More Dems attacking first stimulus

A handful of Democrats pushing for a new jobs bill are criticizing the $787 billion economic stimulus for not creating enough jobs.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), the chairman of a new, bipartisan Congressional Jobs Now! Caucus, said that he and his colleagues have “enormous dissatisfaction” with the stimulus and the $700 billion bailout for banks that was approved in 2008.

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He said Washington hasn’t done enough for Main Street in comparison to Wall Street, where banks are again offering record bonuses.

“The big business has prospered, and the little guy, the small-businessman, the factory worker, the government workers have all been hurt and harmed in this economy,” Rush said. His new caucus includes 128 House members.

Other lawmakers are careful when criticizing a bill they supported against near-unified GOP opposition. They point to independent estimates that the package prevented an even worse recession and has saved or created thousands of jobs.

But they also acknowledge that the stimulus didn’t stop the jobless rate hitting 10.2 percent, a 26-year high.

Lawmakers said they would approach the issue differently if they had the chance.

“To the extent that I would have criticism of the stimulus, it was that it didn’t sufficiently meet the three-T test: ‘targeted, timely, temporary,’ ” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).

Conrad noted that the Department of Energy has spent about 5 percent of the $36.8 billion in stimulus money designated for it. According to Recovery.gov, the Obama administration’s stimulus data site, Energy has spent about $1.5 billion in stimulus funds.

Three-quarters of all stimulus money is scheduled to be spent within two years of the bill’s passage. Conrad said the goal should have been to spend 90 percent of the funds by that time.

In an interview, Democratic strategist Paul Begala described this year’s stimulus as “necessary but insufficient.” He also said arguing that unemployment would be higher and the economy would be in worse shape without it was not a political winner.

Democratic leaders who crafted the $787 billion recovery act touted independent economic estimates Tuesday that suggest the stimulus has saved or created about 1 million jobs and has grown the economy by about 3 percent.

“The latest analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office [CBO] is clear: The Recovery Act is likely producing even more jobs and higher economic growth than originally thought,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement.

The CBO report found that the stimulus had created or saved between 600,000 and 1.6 million jobs and that it has increased the gross domestic product between 1.2 and 3.2 percentage points.

Mark Zandi, the Moody’s economist and former adviser to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 2008 presidential campaign, has said that his estimates are similar to the CBO’s and the White House’s. Zandi also advises congressional Democrats.

Democrats have sought to distance new jobs bills the House and Senate are preparing from the stimulus.

The coming jobs bill won’t be “a second stimulus” but will be more targeted at creating jobs, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said last month.

Democrats plan to take it up as soon as their work on the healthcare reform bill is finished.

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Items in the new legislation could include more state fiscal aid, an extension of unemployment and COBRA benefits, increased infrastructure investments, tax credits for businesses that hire new full-time workers and new federal public works programs that hire workers directly.

Begala described the earlier stimulus as focused on macroeconomic goals that included tax cuts that pay out over a longer period of time. Some of those tax cuts were included in a bid to win GOP support for the bill, he noted.

He said he hoped a jobs bill would emerge from the jobs summit the White House is hosting on Thursday.

Elizabeth Oxhorn, the White House spokeswoman for the recovery act, said the economic crisis was “years in the making” and that the stimulus “was never meant to replace job for job and dollar for dollar what we have lost — no single government program ever could.”

But Republicans like Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the senior House Budget Committee Republican, suggest Democrats are trying to change their story on what the first stimulus was about.

“They’re just trying to change the metrics to lower the bar,” said Ryan, who argued Democrats got the stimulus wrong by focusing too much on spending and not enough on growing the economy and creating jobs.

House Republican aides reminded reporters Tuesday that Pelosi said the stimulus was supposed to be the jobs bill.

“The choices that were made in it were to create jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs, and jobs as soon as possible and jobs over a period of time to stabilize the economy,” Pelosi said when the stimulus was signed into law in March.

Conrad and Rush have suggested funding more infrastructure projects. And senior House Democrats, including Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (Wis.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (Minn.), are expected to call for an infrastructure-heavy approach in the jobs bill Wednesday at a press conference with transportation advocates.

“Not only because it’s a clear job-generator, but it’s jobs here in America,” Conrad said. “And you get a twofer: You get improved economic efficiency.”

The February stimulus included $80.9 billion for infrastructure projects and road, bridge, rail and public building improvements.