- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 18, 2010

President Obama celebrated the first anniversary of the economic-stimulus law on Wednesday, arguing the $862 billion package is slowly helping to right the economy even as he pushes for additional spending for job creation.

Mr. Obama said it wasn’t a “politically easy decision” to shepherd through such a massive spending bill, but the consequences of not injecting money into the economy would have been far worse than running up the federal tab. He also took swipes at Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill but sought projects in their districts.

“No large expenditure is ever that popular, particularly at a time when we’re also facing a massive deficit,” Mr. Obama said. “But we acted because failure to do so would have led to catastrophe. We acted because we have a larger responsibility than simply winning the next election.”

Mr. Obama alluded to controversies that have surrounded the bill, such as reports of wasteful spending and its failure to keep employment below 8 percent as promised, but said criticisms of the bill are overblown. He said 2 million American workers who otherwise would be out of work are employed thanks to the legislation and stressed that one-third of the spending was made up of tax cuts.

But one year later, Republicans are just as critical of the bill, which they describe as a failure.

“The scale and scope of the stimulus’ failure has been breathtaking,” said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. “One year ago, we were assured that unemployment would be tamed, investment would be kick-started, and good jobs would be created. Instead, nearly 4 million Americans have lost work, and American confidence in government’s ability to solve problems has been shattered.”

According to recent polls, skepticism on the stimulus isn’t limited to Republicans. A CBS News/New York Times survey last week found only 6 percent of respondents said the bill created jobs, while a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. found a majority opposed to the bill.

In his remarks Wednesday, Mr. Obama took aim at those members of the GOP who voted against the bill but touted stimulus-funded projects back home. As The Washington Times reported earlier this month, several Republicans in both chambers directly lobbied federal agencies for stimulus money.

“The bill still generates some controversy,” he said. “And part of that is because there are those, let’s face it, across the aisle who have tried to score political points by attacking what we did, even as many of them show up at ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects in their districts.”

Most of the stimulus money spent the first year went to tax cuts, subsidies to states to avoid government layoffs, and payments to the poor and unemployed. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank, says the law kept 6 million people out of poverty in 2009, and the administration says it provided extended unemployment benefits to 20 million people.

The administration promises that in its second year, spending on infrastructure projects will pick up - beginning with an announcement Wednesday of $1.5 billion for transportation work.

When he signed the law, Mr. Obama said it would save or create 3.5 million jobs over two years, and his administration projected that unemployment would be kept to no more than 8 percent. Instead, unemployment rose past 10 percent and now stands at 9.7 percent, and the economy has shed about 3 million jobs.

The Congressional Budget Office last month said the stimulus law will cost $862 billion over 10 years, or $75 billion more than projected a year ago, in part because unemployment skyrocketed and the government is paying more in unemployment-compensation checks.

The White House, however, has rejected the official congressional scorekeeper’s estimate, saying it rejects CBO assumptions about long-term unemployment and therefore holding the cost at its original $787 billion price tag.

Mr. Obama said the government’s “work is far from over,” and reiterated his call for Congress to pass additional legislation aimed at creating jobs.

“Businesses are the ends of job creation in this country - they always will be - but during a recession when people pull back and people stop spending, what the government can do is provide a temporary boost that puts money in people’s pockets and keeps workers on the job, cuts taxes for small businesses, generates more demand, gives confidence to entrepreneurs that maybe they don’t have to cut back right now,” he said.

Given the enormous size of the stimulus bill, Mr. Obama said it has been carried out “cleanly, smoothly, transparently.”

Stephen Dinan contributed to this report.

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