LaHood: 'Hard to grasp' stimulus effects

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended the stimulus package Wednesday, but acknowledged it's hard to tell how effective it has been so far.

"It may be hard to grasp how effective this program is because we don't really know how much worse off we'd be without it, and because the full effect of the program will not be felt for several more months," he said in an address at the Center for National Policy.

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LaHood said five years from now Americans will look back on the $787 billion bill as a "turning point." He also said local officials have told him that without the stimulus, the economy would "probably" be in worse shape.

LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, repeated assertions made in recent days by President Obama that the stimulus was a two-year program, and that much of it is still being rolled out.

Over the next few months, several billion more dollars will become available for high-speed rail projects, with another $1.5 billion in grants made available from discretionary funds, he said.

"The perception that we haven't moved quickly enough is simply not true," LaHood said.

Republicans in recent days have stepped up their attacks on the stimulus. Bolstered by unemployment reports showing continued job losses, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has called the stimulus a "flop."

LaHood pointed out that billions have already been allocated to local governments.

He said $21 billion has already been awarded to states for use in rebuilding roads, bridges and airports, and that the outdoor construction season "is still ramping up." It takes time for states, once awarded stimulus funds, to hire contractors and actually begin breaking ground, he said.

By the end of the summer or the early fall, there will be an increase in road construction projects undertaken with stimulus dollars. "Construction workers that are on unemployment will be going back to work," he said.

Asked about the possibility of a second stimulus, LaHood said the country needs to give the current Recovery Act time to play out. He is confident, he said, that when considering the plan five years from now, Americans will see it as a "turning point."