Americans' doubts grow over stimulus bill

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Americans voice growing concern over the cost of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plans and assail as a weakness the disagreement in Washington over how to spend the money.

Two opinion polls show support dwindling. In a Rasmussen Reports survey, 37 percent of Americans backed the legislation in Congress, down from 45 percent two weeks ago, while 43 percent opposed it.

In a Gallup opinion poll, 38 percent wanted the bill passed as it stood while 37 percent wanted major changes.

Obama’s fellow Democrats and rival Republicans in Washington are looking for signs of shifting opinion over the landmark bill meant to help rescue the U.S. economy from its worst recession since World War Two.

Even Democratic voters have reservations. Some voters decry a lack of political consensus; others argue the government should do more to explain the plan’s benefits to voters. Obama took office on January 20.

“In its present form I’m against it and I’m a Democrat,” said Judson Spencer, a marketing consultant in Denver.

“It’s not going to work. We are just going to add to the debt. What would be better is if they (Congress) think about job creation and make it as clean as possible,” Spencer said, citing a need to remove unnecessary projects.


Julie Borders, an Atlanta marketing consultant, said while she backed Obama as a delegate at the convention where he won the Democratic presidential nomination, she had reservations about the speed with which the bill was being passed.

Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) speaks alongside 17 other Republican Senators and Congressmen against the proposed economic stimulus package that has yet to pass the Senate vote, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 4, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed

“When politicians start talking about, ‘Hurry up, hurry up,’ that gives me pause always,” Borders said. “It makes it very suspect.”

About a third of the U.S. Senate proposal is composed of tax relief, with the rest devoted to spending on such projects as rebuilding roads and bridges and schools.

Some Republican voters said they opposed the bill on the ideological grounds that private enterprise, not government spending, was the engine of economic growth.

Opposition to the bill is promoted by economic conservative groups, evangelical groups such as the Family Research Council and conservative radio talk show hosts who have exposed what they say will be wasteful government spending.

“It’s a monumental mistake and waste of taxpayer money,” said Ron Ladner, a small business owner in Pass Christian on the Mississippi coast.

Government should focus on addressing the declining housing market, providing tax incentives for small businesses or cutting or eliminating the payroll tax, Ladner said.


For George Fleming, a career transition consultant who coaches people who have lost their jobs, the recession is so serious that action is required even if the bill is flawed.

“I’m for it. It seems clear to me that where we are right now and where we need to go are two entirely different situations ... (so) doing nothing is not an option,” said Fleming, of Phoenix, Arizona.

“I am seeing small businessmen who can’t get loans. I am seeing companies continuing to contract in size letting more people go ... We have to do a little more spending than we are used to get us out of this,” Fleming said.

Many people liked the bill but a “deficit of public trust” in politicians as a whole was working to reduce support for it, said Phil Smith, political director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition, which promotes fiscal responsibility.

Aspects of the bill that appear irresponsible feed into that mistrust, said Smith.

“When you hear a chorus of complaints about items in the stimulus package it is easy to confuse that with complaints about the package overall,” Smith said.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix, Andrew Stern in Chicago and Ed Stoddard in Dallas)

Editing by Jane Sutton and Howard Goller