WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As President Barack Obama marked 100 days since his $787 billion economic stimulus was set in motion, Democrats and Republicans painted starkly different portraits on Wednesday on how the plan is doing.
Obama had vowed the stimulus would save or create 3 million to 4 million jobs in about two years when he pushed it through the Democratic-controlled U.S. Congress in February.
So far, it has saved or created nearly 150,000 jobs, a relatively small impact on an economy that is still losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month due to the recession.
While the monthly tally of jobs lost appears to be shrinking, the National Association for Business Economists on Wednesday predicted total U.S. job losses of roughly 4.5 million in 2009, leading to a jobless rate of 9.8 percent.
Speaking in Las Vegas, Obama said the benefits so far of the package were “just the beginning” and that other aspects of the stimulus have helped give a tax cut to working families, more Social Security money for seniors and greater jobless benefits for laid-off workers.
“There are still too many families struggling to pay the bills, and too many businesses struggling to keep their doors open,” he said.
Obama’s top economic adviser, Cristina Romer, told MSNBC she was optimistic about some improving economic indicators, that it appeared “we are nearing the bottom” of the economic trough and that growth may well resume by year’s end.
“The gold standard is going to be jobs numbers. And realistically, we’re not going to see us adding jobs for a while,” she said.
Republicans, who had fought hard to block the stimulus because it would hugely increase America’s budget deficit, charged the stimulus was not having the intended effect and that billions of dollars were being wasted.
“The ‘stimulus bill’ has been a fiscal flop and is nothing to celebrate,” said Texas Republican Representative John Culberson. “President Obama should stop throwing parties and fundraisers out in Las Vegas and start discussing the urgent financial crisis that threatens our fiscal and economic stability.”
The No. 2 Republican in the House of Representatives, Eric Cantor of Virginia, has pointed to reported projects such as $550,000 for a skateboard park in Rhode Island as evidence of wasted stimulus money, as well as Michigan spending $1.5 million on sidewalks, street lights and bike racks near a local casino and its parking garages.
“In the 100 days since that misdirected bill was enacted, well over 1 million Americans have lost their jobs,” he said. “These are not the results America hoped for.”
Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks issues in Congress for institutional investors, said the social program spending in the stimulus, while not doing much to help the jobs picture, is helping people get through a rough patch and providing seed money for Obama priorities on health care, education and energy.
“The administration had to do the stimulus package more than any other reason for political reasons and to help stop the free fall and let the economy stabilize,” he said.
But Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland, said the Obama administration was overselling the gains from the stimulus.
“My feeling is that it hasn’t had much of an impact yet. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t, but I don’t think it’ll be very large,” he said.
Additional reporting by Doug Palmer and Jeremy Pelofsky