Though its political bite has faded compared with Obamacare and other fights, the $800 billion-plus stimulus still divides the two major parties five years after it was signed, with Democrats saying it prevented a worse collapse and Republicans saying a still-sluggish economy is proof that President Obama wasted much of the money.
As the fifth anniversary of the stimulus passed Monday, economic indicators remain mixed.
The stock market recovered the ground it lost, but unemployment has remained stubbornly high. Indeed, the Obama administration predicted the jobless rate would have dropped to 5 percent by now, rather than the 6.6 percent notched in January.
“The ‘stimulus’ has turned out to be a classic case of big promises and big spending with little results,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican. “Five years and hundreds of billions of dollars later, millions of families are still asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican and a fierce critic of Mr. Obama, quipped that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ended up supporting bloated agencies that are steeped in scandal.
“Well, five years in, it looks like President Obama’s stimulus did actually create jobs,” Mr. Cruz tweeted. “Unfortunately, they’re all at the IRS and NSA.”
The White House, however, said the infusion of government aid saved or created 6 million job years, defined as a year of full-time work. In a blog post, the administration said much of the recovery package came in the form of tax cuts for families.
“While far more work remains to ensure that the economy provides opportunity for every American, there can be no question that President Obama’s actions to date have laid the groundwork for stronger, more sustainable economic growth in the years ahead,” wrote Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
It took less than a month after his inauguration in 2009 for Mr. Obama to make good on his push for a stimulus. He won a bill from Congress that pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into tax cuts, infrastructure, green energy projects and extra government benefits for those struggling at the bottom end of the income ladder.
But the massive package passed without the support of any Republicans in the House and just three in the Senate — one of whom, Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, soon would be drummed out of the GOP for that vote, among others.
To some, it was a chance to reorder government priorities in the manner that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had done in the 1930s. To others, it was a shining example of government waste that presaged the rest of the Obama administration.
“Five years later, our economy is still sluggish, Americans are dropping out of the workforce by the thousands, and the President’s latest big-government experiment, Obamacare, is now on track to slash 2 million more jobs from the workforce,” said Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
Mr. Cornyn was referring to a Congressional Budget Office report that said the Affordable Care Act could entice more than 2 million people to stop working or work less in order to be eligible for subsidies for health care coverage.
Top Democrats, meanwhile, rallied to the president’s defense.
“At the start of 2009, as Americans faced the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the Democratic Congress took swift and bold action to bring our economy back from the brink, spur growth, create jobs and strengthen the middle class,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, said Republicans, by blocking bids to restore unemployment assistance to 1.7 million Americans and to raise the minimum wage, are preventing middle-class America from gaining a foothold on the economy.
“While we have made significant progress since February 2009, our recovery will not be complete until everyone can find a job that opens doors of opportunity to a secure place in our middle class,” Mr. Hoyer said.