-killing agenda.”

“It’s clear that the Democrats approach is not working,” Mr. Price said. “While Americans lose their jobs and watch their savings disappear, Democrats are more interested in implementing their tax-hiking, job-killing plans at any cost. Washington cant continue to play politics at the expense of the American people.”

The crowd of several hundred inside the hall in Columbus gave loud cheers for the president, his attorney general, Eric Holder, and the cadets, who sat on stage behind Mr. Obama as he spoke in two rows wearing white uniforms and white caps with black bills.

Each one shook the president’s hand after they received their diploma.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, speaking to reporters on Air Force One on the way to Ohio, said the ceremony “demonstrates for the American people that the President has a plan to get the economy moving again.”

“We’re seeing results from that plan,” he said. “The American people … know it’s going to take us a while to get out of this hole, but that there are brighter days ahead.”

The bad jobs news follows losses of 655,000 in January and 681,000 in December. Analysts expect the bloodletting to continue through at least the middle of this year.

Mr. Obama has promised that the stimulus will save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010.

In Ohio, the White House says the stimulus, which has been pilloried by many conservatives for spending too much money on things that are not stimulative, will “support or create” 133,000 jobs in Ohio.

Ohio is getting $61 million for “for law enforcement and criminal and juvenile justice activities,” and the city of Columbus is getting $4 million of that.

Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman received notice early in January that he would have to cut $13 million from the city’s budget. The new police recruit class, which entered the police academy in July, were given pink slips on Jan. 27.

The cadets had 30 days pay after the date of their release, and a few days before that money ran out, Mr. Coleman told the cadets the stimulus money would allow them to graduate.

In the audience, optimism was mixed with concern, and the reality of unemployment.

“My husband was laid off in December,” said Cathy Mitchell, 36, a mother of two who is now looking for work herself.

“Money-wise, it’s not great,” Mrs. Mitchell said. “I’m hoping it only gets better.”

But her husband, Craig, who lost his job in housing sales and said the job search is going “slow,” was enthusiastic about Mr. Obama’s appearance in Columbus. “I think he’s doing a great job so far, the optimism that he brings. He speaks like the normal Joe,” Mr. Mitchell said. “I think the direction he’s headed is a good direction.”

Attorney Robert Howarth, 64, was equally enthusiastic about the president, having voted for him.

“I’m just grateful that he has the courage and the confidence himself to act, and I’m just so appreciative that we’re not just sitting back and letting the economy control us, but we’re trying to control the economy,” said Mr. Howarth, who voted for Mr. Obama.

“I just admire him so much, and I don’t think anyone really knows whether this is going to work or not. But the important thing is we’re trying,” he said.

Mr. Howarth, who has seen his retirement fund drop precipitously along with many other Americans, had one reservation about Mr. Obama’s agenda.

“The one thing that I’m concerned about is that the president is so energetic that he’s almost trying to do too much too quickly,” Mr. Howarth said, indicating that health care and climate-change legislation should wait until the economy is fixed.

“I’d solve the first problem first and then work on the others … The first thing is to get the banking system back up and get credit flowing,” he said.

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