* Recovery Act favorite target of Republicans
* Disappointment over public skepticism
* Republicans find target in 8 percent unemployment goal
(Inserts McConnell comment, paragraphs 6-7)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, Oct 1 President Barack Obama's $814
billion economic stimulus plan is meeting its targets for
spending and job creation, White House officials said on
Friday, however unpopular it may be with the public.
Seventy percent of the plan's funds were paid out by Sept.
30, with $308 billion spent and $243 billion in tax breaks
provided, they said, adding that every spending deadline
Congress set for the funds was met on time or ahead of
schedule, with little fraud or abuse.
Polls have shown the plan is unpopular with much of the
public and has fallen short of expectations for the economy,
even though the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office
estimates it boosted real gross domestic product in the second
quarter by up to 4.5 percent and raised employment by up to 3.3
Jared Bernstein, chief economic adviser to Vice President
Joe Biden, and former White House economist Christina Romer
wrote a paper in early 2009 contending that the stimulus would
cap the jobless rate at 8 percent.
With the unemployment rate at 9.6 percent in August and
expected to have inched up to 9.7 percent in September -- data
will be released next week -- that paper has given Republicans
a powerful weapon to argue that the Recovery Act failed.
"The administration predicted that unemployment wouldn't
rise above 8 percent if the trillion-dollar stimulus became
law," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said.
"We know how that turned out: Unemployment, now at 9.6
percent, has hovered near double digits since the stimulus
passed; we took on an additional trillion dollars in debt, and
Americans' confidence in the administration's economic
arguments never recovered."
WORSE WITHOUT IT?
The administration contends that the nation would have been
far worse without the plan, given the dire state of the U.S.
economy when Obama took office in early 2009.
"No piece of legislation would have been capable of filling
that hole," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
However, the concept has proven difficult to sell to the
public, and Republicans in the House of Representatives
recently vowed to cancel all unspent money from the economic
Republicans are expected to cut into the Democratic
majorities in the House and Senate in next month's
congressional elections, although Democrats have been heartened
by a modest boost in their national poll numbers, as Obama and
administration officials turned up their attacks on Republican
Administration officials said on Friday that very little
stimulus money -- a few billion dollars, depending how it was
calculated -- was actually free to be spent.
Much of the $233 billion that remains in the fund has been
promised but not yet formally spent, and part of it is in tax
relief, they said.
Ed DeSeve, Obama's senior adviser for Recovery Act
Implementation, said his only concern about the act was the
failure to communicate.
"If we were disappointed with anything, it's our inability
to really get the message out exactly the way the American
people want to hear it," he said.
(Editing by Paul Simao)