Obama speeds projects to create, save 600,000 jobs
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Monday accelerated stimulus spending would create or save 600,000 jobs over the next 100 days, pledging action to slow the growth of unemployment that has reached a 25-year high.
"We've got a long way to go, but I feel like we've made great progress," Obama said at a White House meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and cabinet officials aimed at highlighting gains made since Congress passed the massive stimulus package in February.
"The biggest concern that I have moving forward is that the toll that job losses take on individual families and communities can be self-reinforcing," Obama said.
"People lose jobs, they pull back on spending, that means businesses don't have customers, and suddenly you start seeing more job lay-offs."
The White House event took place three days after the Labor Department reported that U.S. unemployment rose to 9.4 percent in May, even though job losses last month slowed to 345,000.
Obama said the lower rate of job losses was encouraging. He promised stimulus spending would be carried out "in a transparent fashion so that taxpayers know that money is not being wasted on a bunch of boondoggles."
The White House estimates the $787 billion Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Democrats pushed through Congress with little Republican support will create or save 3 million to 4 million jobs by early 2011.
They said on Monday it created or saved 150,000 in the first 100 days. Republicans questioned the figure and noted that Biden said on May 13 over 150,000 jobs had been saved or created in the act's first 77 days.
The U.S. economy has lost 6.0 million jobs, including 2.9 million this year, since the recession began in December 2007.
Republicans, who hope to loosen the Democrats' grip on power in 2010 congressional election, have attacked the recovery legislation as a bloated spending bill that will drive the country deeper into debt.
"I'm very skeptical that the spending binge that we're on is going to produce much good and, even if it does, any time soon," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Friday. "I think the economy is just as likely to begin to recover on its own, wholly aside from this, before much of this has an impact."
The accelerated stimulus spending announced on Monday included 200 new waste and water systems in rural areas and the creation of 125,000 summer youth jobs. Work will also begin on maintenance and construction at 98 airports and over 1,500 highway locations and in the 107 U.S. national parks.
The White House has already committed over $135 billion to stimulus projects but only about $44 billion has been paid out.
"We're going to get more dollars out the door, more shovels into the ground and more money into the pockets of workers and families who need it most," Biden said in a statement.
A little more than one-third of the $787 billion Recovery Act was tax relief, with the next biggest chunk dedicated to relief for state and local governments to keep health and education programs in place without raising taxes.
The accelerated projects announced on Monday include:
-- expanded health care service for about 300,000 patients at clinics across the United States
-- funding for 135,000 education jobs
-- improvements at 90 veterans medical centers
-- hiring or maintaining 5,000 law enforcement jobs
-- environmental cleanup at 20 Superfund sites
-- roughly 2,300 construction and rehabilitation projects at 359 military facilities.
(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Steve Holland)
Time magazine named Pope Francis as its Person of the Year, crediting him with shifting the message of the Catholic Church. Slideshow