"We must address the debt and budget deficits for the long-term health of our nation," Obey, the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a long statement released Monday. "As we do so, we must not fail to deal with three other serious deficits: a jobs deficit, an income deficit, and an opportunity deficit."
Obey (D-Wis.), who helped craft the $862 billion stimulus, said the actions taken by President Barack Obama and the Democrat-led Congress were necessary to prevent another Great Depression even though they added to the country's red ink.
Last year's deficit hit a record $1.4 trillion, while the deficit for this year should reach $1.5 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Annual deficits over the next 10 years will average almost $1 trillion, the CBO has said.
But the cost of the stimulus will account for less than one-tenth of those deficits, Obey said.
"We took these actions despite the fact that they would temporarily raise the deficit over the short term, because we recognized that the long-term deficit will not come down unless the economy begins to grow enough to reverse the job loss and start putting people back to work," Obey said. "That is now finally beginning to happen."
Democrats have touted last week's labor report showing a net gain of 162,000 jobs — the biggest jobs increase since 2007 — as evidence that the stimulus and their other efforts are working to turn the economy around.
Republicans have repeatedly called for an end to stimulus spending, arguing that federal debt will constrain economic growth. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) said in his first Senate news conference that the stimulus hadn't created one new job, a claim Obey dismissed.
"Some naysayers say that the Recovery Act has not saved a single job," Obey said. "If they cannot see that assertion is not true it is simply because they don’t want to see."
Obey said deficits should be brought down over time, but not at the expense of middle-class workers who haven't seen real increases in income or job and education opportunities.
"We recognize we have to bring long-term deficits down, but even as we do so we have to recognize that there are deficits and then there are deficits," Obey said. "We need to distinguish between deficit spending that is simply a form of short-term gratification versus deficits that are run in the short term to finance investments that will strengthen the economy over the long haul. Policymakers are supposed to be able to distinguish between the two."