Obama, Allies Tout Stimulus
President Barack Obama announced Monday that he plans to ramp up stimulus spending this summer, providing much-needed cover for Democrats who voted for his $787 billion package but feel anxiety over the rising unemployment rate.
“This is an opportunity to sharpen the party’s focus on the economy again,— one Democratic leadership aide said. “For the past month and a half there’s been a lot of focus on energy and a lot on health care — worthy issues. [But] the biggest concern the American people have right now is the economy and where their paycheck is going to come from.—
Obama said the summer ramp-up of the 100-day-old stimulus package would “save or create— 600,000 jobs — a pace the administration claimed was four times the rate in the first 100 days, when just $44 billion was spent.
“Now we’re in a position to really accelerate,— Obama said as his administration unveiled a 10-point plan for the summer. The ramp-up includes expansions of more than 1,100 health centers, more than 1,500 highway projects and 125,000 summer jobs for youths.
The projects aren’t new — many of the details had been released weeks ago — but they were recycled to give the president talking points as the stimulus entered its second 100 days.
Democrats had boasted that the overall plan would “save or create— 3 million jobs over two years, but they had also cautioned that the economy was on such a downward spiral when Obama took office that the unemployment rate, a lagging economic indicator, would likely keep rising this year before recovering next year.
That nuance may be lost on the public, and some Democrats have been looking to the administration for a greater focus on the economy, especially with unemployment hitting 9.4 percent in May, the highest in decades.
Democrats point to other improving economic signals, including a rising stock market, rebounding consumer confidence and a slowdown in the pace of job losses, as signs that the recovery is starting to take hold.
“Although unemployment numbers continue to rise, there are signs of hope that the economy is beginning to recover,— House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said.
And part of the pitch is to let the public know that a lot more help is on the way, according to Democratic aides.
“It’s a way to remind them that this is beginning to work, there is still a lot more funding that will be released, and it helps to provide support to Members who are in moderate districts when they go back home and defend their positions on the economy,— a Democratic leadership aide said.
Rank-and-file Democrats have for months been touting individual stimulus projects in their districts with help and prodding from leadership, but they now expect more cover from the president as well. A new Web site showing projects across the country was unveiled at whitehouse.gov/recovery, and a summer-long effort touting the stimulus projects is planned.
Cabinet secretaries and sub-Cabinet officials will continue fanning out across the country to accent the Washington-based publicity effort led by Vice President Joseph Biden.
Monday’s White House event featuring Biden, in which he said the plan had already saved or created more than 150,000 jobs, was stage-managed theater.
A May 13 White House press release had already trumpeted that, “In the first 77 days of the two-year Recovery Act program,— some 150,000 jobs have been created or saved and that, “Looking ahead, an additional 600,000 jobs are expected to be created or saved.—
Biden on Wednesday held a publicized roundtable discussion with governors and state transportation officials at the White House to discuss the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s High Speed Rail Grant Program, and he hosted a conference call with regional media Monday to help get the White House stimulus message beyond the Beltway.
The Recovery Act even has its own spokesman, who works out of the vice president’s office.
A White House official acknowledged that lawmakers have been pressing the administration to help get the word out. “I think we share that goal,— the official said, noting that Biden and Cabinet officials have already done more than 70 events around the country.
Republicans are doubling down in opposition, pronouncing the stimulus a failure already.
“We’ve got 2 million jobs lost, and the president says that’s exactly where we thought we would be,— House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said. “I don’t think that’s the kind of change they thought they were voting for last November.—
Cantor accused the administration of trying to move the goal posts for success, and he said the results of the stimulus package “have been abysmal.—
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the continued spending was not likely to make headway on improving the economy.
“I’m very skeptical that the spending binge that we’re on is going to produce much good, and even if it does, anytime soon,— McConnell said.
The conservative Republican Study Committee went even further, with a press release declaring, “President Now Committed to Wasting Money at a Faster Pace.—
“As our economy continues to hemorrhage jobs at an alarming rate, it’s clear that the White House is scrambling for a political solution,— RSC Chairman Tom Price (Ga.) said.
But Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Members have been eager to go home and tout the stimulus package, and he noted that even some Republicans have tried to take credit for projects in their districts that they voted against.
“Republicans should ask what kind of impact would that have on their communities if they laid off policemen and teachers,— Elshami said.
In the meantime, Democrats are downplaying any possibility of producing another stimulus package later this year as concerns about record deficits begin to mount.
Instead, Pelosi pointed to the Democrats’ two big priorities — health care and energy — as the sequel.