Aggressive Effort By Democrats To Defend Stimulus On Its Anniversary

Barack Obama just spoke and offered a strong defense of the Recovery
Act, which he signed into law one year ago today. This complements a
wide-ranging set of efforts from Administration officials to both show
the importance of the stimulus in moving the economy from failure
toward recovery, and to put Republicans in a box, calling them out for
hypocrisy on voting against projects they tout in their districts.

The graphic at right can be seen pretty much everywhere today,
showing the gradual decline in job loss since the enactment of the
Recovery Act. In the three months before enactment, 2.2 million jobs
were lost, and the economy has not been handed over to a new President
in such a shambles since the Hoover/Roosevelt trade in 1933. Since
then, Administration officials say, job growth has converted from a 6
percent loss to a 6 percent gain, with much of that turnaround
attributable to the Recovery Act. And job loss has slowed dramatically,
with net job gains expected in the spring. This annual report
prepared by the Vice President's office provides much of the rhetorical
bulwark for this defense, and you can see the bullet point version of
this on an Organizing for America page blasted to supporters. But David Leonhardt's analytical case for the stimulus in the New York Times today has the benefit of being from a source without a vested interest:

Just look at the outside evaluations of
the stimulus. Perhaps the best-known economic research firms are IHS
Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's They
all estimate that the bill has added 1.6 million to 1.8 million jobs so
far and that its ultimate impact will be roughly 2.5 million jobs. The
Congressional Budget Office, an independent agency, considers these
estimates to be conservative.

Yet I'm guessing you don't think of the stimulus bill as a big
success. You've read columns (by me, for example) complaining that it
should have spent money more quickly. Or you've heard about the phantom
ZIP code scandal: the fact that a government Web site mistakenly
reported money being spent in nonexistent ZIP codes.

And many of the criticisms are valid. The program has had its flaws.
But the attention they have received is wildly disproportionate to
their importance. To hark back to another big government program, it's
almost as if the lasting image of the lunar space program was Apollo 6,
an unmanned 1968 mission that had engine problems, and not Apollo 11,
the moon landing.

In addition to this defense, Democrats from the Administration on
down are trying to pin some hypocritical behavior on Republicans,
faulting them for voting against the Recovery Act, continuing to term it a failure,
and then showing up in their own districts touting the funding for
various projects. President Obama made special mention of that in his
remarks today, saying that Republicans continue to argue against the
stimulus "even as many of them show up for ribbon-cutting ceremonies
for projects in their districts." This Web ad put out by the DNC similarly details Recovery Act hypocrisy.

But Democrats have to walk a tightrope when discussing the Recovery
Act. As David Leonhardt noted, the stimulus should have been bigger to
cover the tremendous shortfall in demand from early 2009. Its more
modest size and reliance on tax cuts for about 1/3 of its total has
blunted its impact. While 2 million jobs have been created or saved,
people are still losing work and the unemployment rate is still
unreasonably high. Obama said today that, "Despite the extraordinary
work that has been done in Recovery Act, millions of Americans are
still out of work... it doesn't yet feel like much of a recovery. That's
why we're doing everything we can to return people to work."

This is just a difficult rhetorical pirouette; saying "we're only half done"
is cold comfort to the jobless and job-insecure. And it isn't helped by
the fact that Obama led off his remarks by saying things like "No large
expenditure is ever that popular," which depresses any enthusiasm for
another jobs bill, and is also fundamentally untrue. All of the "new
foundation for growth" investments on things like education and high
speed rail and infrastructure and US manufacturing and clean energy
poll very high, and there's no reason to dampen that popularity with
such a blanket statement.

The Recovery Act has undoubtedly been a boost to the economy, and
it's good to see some energy spent on defending it. But its initial
size makes it difficult to view as a success without major public
education, and until job growth returns - which necessitates real job
creation measures, not the sliver that's moving through the Senate -
the task grows even more difficult.

UPDATE: Think Progress has now found 111 Republicans
who voted against the Recovery Act while taking credit for its success.
I find that Republicans really have no answer for this whatsoever.

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