WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An election-year war of words over the effectiveness of President Barack Obama’s $862 billion economic stimulus law ratcheted up on Tuesday as Republicans detailed spending projects they said were wasteful and failed to achieve the main goal of job creation.
“If we’re going to have stimulus bills, it ought to be truly about stimulating the economy, it ought to be creating real jobs and it ought to be ... giving us the best bang for our buck,” said Senator Tom Coburn.
Instead, with a Republican report detailing 100 projects funded by the $862 billion stimulus enacted early last year, Coburn said he and fellow conservative Senator John McCain were highlighting “things we think are stupid and inappropriate.”
Number 38 on the Coburn-McCain list of “100 stimulus projects that give taxpayers the blues” is a North Carolina project they said spent $294,958 for “reducing menopausal hot flashes through yoga.”
In Coburn’s home state of Oklahoma, a small town received $89,298 “to replace a quarter-mile stretch of sidewalk that was replaced only five years ago,” the senators said. That sidewalk, they said, “led to a ditch” in a town where the public school faces funding problems.
Altogether, Coburn said the stimulus measure had funded 300 questionable projects costing taxpayers more than $15 billion.
As Republicans have blamed the stimulus measure for contributing to a rapid run-up in federal debt, Democrats have tried to rally public support for it with regular updates on job creation, despite a stubborn 9.5 percent jobless rate.
Persistently high unemployment has led some political scientists to conclude that voters will take their anger out on Democrats, who control the White House and Congress, and vote for Republicans in the November 2 congressional elections.
Last month, the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers said the economic stimulus law had raised employment by 2.5 million to 3.6 million “relative to what it otherwise would have been.”
Obama has touted stimulus money for having planted the seeds for creating jobs in new alternative energy fields, jobs that he says cannot be outsourced to other countries.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs, asked about the Coburn-McCain report, said it wasn’t credible. He told reporters, “Maybe the best person for Senator McCain to debate on this would be the chief economic adviser of his own presidential campaign (Mark Zandi), who not only weighed in on the president’s recovery plan but in the last week has written an analysis of what our economy would look like without the steps we took.”
Economists like Zandi have speculated that without the economic stimulus and other steps to right the sinking U.S. economy, the United States would have lost an additional 8.5 million jobs and may have plunged into a second “Great Depression.”
Unlike many Republicans who savage the Democrats’ economic stimulus, Coburn opened a media conference saying, “There is no question the stimulus bill has had a positive effect on the economy to a certain degree.”
But he and McCain said the problem was that the money could have been better targeted toward job creation.
Additional reporting by Ross Colvin, editing by Philip Barbara